“When people speak of great men, they think of men like Napoleon – men of violence. Rarely do they think of peaceful men. But contrast the reception they will receive when they return home from their battles. Napoleon will arrive in pomp and in power, a man who’s achieved the very summit of earthly ambition. And yet his dreams will be haunted by the oppressions of war. William Wilberforce, however, will return to his family, lay his head on his pillow and remember: the slave trade is no more.” Those words are uttered by the character Lord Charles Fox in the British House of Commons towards the end of the 2006 movie Amazing Grace. They sum up the singular accomplishment of William Wilberforce (1759 – 1833), British politician, philanthropist and leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade. The movie, based on his true story, is not just a well-made period drama. It also offers dramatic insights into one of the most successful – and consequential – social justice campaigns in history. It reminds us that a determined man or woman can, indeed, make a difference in our complex world. Inspired by a recent visit to Yorkshire, where Wilberforce hailed from, I’ve just watched the movie — and am amazed to find how many such striking parallels there are to evidence-based policy change and law reform in a very different world of ours more than two centuries later. “In 1797, William Wilberforce, the great crusader for the British abolition of slavery, is taking a vacation for his health even while he is sicker at heart for his frustrated cause. However, meeting the charming Barbara Spooner, Wilberforce finds a soul mate to share the story of his struggle. With few allies such as his mentor, John Newton, a slave ship captain turned repentant priest who penned the great hymn, “Amazing Grace,” Prime William Pitt, and Olaudah Equiano, the erudite former slave turned author, Wilberforce fruitlessly fights both public indifference and moneyed opposition...
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