Remembering the beginning of the end of the trans-Atlantic slave trade

·2-min read

Monday, 23 August has been designated by the United Nations as International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. The date marks the anniversary of the 1791 revolt by slaves in Santo Domingo, a key moment on the road to abolition.

If the practice of slavery finally became illegal in the United States on 19 June 1865, 23 August 1791 marked an important starting point.

On that day, slaves on Santo Domingo, modern day Haiti and the Dominican Republic, started an uprising that would play a vital role in the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The uprising inspired the Haitian Revolution which was led by the Black and the mixed race people against the colonial rulers.

The idea of the UN remembrance day is to inscribe the tragedy of the slave trade in the memory of all peoples. The commenoration is intended to offer an opportunity for collective consideration of the causes, methods and consequences of this tragedy, and for an analysis of the interactions to which it has given rise between Africa, Europe, the Americas and the Caribbean.

Millions are still enslaved

According to Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director General, "we honour the memory of the men and women who, in Sainto Domingo in 1791, revolted and paved the way for the end of slavery and dehumanisation. We honour their memory and that of all the other victims of slavery".

Azoulay insists that the question of remembrance is essential.

"To draw lessons from this history," she says, "we must lay this system bare, deconstruct the rhetorical and pseudoscientific mechanisms used to justify it; we must refuse to accept any concession or apologia which itself constitutes a compromising of principles.

"Such lucidity is the fundamental requirement for the reconciliation of memory and the fight against all present-day forms of enslavement, which continue to affect millions of people, particularly women and children.”

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