BBC History Magazine

“Welcome not those brazen human fleshmongers… Have no fellowship with these merciless menstealers”

Murmurs spread around London’s Finsbury Chapel, quickly followed by shouts and the thunderous stamping of feet. “It’s not true!” an audience member cried out, his voice ringing out loudly from the almost 3,000-strong crowd.

It was May 1846. Standing on the platform addressing the audience was radical activist and formerly enslaved African-American Frederick Douglass, who had provoked the audience member’s wrath with his attacks on slavery. Douglass had listed countless facts to prove his assertions. With blistering rhetoric, he argued that each American enslaver should be “surrounded by a wall of antislavery fire, so that he may see the condemnation of himself and his system glaring down in letters of light”. He spoke passionately and forcefully because his cause was urgent: Douglass knew that as he spoke in London, black women, men and children – including his own family members – were at that very moment suffering and dying across the US.

Frederick Douglass was not the first nor the last black abolitionist to traverse the Atlantic during the 19th century in order to expose “the secrets of the prison-house of bondage”. Scores of these “advocates of freedom” travelled to England, Ireland, Scotland and even remote parts of rural Wales to educate the public on American slavery. At least

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