Bodleian Library of Commonwealth and African Studies: The Anti-Slavery and Anti-Apartheid Movements

The Bodleian Library of Commonwealth and African Studies specialises in the history and current affairs – political, economic and social – of the Commonwealth and sub-Saharan Africa. The Library holds books, journals, theses, government publications and special collections (manuscripts, archives, special and rare books). The archive collections mainly date from the 19th and 20th centuries and comprise papers of individuals and organisations such as the Anti-Slavery Society, Africa Bureau and Anti-Apartheid Movement. These collections highlight the work that independent organisations and movements can do to lobby and influence parliamentary affairs in the UK.

The Anti-Slavery Society

Both Thomas Clarkson (1760–1846) and Thomas Fowell Buxton (1786–1845) were leading members of the anti-slavery movement in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The campaigners mobilised public opinion by writing and distributing books and pamphlets, holding public meetings, organising petitions and highlighting the issue in newspapers. Fowell Buxton and William Wilberforce were MPs and led the campaign in Parliament where, in 1807, a bill was passed abolishing the slave trade throughout the British Empire. Slavery itself still existed, however, and in 1823 the Anti-Slavery Society was formed to work for the total emancipation of slaves in British territories and beyond.

In a letter written from his home near Ipswich, Clarkson discusses in detail how to use the mechanisms of Parliament to attain the abolition of slavery in the West Indies – whether to petition Parliament, enforce the proposition already made by the government, adopt the Bill of Mr Brougham or equalize the duties on East India sugar.

If you’d like to learn more about the Anti-Slavery Society holdings in the Bodleian Libraries, take a look at:

The Anti-Apartheid Movement

The Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM) was founded by South African exiles and their British supporters in London in 1960 to campaign against the apartheid system in South Africa and support those struggling against it. Lobbying Parliament, with the support of active members of both Houses and from all political parties, was an important means of influencing government policy and one which the Movement employed throughout its existence. The papers of the Anti-Apartheid Movement are kept in the BLCAS.

The boycott of South African goods was the AAM’s first campaign, launched to maintain public interest in events in South Africa following the Sharpeville shootings. The boycott had been called for by the African National Congress and All-Africa n People’s Conference and it remained a key campaign over the following decades. John Stonehouse, a Labour MP, was an early supporter of the AAM.

Other issues highlighted by the AAM papers include the key ones on which the AAM campaigned into the 1990s – the arms embargo, economic sanctions, support for political prisoners and refugees and South West Africa.

For more information on the Anti-Apartheid Movement collections, please see the Catalogue of the Anti-Apartheid Movement papers.

The African Bureau

The Africa Bureau which was founded in 1952 by a small group including Michael Scott to advise and support Africans wishing to influence by constitutional means the political decisions affecting their lives. Its papers include material relating to the work of the African nations for independence, including a petition to Parliament in 1953 of the Nyasa Chiefs protesting against the incorporation of their lands into a Central African Federation. Despite this petition, the Federation was created and lasted from 1956 to 1964 when Nyasaland became independent as Malawi. Over 60 chiefs signed the petition, with one cross and some thumbprints from those who could not write their names. The petition was witnessed by the Reverend Michael Scott, an Anglican clergyman and campaigner for racial equality who was particularly active on behalf of Africans.

For more information on the papers of the African Bureau, please see the Catalogue of the African Bureau papers.


Lucy McCann, Archivist, Bodleian Library of Commonwealth & African Studies at Rhodes House 

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