One of my favorite college classes I took was a 200-level integrative studies course centered around building community.
This particular professor titled the class “A Tale of Two Americas,” which examined the differences in the experiences of White and Black Americans throughout history. Our first set of readings analyzed The Autobiography and Other Writings by Benjamin Franklin and compared it to the contents of The Interesting Narrative and Other Readings of Olaudah Equiano.
Both men traveled between the American colonies and England, led significant lives, and went on to publish autobiographies. Yet, their societal positions greatly influenced the purpose behind their travels and publication journeys.
Despite his status as an enslaved man, Equiano documented his experience and the savagery of slavery to advocate for abolishing a system that impacted so many lives. Not only was his story important for legislative and societal change, but his writing became the paradigm of a new literary genre – slave narratives.
Besides being the first of its kind, Equiano’s autobiography remains one of the few novels that includes descriptions of an enslaved person’s daily life, culture, and traditions prior to being trafficked in the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
Equiano spent his early life in Essaka, a former village located in modern-day eastern Nigeria. His home did not survive the modern political boundaries drawn across the continent, but there are plenty of interesting locations to discover in the country.
Nature enthusiasts will enjoy the vast Ogbunike Caves. The series of limestone caves are connected by various tunnels located behind the “Ogba” hills in Ogbunike. Though the caves are open to travelers, the historical and spiritual significance of the location has not been lost.
Savannah, Georgia, USA
Savannah is an important mark not only in Equiano’s story but in world history as well. This city was founded as an important Atlantic port as both a transportation and mercantile hub, which is reflected in the narrative as Equiano ends up here after serving on a ship transporting goods and people.
Today, the Port of Savannah remains a major U.S. seaport, and the city has added entertaining and sightseeing locations without leaving any of its rich history behind.
One stop visitors should make for a mix of both is The Olde Pink House. The original intent of the 1771 architecture was for a mansion. It was, however, later converted into a restaurant. The elegant space serves delicious Southern cuisine and is a pleasant precursor to an exciting night out on River Street.
One of the major motivators for writing this autobiography was to make a case for the abolishment of slavery. Throughout the narrative, Equiano is very intentional to include the full range of his experiences as an enslaved and free man in England and the colonies, and the brutalization often experienced by slaves is skillfully captured during the recount of his time spent in Montserrat.
Today, Montserrat remains a British overseas territory located in the Lesser Antilles in the Eastern Caribbean. The island is mostly a rugged volcanic landscape molded by three mountainous areas, which are separated by valleys and gorges known locally as ghauts.
This island is a dream for nature enthusiasts. The various mountains provide climbs and walks for active visitors, but sightseers can enjoy the views of the local volcanos from the Montserrat Volcano Observatory.
One of the few places Equiano returns to more than once, England is an important location in Equiano’s story.
He first travels to England after he is sold to Captain Pascal, a member of the British Royal Navy. He learned to read and was baptized, which almost certainly contributed to him being the first African-born former slave to write his autobiography without the help or direction of white writers. After the Seven Years’ War, he was sold to traders headed to the West Indies where he eventually purchases his freedom and collects money to return back to England, after which he learns to be a hairdresser. He leaves again to travel on a ship for work but later returns after an unpleasant experience traveling to Jamaica.
Through these unfortunate experiences, Equiano remained dedicated to moving upward and telling his own story. Avid readers can fuel their love of books by visiting the British Library, one of the largest libraries in the world. Not only does the building function as a normal library, but visitors can catch special events and browse the shop.