Published on September 11th, 2019 | by CCAT0
The 23rd of August – A day to remember what was, recognise what is today and educate for tomorrow.
The International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition on the 23rd of August intends to inscribe the tragedy of the slave trade, its historic causes, methods and consequences in the memory of all people (UNESCO, 2019).
The date recognises the uprising of the Haitian Revolution. The night of the 22nd to the 23rd of August in 1791 marks the beginning of a 13-year revolution in then Saint Domingue (today Haiti and the Dominican Republic) which set forth events that had globe shifting consequences and were major factors in the abolition of the slave trade (Knight, 2000). Saint Domingue was a colony predominantly populated by people who were enslaved and exploited to work on plantations and it was their togetherness that overthrew Saint Domingue’s colonial status and economic state, making it the first free colonial society to have explicitly rejected race as the basis of social ranking (Knight, 2000). A new political state of entirely free individuals was established. The old order was challenged in a strive for equality, freedom, and individual independence regardless of one’s colour and background. This quest for individual and collective liberty lead to a revolution in which the government was overthrown and individuals, who were previously enslaved, became part of the constitution and the government itself. For the first time, the previous enslaved declared their independence.
Annually, on the 23rd of August, we do not only remember the painful injustice of the Slave Trade, its abolition, and the Haitian Revolution; we also reflect on the contemporary consequences of the slave trade and its implications in society today. The inhumane history of the slave trade left a devastating legacy of exploitation and violence behind. Racism, discrimination, social exclusion, inequality and poverty stemming from the slave trade are consequences that require urgent attention and solutions (UNESCO, 2014). The UNESCO project ‘The Slave Route’ recognises this day and that the concealment and ignorance of a tragedy, that shaped societies globally so radically, creates a barrier in finding solutions and overcoming its consequences today. Instead, ‘The Slave Route’ calls for a better understanding of the causes, forms of operation, stakes and consequences of slavery, and highlights the global transformations and cultural interactions caused by it to start the intercultural dialogue (UNESCO, 2014).
Though, on the 23rd of August each year, whilst we remember and reflect on the millions of lives that were stolen, the inhumanity of the slave trade and its impact on society today, we also acknowledge, preserve and promote the contributions of people of African descent and their heritage, just as we do remember the bravery and togetherness of the people of the Haitian Revolution.
And although we remember the abolition of the slave trade, we need to be aware that its abolition does not equal its end. In 2016, on any given day, an estimated 40 million people globally were victims of modern slavery, including forced labour and forced marriage (International Labour Office and Walk Free Foundation, 2017).
In honouring the importance of the 23rd of August, we invite people to join annual commemoration events on the day, such as the following events at the National Maritime Museum in London or the Museum of London Docklands:
- International Labour Office and Walk Free Foundation (2017) Global Estimates of Modern Slavery. Available at: https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—dgreports/—dcomm/documents/publication/wcms_575479.pdf (Accessed: 16 August 2019).
- Knight, F.W. (2000) ‘The Haitian Revolution’, The American Historical Review, 105 (1), pp. 103-115. DOI: 10.2307/2652438.
- UNESCO (2014) The Slave Route: 1994 – 2014. The road travelled. Oxford University Press: Paris. Available at: http://www.unesco.org/culture/pdf/slave/the-slave-route-the-road-travelled-1994-2014-en.pdf (Accessed: 16 August 2019).
- UNESCO (2019) International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. Available at: https://en.unesco.org/commemorations/slavetraderemembranceday (Accessed: 17 August 2019).