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Giving the Campaign an identity

Anti-Slavery Medallion

Today we are used to slogans on tee-shirts or campaign badges worn to support a cause. The abolition campaign saw the start of this. In 1787, when the Society for the Abolition met in London, three of its members were tasked with preparing a design for a Seal to be engraved.  

The approved design was the image of an African man, kneeling and in chains with the motto (or slogan) 'Am I not a Man and a Brother?' It effectively became the emblem (or logo) for the movement and became both a political and fashion statement. 

In 1787, The London Committee asked the potter, Josiah Wedgwood, to produced a jasper medallion using the image. In 1788, a consignment of the cameos was shipped to Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia. The medallion brought the Transatlantic Slave Trade to the attention of the public and became a fashion item for abolitionists and sympathizers on both sides of the Atlantic.  

It was used to brand publications and banners; the emblem appeared on seals, cufflinks, snuffboxes, tea sets, hat pins, brooches and bracelets. As Thomas Clarkson described:  "Fashion, which usually confines itself to worthless things, was seen for once in the honourable office of promoting the cause of justice, humanity and freedom."  

The abolitionists also got the poet William Cowper to write a civil rights ballad.

Whilst these tools were important because they engaged people on an emotional level, the image used of a enslaved man in a supplicant (humbling) pose, was also hinderous to those African campaigners working hard to dispel notions of inequality.  However, its use did allow the public to be involved and show their support for abolition, without the need to engage in detailed debate or politics, building support for the movement over a large cross-section of British society . It also allowed women a voice, at a time when they were often prevented from declaring their views more publicly. Young women and girls, of all classes, wore the logos and showed their support by transcribing a well-known verse of abolitionist poetry needlework samplers and paintings. 


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