United Nations Briefings: “The Legacy of the Slave Trade on Modern Society”
Friday, October 23, 2009
11:49 AM
NEW YORK CITY—On Thursday, March 26, the United Nations held a briefing in The Trusteeship Council Chamber that focused on the remembrance of the slave trade, predominantly with the United States and Western Africa.

Until the end of the Civil War, the transatlantic slave trade took millions of people, primarily Africans, from their native countries and transported them against their will to the Colonies of the New World, initially the South American and Caribbean colonies, and later to North America where they were subjected to many different forms of cruel and forced labor. Upon arrival, they were either traded or sold to slave owners and were forced to work under harsh treatment. The unspeakable cruelty slaves endured at their hands of their owners and masters was truly one of the darkest moments in history.

The theme of the briefing is to “break the silence and beat the drum” as a reminder to “breach the knowledge gap” of slavery and its’ history. We must take this observance seriously and take the lessons of the past to inform the future.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o is a Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine. He was born in Kenya, and is the accomplished author of plays, essays, short stories, novels and more. He taught at New York University and at Yale. His most recent book is titled “Wizard of the Crow.”

He stated strongly that “nothing is more important than the issues of slavery.” In 2006, he gave some lectures at Harvard on slavery, which have now been published. “I am glad this day is commemorated. It should be actively observed. You cannot mourn a loss for a crime you deny or forget,” Thiong’o insisted.

“The moral consequences deeply trouble me. The days of remembrance should be extended to remember those who suffered,” suggested Thiong’o. It is also suggested by many non-governmental organizations that Africans should be given proper mourning rights for the victims of slavery. “What is Africa doing now about its native languages? Their lives, culture, language and family were taken away from them. It is a crime against humanity. [Simply] remembering this day resonates love. We must renew our efforts to build a just society for future generations.”

Sylviane A. Diouf is the Curator of the Digital Collection at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. She is an author of a number of books including her most recent, “Dreams of Africa in Alabama.”

Most runaways stayed in South in forests, swamps and cities while using their survival skills, rather than using the Underground Railroad to travel north. Many built homes underground next to the plantations they worked on to escape slavery. “There is a need for accurate knowledge to be brought forth,” urged Diouf. The slave trade was a profound human story of violent people. Many Africans tried to search for their departed love ones. And what about those that were left behind? What did they think when thir loved ones were taken? How could they restore what was left of the tribes and their families? “We need to know how to play the drum. Otherwise we are just making noise.”

Jeffrey Heymann is the Executive Director of Marketing, Public Relations and Communications at Peralta Community College District. At the briefing, he put together a short trailer of a film about the legacy of slavery. The film represents the anger and frustration of slavery. The film focuses on the group called the Black Panther Party. The group was created at Merritt College in Oakland, California. The group started social justice programs and used education to forward their cause. The group also represents some of the original people to speak out against slavery. Merritt College established the first African Studies program in a community college. You can find more information on the Black Panther Party on Youtube. Heymann also played the song “Blood into Gold” that emphasizes the horrors endured by those enslaved.

Jean-Claude Martineau is a Poet and Historian. He has been a spokesman for the president of Haiti for many years. Martineau spoke of how today’s genocide is incorporated in slavery. “To understand this, we have to reexamine and go back to the slave trade,” Martineau advised. The masters of the slaves were determined to erase the slave’s heritage and identity, because they knew that their beliefs were all they had to relate to. Their masters tried to convert them to Christianity in he hopes of erasing their background and belief system. “Two drops of holy eater do not make those enslaved [or anyone] Catholic,” explained Martineau.

The slave’s masters made it hard for them to revolt by mixing slaves together who spoke different languages and came from different backgrounds, therefore there was no way for them to communicate. The movies of the past skewed the concept of slavery. For example, the film Gone With the Wind depicted slaves as so “happy” to serve their masters.

The slave trade was even tried again in the 20th century. In 1915, United States Marines invaded Haiti and stayed there for 19 years. At that time, the U.S. owned Haiti and wanted to use it as producer of sugar. Before then it was known that Haiti used to be a great producer of sugar. Many of the sugar mills still stand in Haiti today. The United States also wanted to make Nicaragua a slave-trade country. “Haiti is not poor, the Haitian people are,” explained Martineau. “According to a conservative statistic, 13 million Africans were enslaved in the west. Not including those that died from travel and abuse before arrival. If we keep silent, we are in trouble.”

Be sure to check out the live webcast of each briefing at United Nations NGO Section. You can also listen to “Blood into Gold” on iTunes.

Location: United Nations Headquarters
Author: Vanessa Pinto
NGO: Manhattanville College

I'm a senior majoring in English. I attend and report on UN Briefings and other meetings from October through May. I published a novel at the age of seventeen and have three years of writing experience for my college newspaper, literary and travel magazine. My focus is magazine & editorial writing and travel documentary. I am also active in global volunteer efforts for peace and interfaith alliance, as well as the promotion of animal rights, women's rights and education, and disaster relief.

UNA-USA: YPIC, World Youth Alliance, GPC, Seeds of Peace, WHO, UNICEF, UN University

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October 2009
January 2010