In 1787 the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade obtained, from an unrecorded artist, a design for its seal 'expressive of an African in chains in a supplicating posture', with the superscription 'Am I not a Man and a Brother?' Small cameo reliefs after the seal were soon made by Josiah Wedgwood in his jasper ware, which, set into the lid of a snuff-box or dangling from the wrist, enabled the participants in this, the first great non-denominational philanthropic crusade, to exhibit their sensitivity and enlightenment. It was a smart and artistic antecedent of the lapel badges and car stickers which have been adopted by the champions of unborn babies and endangered species. This logo, as it would now be called, of the kneeling, shackled black was clear, compact, memorable, touching, and yet entirely decorous - with the added attraction, as Hugh Honour astutely points out in The Image of the Black, of hinting at conversion as well as emancipation. Indeed, Honour concludes that, for all the Society's admirable intentions and great achievements - which he concedes with some reluctance - the very image of their endeavour to help the blacks came to 'enshrine the idea of pathetic, docile subservience and black inferiority'. The motto, or slogan, 'echoed both Christian beliefs in the equality of mankind before God and enlightened theories of natural law', as Honour observes, but it cannot be considered so congenial to white philanthropists' conviction of their superiority. Brotherhood - fraternité, - soon became an explosive word.
LRB 8 March 1990 | PDF Download