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Fighting their way to freedom; In the second part of our look at the stories in the Freedom City comic, explaining how Tyneside earned its reputation for radicalism, DAVID WHETSTONE reports on the two ex-slaves who came to Newcastle.


YOU might not have heard of Olaudah Equiano but he features in the Freedom City comic that was distributed to libraries and venues across Tyneside. The comic was part of the Freedom City programme commemorating American civil rights activist Martin Luther King's visit to Newcastle in 1967.

Yesterday we reported on two North East-born champions of democracy and civil rights, John Lilburne and Thomas Spence, who feature on the first pages of the comic. Equiano - and also Frederick Douglass - were important figures in the campaign against slavery who both addressed enthusiastic audiences in Newcastle.

All the stories in the comic result from collaborations between academic researchers in the North East and professional comic writers and artists.

The stories of Equiano and Douglass were drawn and written by Patrice Aggs, an American living in Brighton. Into her intricate comic strips she has distilled the complex stories of the two men into a page apiece.

OLAUDAH EQUIANO Prof Brycchan Carey, of Northumbria University, an expert on the history and culture of slavery and abolition in the British Empire, has written extensively on Olaudah Equiano who himself produced many pages of printed material.

His life story, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, was published in 1789.

In it he says he was born in 1745 in 'Eboe' in Guinea and was the son of a chief. One day, when aged about 11, he was out playing with his sister when they were captured, put on a slave ship and taken to America.

On his website - - Prof Carey says some believe Equiano was in fact born a slave in South Carolina and possibly never visited Africa.

He says it can't be proved but acknowledges that Equiano might have used the first part of his book to reflect the experiences of other slaves. That said, there is 'no real reason to doubt the essential truth' of Equiano's account of his African childhood.

In 1754 he was sold to an officer in the Royal Navy, Michael Pascal, who gave him the name Gustavus Vassa. He was taken to London and sent to school where he learned to read and write.

He went to sea, serving his master but also working as a powder monkey carrying gunpowder in battles against the French in the Seven Years War.

He was sold and sold again and in 1766 was able to buy his freedom for PS40. He went back to sea and embarked on a voyage to find a passage to India across the North Pole. He was almost killed by a polar bear.

His life story came out when a popular campaign to abolish the slave trade was at its height. According to Prof Carey, more than 100 books on the subject appeared in that particular year.

Equiano travelled extensively across Britain to promote his book, reaching Newcastle in 1792. Here Patrice Aggs' comic strip takes up the story.

At a Quaker meeting in Pilgrim Street, 'this terrible transatlantic trade' is under discussion.

"There must be something we can do," says one man. "There is," replies another. "We can support Olaudah Equiano."

"Who's he?" comes the reply. "An ex-slave, and an important writer. He's visiting Newcastle as part of his book tour."

Equiano got an enthusiastic response to his talk. The cartoon strip shows him in the Bigg Market and outside the Turk's Head Inn.

But the locals also took him underground at St Anthony's Colliery. He was astonished. "I can't believe I've been under the River Tyne!" he says in the strip.

Newcastle, he concluded, was 'a most hospitable and impressive city'. His hosts told him his visit would help in their fight against the slave trade - which was finally abolished in 1838.

FREDERICK DOUGLASS Eight years later, when slavery was still legal in America, Newcastle received another visit - this time from Frederick Douglass.

He was born into slavery in Maryland in about 1818 but escaped after teaching himself to read. He travelled north, got married and, after overcoming many obstacles, became a national leader of the abolitionist movement.

There was excitement when he came to Newcastle to talk to abolitionists. The strip recalls him saying: "The more I read, the more I was led to abhor and detest my enslavers.

"I could regard them in no other light than a band of successful robbers, who had left their homes, and gone to Africa, and stolen us from our homes, and in a strange land reduced us to slavery."

On Tyneside Douglass stayed with Anna Richardson and her sister-inlaw, Ellen, and the women managed to raise PS150, enough for him to buy his way out of slavery.

"I shall return to the fight in my country as a free man," he says at the end of the Freedom City comic. "Thank you."

You can read the Freedom City comic online at http://research.ncl. TOMORROW: Joseph Cowen and Emily Wilding Davison


Prof Brycchan Carey

Comics artist Patrice Aggs in her studio

Extract from Olaudah Equiano, drawn by Patrice Aggs. Below an extract from Frederick Douglass Visits Tyneside
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Dec 19, 2017
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