Part of the Family

Black History Month: Olaudah Equiano

This week, Runcie C.W. Chidebe your Vice President Student Voice, has chosen to discuss Olaudah Equiano

Olaudah Equiano (c.1745 - 31 March 1797) was sold into slavery as a child at the age of 11 by Europeans from Eboe region of the Kingdom of Benin the present day Nigeria, West Africa. Equiano purchased his freedom in 1766.  

portrait of Olaudah Equiano

In London, Equiano supported the British abolitionists movement and was among the leaders of the anti-slave trade movement in the 1780s.  

In 1765, the 20year old Equiano was enslaved to work on for a merchant known as Robert King’s stores and shipping routes. King promised that Olaudah can purchase his freedom from slavery back with the sum of 40 pounds (equivalent to £5,500 in 2019). Equiano sold fruits, glass tumblers and other items between Georgia and the Caribbean islands and raised some money to buy his freedom back from the merchant. After buying his freedom back, the merchant encourage him to remain in the British Colonies as a business partner, but, he found it dangerous and left for England in 1768.  

In 1789, he published his autobiography “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African”. In this book, he described how he was kidnapped with his sister, sold to slavery and shipped across the Atlantic to Barbados and then Virginia. The book is one of the earliest books published by a Black African writer on slavery and became a bestseller. He self-promoted his book and travelled on book tours across regions to promote his book and champion anti-slavery. He was the first political activist within Britain’s African community in the 18th century.    

In 1792, Equiano married an English woman, Sussana Cullen and they had two daughters. He died on 31 March 1797.  

Olaudah has become an icon of study in many universities across the world. His resilience is inspiring Black people all over the world. He is BCUSU historical figure for today. Join any of our BCUSU Black History Month events to learn more about Black history and what you can do to support Black people in our society.   


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