Freedom and human rights

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The Life of the Late James Johnson, 1914, Gallery Oldham

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James Johnson was born into slavery on 20 March 1847, at Smithfield, North Carolina in the USA. He escaped during the American Civil War by swimming out to a northern warship, the Stars and Stripes, anchored off the coast. Johnson made his way to New York, and worked his passage to Liverpool, arriving in December 1862. Over the next four years he travelled across England and settled in Oldham in 1866.

Johnson initially worked for Platt Brothers of Oldham, one of the largest companies making machines for the cotton industry.  He then drew on his experiences of slavery to become a religious preacher. During his sermons Johnson talked about the evils of slavery which helped to establish a strong anti-slavery movement in Oldham. Abolitionists formed a strong mass political movement and used petitions and sugar boycotts to try and bring an end to slavery.

The Slavery Abolition Act that finally ended slavery in British colonies was passed on 23 August 1833. On 1 August 1834, all those enslaved in the British Empire were set free. However, a period of apprenticeship kept many working in the same conditions as slavery until 1838.

Owners received massive amounts of compensation after abolition, whilst those who had been enslaved received nothing. Slavery did not end in the USA until after the American Civil War in 1865.