Already the clips of President Obama walking through the old slave fortress off the coast of Africa have been replaced with fresh breaking news. But I cannot get the images out of my mind.
The president and his family walking though the dungeons of Cape Coast Castle in Ghana… The stark fortress lined with cannons where slaves were once confined to filthy cells awaiting the ships headed for the slave markets of the New World… My heart was with the Obamas. I too had walked slave halls. I too had gazed through “the door of no return” and shivered at the thought of thousands upon thousands of chained captives herded through, never again to set foot on their native soil. My personal living history lesson was at Goree Island off the coast of Senegal, West Africa. The image that will haunt me forever is the baby-sized manacles bolted to the wall.
Being a writer, I did the only thing I could after an encounter with historical horror—I wrote about it. Curiously, though, historical slavery wasn’t a topic editors were eager to touch. “Why dredge up the past?” one asked. “It will only make blacks remember and whites feel guilty.”
Simmering silence is not the same as forgetting. And avoidance is neither remorse nor seeking forgiveness.
“Thank God the days of slavery are over,” someone commented that day at Goree Island.
Right there is the other reason I write about slavery. It is far from over. Today, two hundred years after Britain passed its first laws barring slave ships from sailing freely across the Atlantic—and almost a century and a half after slavery was abolished in the U.S., three times as many people around the world live as slaves as in the 18th century. This is an increase from an estimated four million then to UNICEF’s estimate of twelve million today. (Other organizations cite a number twice as high.)
Not that the tight-packed slave ships still sail, of course. Today slavery goes by an assortment of designations such as sex trafficking, human trafficking, bonded labor, or child labor. But whenever people are owned as property, bought and sold, locked up and held against their will and punished to make them work harder, they are slaves.
The dark period of slavery in our country is history. We can choose to look at it through the “door of no return,” for today slavery is against the law in every country of the world. It is up to us to demand that those laws be enforced.
Yes we can!
Kay Marshall Strom, Eugene author of 36 books including The Call of Zulina, Book 1 of the Grace in Africa fiction trilogy (Abingdon Press), scheduled for an August 1, release. Kay Marshall Strom,
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