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The legacy that remains: Int'l Day Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition

The theme of this year’s International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition is "Stories of Courage: Resistance to Slavery and Unity against Racism." This theme recognizes how storytelling allows us to pass on history in relatable ways through varied perspectives – from pain and trauma to gains and motivation.

The transatlantic slave trade is one of the most detrimental events of human history. It deeply impacted communities of the Americas, Europe, and Africa through the forced migration of over 12.5 million persons. There is still a lot to learn from localized stories that foster understanding of people from all sides of the Atlantic.

Part of the legacy of slavery persists through the over 40 dungeons and castles along the western coast of Africa – undeniable evidence of the European infrastructure of the transatlantic slave trade. In visiting some of the largest slavery dungeons and castles such as Goree Island in Senegal, Whydah (in present-day Benin), and the towns of Cape Coast and Elmina in Ghana, the experience is brought to life through the conservator or tour guides: the ominous walls of these buildings cannot tell the stories alone. More efforts need to be made to ensure that the communities hosting the monuments have the resources to collect oral histories to maintain and preserve this critical infrastructure.

Africatown, Alabama is one of the African-American towns where the community has preserved oral history and collections of important historical relics. This has made it an important historical destination and, since 2019, it has attracted significant attention with the discovery of the Clotilda slave ship. Dr. Natalie Robinson and others have brought stories to life of the crime of the Clotilda ship – linking descendants of Clotilda to the Whydah slave castle of Benin and Nigeria. The Clotilda discovery has sparked many projects including Descendant, a film on the crimes committed on the Clotilda ship, and the Africatown survivors of Clotilda.

The ambitious revival of Africatown through its Heritage Preservation Foundation and public-private collaborations will bring growth and community development through museums, housing, food banks, recreational spaces, and tourism-related infrastructure.

This year celebrates the stories of sacrifices and fearlessness of change-makers like Harriet Tubman, who led hundreds of African-American slaves to freedom through an underground railroad across the eastern United States. Another important story to remember is when the King of Kongo, Nzinga Mbemba wrote a letter to the then-Portuguese King João III in 1526, trying to thwart the practice of slave trade at the realization of the dimension it had taken.

I can only imagine the endless possibilities for economic growth that could be sparked from further reflections on the stories of men and women from other counties affected by the transatlantic slave trade and communities such as the Gullah people living off the southern coast of the US who have retained distinctive African cultural practices. By encouraging further research, documentation, and recording of oral histories of communities of people across the world affected by the transatlantic slave trade, it is hoped that more localized stories like these would emerge to inspire us about the fearlessness of these individuals who have contributed to reminding us that these atrocities are to never happen again.

In addition to remembering stories of the transatlantic slave trade, we have the opportunity to not only learn more about what happened in specific sites but look at accountability, reconciliation, as well as strategies and actions to re-set the course through reparations, targeted education, and economic rebuilding of communities.

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