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John Templeton Foundation Backs New Documentary to Make William Wilberforce a Household Name

To coincide with 200th anniversary of abolition of U.S. and U.K. slave trade

Contact: Sheila Weber, 646-322-6853, Sheila@wilberforcecentral.org

NEW YORK, Jan. 8 /Christian Newswire/ -- The John Templeton Foundation recently awarded a major grant to fund a new documentary film, The Better Hour, to make William Wilberforce a household name again, as he was 200 years ago. The TWC Films documentary, The Better Hour: William Wilberforce, A Man of Character Who Changed The World is targeted for fall 2007 television broadcast in the U.S. and U.K., and will focus on the character of British Parliamentarian William Wilberforce—who worked heroically for 20 years for the abolition of the Trans Atlantic slave trade.

The Better Hour documentary, co-sponsored by the Wilberforce Project, will provide a more in-depth resource for the growing interest among church and anti-slavery groups, anticipated to increase upon the February 23, 2007 release of Bristol Bay Productions’ major motion picture Amazing Grace, starring Iaon Gruffud as Wilberforce and Albert Finney as John Newton.

William Wilberforce was well known, even in America, in the early 1800s, after having led the 20 year effort, against all economic odds, that ended the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade, effective May, 1807 in England and January, 1808 in the United States.  (British Royal Assent was given on March 25, 1807; U.S. legislation was signed by Thomas Jefferson on March 2, 1807.)

Interest in Wilberforce is rapidly growing in England.  Last November, Prime Minister Tony Blair made a public apology for the British slave trade. In a New Year’s Day broadcast on BBC, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, commended Wilberforce and his colleagues for fighting for justice and human rights.

This month, two upcoming “Wilberforce Weekend” events will feature a joint presentation by both film companies. The Wilberforce Project and Bristol Bay Productions will each explain how they have worked in concert to make William Wilberforce a household name again.  The first Wilberforce Weekend, January 12-14 in Lansdowne, Virginia, is sponsored by the Wilberforce Forum, the think tank division of Prison Fellowship, founded by Chuck Colson.  The second Wilberforce Weekend, January 19-21 in Osprey Point, Maryland, is sponsored by the Trinity Forum Academy, a division of the Trinity Forum, that trains young Christians to impact contemporary culture.

The British Parliamentarian, William Wilberforce, was directly responsible not only for the legislation abolishing the British Slave Trade 200 years ago, but heavily influenced the same legislation in the U.S. In addition, Wilberforce was responsible for the beginning of the modern human rights movement,  the women’s suffrage movement, the first child labor laws, prison reform, a more human penal code, and the founding of 69 philanthropic societies in late 18th century England. 

“William Wilberforce’s political career is a case study that merits attention," said Chuck Stetson, chairman of The Wilberforce Project. "While Wilberforce's name is virtually unknown in the modern United States, with approximately a 3 percent recognition factor in the U.S. and 10 percent in the U.K., Wilberforce was once acknowledged by Abraham Lincoln in 1858 as a person that 'every school boy' knew," explained Stetson. The emancipation leader Frederick Douglass saluted the energy of Wilberforce “that finally thawed the British heart into sympathy for the slave, and moved the strong arm of government in mercy to put an end to this bondage. Let no American, especially no colored American, withhold generous recognition of this stupendous achievement—a triumph of right over wrong, of good over evil, and a victory for the whole human race.” In 1833 when Wilberforce died, the Free Blacks in America were urged by their leaders to wear black arm bands for 30 days as a sign of mourning, said Stetson. In 1856, the first historically black university in America in Dayton, Ohio was named Wilberforce University.

The John Templeton Foundation grant also included funding for a national essay contest for youth, to launch in September 2007, with awards made by spring of 2008.

More information about attending the January 12-14 Wilberforce Weekend can be obtained from Martha Anderson at Martha_anderson@pfm.org, and about the January 19-21 Wilberforce Weekend by contacting Aimee Beach at academy@ttf.org.  For more information on other worldwide events, go to www.wilberforcecentral.org.