Equiano and Abolition of Slave Trade: Freedom

Creating My Cambridge invites you to compose your own pieces, songs, raps, poems, dramas, stories inspired by the story of Equiano - who was born into slavery as an enslaved African - and came to be an important campaigner for human rights in Cambridge in the 1770s.

On this page you will find a recording by Historyworks of the song 'Freedom'. This has been written and composed by Inja, and performed by Inja, Sing! Community Choir with members of the Cambridge Revelation Rock-Gospel Choir.

Composer and lyrics: Inja

Performed by: Inja and Sing! Community Choir with members of Revelation Rock-Gospel Choir

Choral Arrangement by: Rowena Whitehead

Location: This piece and its historical context are closely linked with St John's College, University of Cambridge.

This audio file is a recording & edit by Historyworks:


Some live for freedom some die for freedom
Some fight for freedom some lie for freedom
Some cry for freedom some try for freedom
Some say that we ain't free till the whole worlds free
Some walk for freedom some ride for freedom
Some run for freedom some hide from freedom
Some spy for freedom some write for freedom
Some say that we ain't free till the whole worlds free

We all have a right to freedom

Just imagine being a kid
Chilling at home with your sis at your crib
Next thing kidnappers break in
Capture you both so you'll never see your kin
Separate you then ship abroad
To a place that's an unknown shore
Then you’re sold at a price
Someone owns your life
And you'll never see freedom no more

Then a captain buys you and you sail with the tide
Seeing the whole world wide
Given a wage that's minimum not high
But enough to buy your freedom in time
On that day when you've got funds
Your name’s yours for the right sum
It's Equiano by the setting sun
Once papers signed your freedom comes, then

Go from slave to author
To protestor in one semester
Plant the seed the to get slavery ended
And go against the grain of freedoms ember
From essays to decades as activists
These grounds here produced the catalyst
To trading in slaves as an active wish
To demolishing the routes cos they had to give

Cos they had to give
Once word spread
Of how were slaves treated the trade would end
Cos the work of men that worked to defend
Those exported, exploited, and bent
All started here in Cambridge
That's why I'm proud but still trouble breeds
One street down I was chased by three
For the colour of my skin like I can't be free

But I can be free just like all of us
These real life stories paved the way
Enthralled in history to this day
There’s many out there that's still enslaved
Do you fight for them or just work for you
Do you care at all or just care for you
Do you use their ways to keep slavery true
Whether mind over body or in anything you do

I know who I am, you know bout you
No identity crisis here to view
I know my past and my parts are used
I'm part of a parcel that defends truth
And these truths are free like we all should be
Whether woman, man, child, all human beings
To the people fighting

I hope one day that
I can help you all to be free.

©Inja 2014

Historical Context:

Cambridge was once home to two of the most prominent campaigners against the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Olaudah Equiano (1745-1797), a former enslaved African and author who married locally in Cambridgeshire, and Thomas Clarkson (1760-1846), a graduate of St John’s College,  who were both early activists. They devoted their lives to the cause and were pivotal in the eventual Bill which abolished the Slave Trade within Britain (1807).

Olaudah Equiano, also known as Gustavas Vassa (1745-1797), was an author and campaigner against the Transatlantic Slave Trade. In his hugely influential biography The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa the African (1789), he records the appalling conditions of slavery and how youngsters would be snatched from their families in their homes in agrarian regions in Africa, marched to the coast, shipped to the Americas and sold if they survived this arduous ordeal.  Unusually, in Equiana’s case, after 16 years of enslavement, he had a quaker owner who allowed him to earn small wages, and to save sufficient money to buy his freedom.

Equiano then began a series of actions and campaigns to better the conditions enslaved people had to endure. He first visited Cambridge in 1789 to campaign, then three years later returned to the region, albeit for a very different reason. On the 7th April 1792, he married Susannah Cullen at St Andrew’s Church, Soham, and had two children, both baptised in the same church. Equiano it seems lived closeby the centre of Cambridge, in Chesterton, but his family later moved away and he died in March 1797, yet the work of other early activists continued the fight against the Slave Trade.

Thomas Clarkson was born in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, on 28th March 1760. As an undergraduate at St John’s College, Cambridge, he had planned to join the church but an academic task completely altered his career path. In 1785, Clarkson entered the Members' Prize for a Latin Essay, writing on the subject of 'anne liceat invitos in servitutem dare?' ('is it lawful to make slaves of others against their will?').

Deeply affected by what he read whilst researching, the essay transformed his life from academic practice to activism. In May 1787, Clarkson, along with 11 other men, established the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade. With the support of William Wilberforce, the MP for Hull, speaking in Parliament, they were able to instigate a Parliamentary investigation into the Slave Trade. He worked tirelessly at this, travelling 35,000 miles around the country meeting with people involved in the trade, writing pamphlets and speaking publicly about the horrors of slavery.

In 1807 the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was passed in the House of Commons by 283 votes to 16, marking the end of slave trade within Britain. Although this landmark event was a significant victory, it wasn’t until 1833 that Parliament passed an act that abolished slavery throughout the Empire.  It is little known that two such significant figures were both activists for human rights in Cambridge, and this piece commemorates their fight for justice and celebrates the importance of freedom today.

Image courtesy of Professor James Walvin, private collection.

Equiano Biography

Score and lyrics: You can download the score here. You can download the lyrics here or you can read them at the foot of this page.

Equiano and Abolition of Slave Trade: Freedom


In this section