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03/25:International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade

Updated: Oct 30

On December 17, 2007, the General Assembly of the United Nations, in its Resolution 62/122, declared March 25 the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The March 25 International Day aims to bring awareness to the dangers of prejudice, racial discrimination, and racism. The United Nations Resolution calls for educational establishments and civil society to teach students the“causes, consequences, and lessons of the transatlantic Slave Trade and the dangers of racism and prejudice.”

Today, March 25, 2023, we mark the fifteenth year of the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave trade. In the spirit of the day, as you read these words, reflect upon how much of this history you are remembering, as opposed to how much you are learning.

"The history of slavery is the history of the United States. It was no peripheral to our founding; it was central to it. It is not irrelevant to our contemporary society; it created it. This history is in our soil, it is in our policies, and it must, too, be in our memories.” —Clint Smith, PhD, author of How the Word Is Passed.

As we remember the victims of slavery, the transatlantic slave trade today, and America’s ugly history and legacy of its involvement in the most extensive dehumanization of a group of people, it is appropriate to acknowledge the country’s participation and the enduring impact as well. Black labor established the modern world commerce which first began as a commerce in the bodies of enslaved blacks and was the primary cause of the prosperity of the first commercial cities of our day.

The United States of America cannot ignore a significant aspect of its history—its involvement in the transatlantic slave trade and the enslavement and trading of black people for decades. The transatlantic slave trade is one of the greatest human disasters in history. It was responsible for the forced and violent uprooting and massive transportation of over twenty million African people from the continent of Africa to the Western world, including the Americas. Between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries, Black people in Africa were traumatized and dehumanized. They lived in constant fear of family members being captured, involuntarily moved, and forcibly transported to a strange land. The slave trade and slavery fragmented the once well-structured, self-governed, powerful, and thriving African states and made room for the eventual seizure of African land by European superpowers and colonization of Africa.

As early as 1526, the first enslaved Africans were brought to the southern part of America. Lucas Vasquez de Ayllon’s expedition was one of the six Spanish conquistas to colonize the southern region of North America. His party included one hundred Africans who were brought to a settlement called San Miguel de Gualdape in South Carolina, which was the first European settlement in North America. His attempt to settle along the Carolina coast at Winyah Bay was unsuccessful. The harsh winter, hunger, attacks from Native Americans, and internal strife over leadership caused the settlement to fail and de Allyon and his team to abandon their settlement after a year. During the leadership fight, the enslaved Africans fled and were absorbed by the Native Americans. Many of the Spanish explorers and de Allyon died of fever.

Another account suggests that about twenty to thirty enslaved Africans, stolen from a Portuguese slave ship by an English sea pirate, landed in Virginia in 1619. These enslaved and shackled Africans were involuntarily transported in the bowls of a slave ship from the precolonial Kingdom of Ndongo in modern-day Republic of Angola in southern Africa across the Atlantic Ocean to North America. The Africans, who were poorly clad and fed, were transported in a grossly despicable and inhumane Dutch cargo ship, the White Lion, to a British colony in Jamestown, Virginia. The enslaved Africans were purchased as laborers for the plantation of the then-governor of Virginia, George Yardley. Their arrival is regarded by some historians as the start of the history of slavery in North America.

Colonial America was a slave society, and Washington, DC, was not just the Capital of the United States, it was also the capital of slavery, serving as a major depot in North American slave trade. Alexandra in the District of Columbia was an import slaving port and the center for slave trade for over a century. United States Presidents and government officials owned enslaved black people from the eighteenth century to the nineteenth century. For about seventy years, between the election of George Washington (1789) and Abraham Lincoln (1860), an enslaver was the president of the United States. Twelve early US presidents owned enslaved Black people. Of these twelve American presidents, eight of them kept enslaved black Americans while in office- George Washington, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, James K. Polk, Zachary Taylor, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln. Thomas Jefferson had the most enslaved black people followed by George Washington who held about 300 enslaved black Americans in bondage. President Jefferson’s ancestors held black people on a large plantation in Virginia from the seventeenth century, and some of the president’s slaves were his biological children as confirmed by DNA tests.

Enslaved African family picking cotton in a Southern American Plantation c. 1850

The slave system was the key foundation of America’s financial independence, wealth, stability, and greatness. Without slave trade and the backbreaking labor of enslaved Africans, Europe and America would not have achieved the enormous explosion of wealth, prominence, and glory in the nineteenth century. Slave labor producing cash crops of tobacco, sugarcane, indigo, and cotton made Southern states in America the economic engine of this new world. Slavery and anti-blackness played “a central role in the development of our society and institutions” (Hannah-Jones, The 1619 Project, p. xxi). Slavery of Black Africans have made an unparalleled impact in shaping American society. The enslavement of Africans and their backbreaking labor contributed enormously to the rise and development of Western and American capitalist economy. Slavery contributed to the modern world by giving capitalism a shot in the arm and a big jolt, a fact that is scarcely mentioned in traditional historic accounts of American and world history.

