It was in 1865 that a
constitutional amendment prohibited slavery throughout the whole of the United
States of America. In the next decade the practice was still rife in Africa.
This was the discovery of explorers such as David Livingstone. Archbishop,
later to become Cardinal, Charles Lavigerie, the founder of the missionary
society to which I belong, the Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers), was an
avid reader of the accounts of the African explorers. He became an active promoter
of the Anti-Slavery Campaign, travelling to different cities of Europe to
arouse public opinion. He came to London in 1888, and on 31st July spoke in the
Prince's Hall (today known as the Albert Hall). In the course of his speech he
mentioned his emotion at seeing Livingstone's words, inscribed on his tomb in
Westminster Abbey, describing slavery as "the open sore of the
world". He also referred to the inspiration he drew from the pioneering
efforts of William Wilberforce in the struggle to have slavery abolished.
Livingstone's Words inscribed on his Tomb
Lavigerie, sending his
missionaries into the interior of Africa, wanted them to "show kindness
and compassion to the victims of the slave trade, but he knew full well that
the trade itself must somehow be stopped" (Shorter p.64). Slaves were
ransomed, some bought at the slave market, others after having sought asylum at
the mission. This practice was often condemned as only serving to encourage the
illegal trade, yet it sprang from love and compassion. Refuges and orphanages
were set up, and even Christian villages created, especially for those who
could no longer be reunited with their families. Education was imparted and
trades taught so that the freed slaves could stand on their own feet. All this
was worthy, but insufficient to put an end to slavery. For slaving was a kind
of warfare, raids being made on peaceful populations to obtain captives.
Lavigerie felt the need for armed expeditions which would oppose the slavers
and prevent their actions. Through his speaking and writing he helped to
increase awareness of the problem, but he was unable to bring about any
concerted action. At the time of the colonial scramble for Africa, each nation
preferred to do its own thing. One wonders whether, over a hundred years later,
the situation has changed much in this respect.