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Remembering a very dark time in human history4 min read

March 26, 2021 3 min read


Remembering a very dark time in human history4 min read

Reading Time: 3 minutes

March 25 is a day of remembrance. On this day, we think about the millions of men, women and children who became victims of the deeply tragic and unfortunate transatlantic slave trade.

This painting represents how slaves were captured by colonisers and carried away on boats.
Credit: Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

This was a dark and horrid chapter in human history, which is marked every year through tributes to those who suffered at the hands of the brutal slavery system. The International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade offers the opportunity to honour these people, and raise awareness about the dangers of racism and prejudice that exists even today!

This chart illustrates just how many slaves people were transported over the centuries. Credit: aglobehopper.medium.com

According to the United Nations, for over 400 years, more than 15 million men, women and children became victims to the slave trade, which is said to be the worst violation of human rights in history. 

The day was first observed in 2008 and the theme for the first International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery was ‘Breaking the Silence, Lest We Forget’.  To honour the victims, a memorial has been erected at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. The unveiling took place on March 25, 2015.

What was the transatlantic slave trade?

The Atlantic slave trade was the selling of African slaves by Europeans that happened in and around the Atlantic Ocean. It lasted from the 15th century to the 19th century. Most slaves were shipped from West Africa and brought over to the Americas via slave ships! The journey by ship was known as the ‘Middle Passage’.

The map illustrates how the slaves were transported from Africa to Europe and the Americas. Credit: Britannica

So how were these humans forced into slavery, you ask? Some were captured in battles or through raids and kidnapping. Some were sold into slavery as punishment or to pay a debt, usually by other Africans. They were then made to walk for days and weeks to get to the coast, kept on boats in extremely harsh conditions, and then taken to new lands where they were imprisoned. The slaves were kept in forts from where they were purchased by Europeans. Historians estimate that anywhere between 12 million and 13 million Africans were forced into the slave trade.  

When did it end?

By the 18th century, opposition to the slave trade started to grow in Britain, America and parts of Europe. Movements and organisations to end the barbaric practise started to pop up in Britain and America, which was met with mixed reactions – some wanted slavery to end, others needed the slaves to work on their lands and plantations.

A building where enslaved people were kept before they were “sold”. Credit: David Ley, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Abolitionism, which was the term used for the movement to end slavery in Europe and America, became stronger in the 19th century. Denmark was the first European country to ban the slave trade in 1792. In 1807, the United States abolished slave trade later that year. The Royal Navy, which is the navy of the United Kingdom, set up a ‘Blockade of Africa’ to stop the trade. Brazil outlawed slave trade in 1850, but the smuggling of new slaves into Brazil did not end entirely until 1888.
However, smuggling of slaves was still very common, though illegally. 

Theme for 2021 

This year, the theme of the day is ‘Ending Slavery’s Legacy of Racism: A Global Imperative for Justice’. It reflects the need for a global effort to end injustice meted out to people through slavery. The theme also stresses the importance of educating people on the history of the transatlantic slave trade. As per the UN, “The theme guides the Programme’s development of educational outreach and remembrance to mobilise action against prejudice, racism and injustice.”

Sources: Britannica, Wikipedia, India Today