Olaudah Equiano (b1745 d1795), also known as Gustavus Vassa, The African, was an influential writer and abolitionist, playing an important role with other members of Sons of Africa in bringing the atrocity of the Zong Massacre to public attention. He wrote an extraordinary book about his experiences of enslavement and how he managed to buy his own freedom. The book is called ‘The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano’. It went through nine editions in his lifetime and helped change the tide of opinion about slavery in Britain, and promote the passing of the British Slave Trade Act of 1807, which made slavery illegal in Britain.
Equiano had several ties to Cambridge. He worked alongside the abolitionists Peter Peckard, Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University, and Cambridge alumni Thomas Clarkson and William Wilberforce, who both have streets named after them in Cambridge. He was married in Soham, to a Cambridgeshire woman called Susannah Cullen. One of their daughters, Anna Maria Vassa, died in childhood and is buried in St Andrews Church in Chesterton. Equiano’s own grave has been lost, and he remains relatively unknown in a city which clearly played a part in his life.
This project to name a bridge, located close to his infant daughter’s grave, in his honour has been developed by community groups over the past 2 year.
The cycle bridge over the River Cam, which links Riverside and Chesterton and is often known locally as the “Tesco” bridge. The proposal to name it The Equiano Bridge, in honour of Olaudah Equiano who played an important, but mostly forgotten, part in British History was developed by Cambridge African Network and Circles of Change, Cambridge and supported by The Equiano Society, London . We carried out consultation within the local community and beyond, and entered into extensive discussions with the City and County Councils, Windrush Foundation and other local groups.
We are so excited and grateful that the project has been successful and at 10.30am on 31st October 2022 a plaque renaming the bridge in honour of Olaudah Equiano was unveiled!
The life and work of Equiano was also celebrated as part of Cambridge African Network’s Family event in Black History Month on 29th October 2022.