The backbreaking labor of enslaved Africans provided the raw material for industrial revolution and its growth, sparking the biggest economic change in modern history. Western European and American economy from the seventeenth to the early nineteenth centuries was founded on grueling slave labor. In the American colonies, enslaved Africans and their children helped fuel the American Industrial Revolution by picking cotton in the South; toiling in the rice, tobacco, and indigo farms; and working the textile mills in the Northern colonies. Profits from slave labor helped the United States government pay off its war debts and finance American colleges and universities that were inaccessible to enslaved and free black people at the time. The historical impact of the transatlantic slave trade is evidenced also in the development of major cities and seaports in Britain and America such as London, Manchester, Glasgow, Liverpool, New Orleans, Charleston in South Carolina; Providence, Rhode Island; West Port Connecticut. Trading in African bodies also contributed to the rise of financial, banking, and cloth and textile manufacturing industries in the northern states. Slavery helped make New York City a thriving financial capital of the world, and it contributed enormously to the success of Wall Street as a powerful United States trading, insurance, and banking institution. In conclusion, Slave trade was the backbone of the commerce and social structure of the South, the manufacturing and commerce of the North, of large scale buying and selling in America as well as the English factory.

The enormous manufacturing activities and exports stimulated the banking industry, creating loan opportunities as a means of acquiring extra capital. Banking institutions like the Bank of England, Barclays Bank, Llyod’s in Britain and JP Morgan, Wells Fargo, Citibank, and the Bank of America in the United States were built upon the enormous profits of the transatlantic slave trade and slavery. Many slave traders invested heavily in the financial and banking industry, which led to the development of modern-day banking and insurance institutions. Banks were established in the United States that provided huge capital and commercial credits required for the enslavers to acquire enslaved Africans to labor in the plantations and for the manufacturing industries. The development and incredible growth of the metal and coal industries were also due to the slave trade and slavery. With slave equipment, like chains, shackles and branding irons, and shipbuilding, and the materials used in building ships, metal materials saw a great boom as well as coal used in iron production. Other metal materials were also in great demand because of slavery such as guns, pots, pans, cutlery enamelware, and many other metal products. Noting the critical role played by slavery, Howard W. French states in his 2022 publication “Born in Water,

Africa, and the human resources drained from the continent via the greatest forced migration in human history, had provided the most essential input of all by far to making the New World economically viable. Africans, in other words, became the ingredient sine qua non in this project… To a degree that has never been recognized, it was upon the bedrock of their strength and their will to endure and survive the horrors of slavery that much of the wealth and power of subsequent centuries of predominant Western capitalism was founded” (French, pp. 223–224).

The importation of enslaved African captives to the new country, now known as the United States of America, was provided in the United States Constitution. This forced migration of enslaved African people continued even after the Act of 1808.that banned the importation of enslaved Black people to the United States, and its ugly legacy is still with us today in the form of embedded structural and institutional racism.

To permanently honor and commemorate the victims of the Triangular Slave Trade and slavery, the United Nations erected a memorial, The Ark of Return, on March 25, 2015, at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. In 2019, marking the four hundredth anniversary of the arrival of the enslaved Africans in Jamestown, Virginia, the New York Times magazine publication re-framed America’s dark history of enslaving African people. It also elevated the legacy of the involvement of American colonists in slavery on the history narrative of the United States. The New York Times project, known as the “The 1619 Project”, first published in the New York Times magazine in August 2019, is an American history project that examines the modern-day legacy of slavery over thirty essays and creative works of art. It places the effect of enslavement of black people and their numerous contributions to the country squarely at the center of the national discussion in America. The 1619 Project of the New York Times has helped bring the colonial era history of the United States to life in extraordinarily fresh ways, linking the history of America to today’s events in the country. The government of modern-day Ghana also commemorated the four-hundred-year anniversary of the arrival of the twenty-plus enslaved Africans in Jamestown, Virginia, USA with The Year of Return, Ghana 2019 project. The Year of Return program celebrates the resilient spirit of Africans and recognizes the challenges, sacrifices and achievements of diaspora Africans.


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Bernadine Ahonkhai, M.A., M.Ed., ED. D Education Consultant Founder/President & CEO, Coalition4Justice 905 N. Bethlehem Pike, #754, Spring House, PA 19477 Email: Advancing Equity and Justice Together

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