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St James’s Church, Piccadilly banner.jpg
Jeremy Hoare / Alamy Stock Photo
St James’s Church, Piccadilly.jpg
Jeremy Hoare / Alamy Stock Photo
World News

'Forgotten' black history figure commemorated at London church

by Kelly Valencia

A church in central London is commemorating the life Quobna Ottobah Cugoano, one of the most prominent abolitionists of the time.

To mark the 250th anniversary of his baptism at St James's Church, Piccadilly, the church is installing an artwork in the entrance as well as a plaque.

The Diocese of London has described Cugoano as a “significant but largely forgotten figure” in the history of Black Britain.

Created by Trinidad-based artist Che Lovelace, the art work will be the first permanent art commission to commemorate Cugoano's life anywhere in the world.

Lovelace described the opportunity as “truly significant and meaningful”.

He said: “To see St James’s Church, Piccadilly honour his name and what he stood for, is also to bear witness to an evolving story; one where our societies acknowledge and account for not only the traumatic episodes of our shared histories, but also find spaces and moments where the human potential for renewal, growth and transcendence is given importance and is truly celebrated.”

Diocese of London

Cugoano recounted his personal ordeal of being trafficked at the age of 13 to toil on a Grenadian plantation. Eventually, he was purchased by a merchant and brought to England, where he attained his freedom in 1772. His book, "Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil of Slavery," published in 1787, documented these experiences.

Although his baptism in 1773 at St James’s symbolised a promise of ongoing freedom, he did not live long enough to witness the abolition of slavery by the UK Parliament, 1807 after a lifetime of campaigning, led by William Wilberforce and others.  The church’s decision to commemorate Cugoano follows the Church of England’s recent research outlining its deep implications in transatlantic chattel slavery and the institution's resolution to set aside funds to compensate for its historical benefit from the international slave trade.

Bishop of London, Rt Rev Dame Sarah Mullally said: “Cugoano is finally being given the recognition he has so long deserved, at the place of his baptism. His contribution and commitment to the abolitionist movement has never been given due recognition, and it is a joy to see him commemorated in this way.

Bishop Sarah went on to say that while efforts to rectify historical injustices may fall short, by understanding and addressing our past we can work towards leaving a positive and enduring legacy which benefits the communities most adversely affected by the history of slavery.


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