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"Amazing Grace" — omits the Nightingale connection
A key player in the campaign to abolish the slave trade has been omitted in the movie "Amazing Grace", which is running to packed cinema audiences throughout the world. This is a major concern of the Nightingale Initiative for Global Health (NIGH), which aims to mobilize the nursing community, based on the values and principles of Florence Nightingale, to tackle global health issues. According to NIGH, another famous parliamentarian during the time of William Wilberforce, was William Smith (1756-1835), Florence Nightingale's own maternal grandfather, who also made a pivotal contribution to the abolition of the slave trade. William Smith was well-known, in his time, to be Wilberforce's own sustaining "chief lieutenant" in Parliament.
The full text of the NIGH statement is given below. Media inquiries, please contact: Dr. Deva-Marie Beck, International Co-director, NIGH, on: + 1 613 564-0781 "Amazing Grace” — Florence Nightingale's own family legacy
The recent March, 2007 release of the movie “Amazing Grace” aptly marks 200th anniversary of the official abolition of the slave trade across the British Empire.“Amazing Grace” tells the story of protagonist William Wilberforce, a well-respected Member of Parliament who endured great challenges to champion this issue for many, many years.
Another famous Parliamentarian of that time was William Smith (1756-1835), Florence Nightingale's own maternal grandfather, who also made a pivotal contribution to the abolition of the slave trade. Even though his character was omitted from the “Amazing Grace” screenplay, William Smith was well-known, in his time, to be Wilberforce's own sustaining "chief lieutenant" in Parliament. Smith was also Charles James Fox's friend and consistently supported Fox's views in Parliament. Smith was first elected 1784 and sat in the House of Commons for 46 years. Throughout his Parliamentary career, Smith was a consistent, independent voice of both reason and principle, supporting several causes that were initially unpopular and even dangerous to foster. He brought these views and commitments as a legacy to his family as well, where his children and grandchildren—particularly his granddaughter, Florence—were steeped in Smith's exemplary social activism.
William Smith wrestled with his own conscience over the slave trade because he was also a wealthy merchant. His family had been in the West Indies merchant trade business for several generations, owning a successful shop, situated in the heart of London, specializing in sugar, tea and spices. Abolitionism—the campaign to prohibit the trade in slaves throughout the British Empire and, ultimately, to abolish slavery—was a difficult stand for William Smith to take, as a merchant reliant on slave trade for the success of his own business.
In many cases, sugar plantation slave labour, and including the actual trade in human cargo, was the foundation of English merchant fortunes. While William Smith's courageous stand to abolish the slave trade in Parliament put his professional reputation at risk—as depicted so well in the plot of ”Amazing Grace”—Smith took this position knowing that his own financial sources, and his family's economic stability were also at risk, if the slave trade were to be abolished. He took this unwavering stand, anyway, building this moral courage into his own family's culture, deeply influencing his children and grandchildren, including his granddaughter, Florence Nightingale.
The success of this anti-slavery campaign, championed by Wilberforce and his wife Barbara, William Smith, William Pitt, Charles James Fox, John Newton and many others, became a model for 19th century reformers like Lord Shaftesbury, who used similar strategies to reform factory working conditions across Britain.
In her turn, Florence Nightingale, Shaftesbury's friend, followed in her grandfather Smith's footsteps to secure—by lobbying Parliament to enact legislation—national sanitation and health care reforms. In this Smith family tradition, Nightingale developed personal and professional networks to gain political connections and to judiciously mobilize public opinion through the press. Her legacy for us—through her own maternal family line—is one of moral courage and the profound willingness to say “yes” to our own consciences to champion the rights of human beings around the world.
Florence Nightingale: Mystic, Visionary, Healer, by Barbara M. Dossey, from Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins, 2000, pages. 24-25.
At the Crimean War Memorial in London, UK with Dr. Susan Hassmiller, Senior Advisor for Nursing at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, taken on her 2010 Nightingale Journey. This statue is one of only two of non-royal women in Central London.