Gorée Island Part of Black History
February marks the start of Black History Month, a time to appreciate and learn more about our history, a devastating history that is unfortunately filled with immense tragedy and hardship. Now of course it goes without saying that we shouldn’t confine studying our history to just one month out of the year. However, Black History is often overlooked and so it is important that we do take a month out of the year to truly learn about our past and acknowledge how far we as a people have come.
Our history is much more than just slavery and segregation before the Trans- Atlantic slave trade Africans thrived in their communities. Although not completely homogenous, civilization in African was highly evolved. Africa had many kingdoms each with its own unique language and culture. In smaller regions and villages, the close-knit community worked together to provide for everyone. Centuries before the Trans-Atlantic slave trade Africans and Europeans had traded resources, Africa was in fact ahead of many Western civilizations in terms of medicine, technology and art. African art is not only instantly recognisable but it is also unique and distinctive. At Ivory B, we use authentic Mudcloth fabric, a traditional material that has origins in West Africa.
Sadly, a large part of our history is slavery, prospective slave owners would travel to ports in West Africa in search for Africans to buy. There were many ports that enslaved Africans were kept before being transported to Europe, the Americas and Caribbean but one of the most famous located off the coast of Senegal is Goree Island’s Door of no Return, also known as the House of Slaves. This was the last place the slaves were held before being forced onto ships and into a life of slavery. The living conditions at the House of Slaves were unimaginable, families were separated and they were kept shackled in dark and poorly ventilated cells, many didn’t survive the conditions in the cells. It is estimated that between 10-20 million Africans were captured and transported into slavery with around 400,000 Africans shipped directly to North America, packed into the ships like sardines many didn’t survive the long and gruelling journey. The bodies were simply thrown overboard.
Although many historians argue over whether Goree Island was indeed ever a shipping port for enslaved Africans, to the many who visit the memorial the symbolism is clear. It symbolises the slave trade, our dark and tortured history and the trauma that can still be felt today.
While slavery was abolished in the US in 1865, life was still indescribable for African Americans, due to their lack of education and their financial circumstances, ex slaves often couldn’t afford to own property and so were often forced to stay on their ex slave owner’s plantation and pay them rent. The years following the abolishment of slavery saw laws put in place that granted more rights to African Americans. The right to citizenship, the right to marry and right to acquire property. However, the former slave owners were outraged with the ex-slaves new found freedom and fought hard to reverse what little rights they did have. Many states in the south succeeded in passing ‘Black Codes’. This era saw the government enforce segregation laws. Black people had to attend separate schools, eat at separate restaurants and ride at the back of the bus. The segregated black schools were nowhere near the same standard as the white schools. The class sizes were overcrowded and the books were out of date meaning that black children received subpar education. This in turn led to Black people struggling to find jobs that paid above minimum wage and so they continued to live in poverty. It took many years of fighting and activism before Black people were granted equals rights. However, the damage had already been done and the intergenerational effects of slavery continues to affect Black people today. Black people continue to are live in poverty, higher rates of unemployment and higher rates of health complications all because of the trauma caused by slavery and Jim Crow.
Black History is a complicated and distressing one but we must continue to talk about it, so we can learn from the past and appreciate everything that our ancestors have done and fought for.