Ambassador Crispin Gregorie and Dr Harold Weaver represented ZIFF at the inauguration of the Permanent Memorial to Honour the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Tradeat at the United Nations:
Good afternoon, Mr. President of the General Assembly; Madam Prime Minister of Jamaica; Honorable John Ashe; Madam Director of UNESCO; Honorable Ministers; Dr. Diouf; Ambassador Rattray, Chair of the Permanent Memorial Committee; Your Excellencies; ladies and gentlemen, I am honored to be here today, and I wish to begin by reading a letter from America’s Congressional Black Caucus addressed to the Secretary-General. I quote:
Over four centuries, more than 18 million people were forcefully removed from their homes in Africa, and exiled into slavery in the Americas and Europe. Thousands would perish as a result of the cruel treatment undergone during the Middle Passage. For those who survived, the appalling and inhumane conditions of slavery awaited them at their destination. Slavery remains an immoral stain on the history of the United States and the collective history of humankind. We can never forget the horrors that were inflicted on our brothers and sisters through slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. Nor can we forget the lingering effects this tragedy continues to have in our society.
The Permanent Memorial at the United Nations in Honor of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade is a reminder of the terrible legacy of slavery, yet for future generations, it serves as an opportunity to understand the history and consequences of slavery, as well as an educational tool to increase awareness about the ever-present dangers of racism and prejudice. The memorial acknowledges the tragedies of slavery but also celebrates the heroic action of the slaves, abolitionists, and unsung heroes who acted in the face of great danger to end the inhumanities of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade.
The placement of the Permanent Memorial at the United Nations Headquarters is a significant symbol of the promotion and preservation of the dignity and worth of all human beings, principles that are central to the United Nations Charter. The Congressional Black Caucus is pleased that the United States of America is making a contribution to the Permanent Memorial through a private-public funding model. This contribution is especially important given the unique role slavery and the transatlantic slave trade had on the establishment, development, and growth of our country.
While this Permanent Memorial cannot undo the horrors of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade, and the lingering consequences that still impact the descendants of its victims, it serves to acknowledge its horror, while educating all future generations about the dangers of racism and prejudice. The establishment of this Permanent Memorial is an important recognition of past horrors and a call to continue efforts to undo the lasting legacy of racism that continues to oppress millions. And the letter is signed, Representative G. K. Butterfield, Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and Representative Barbara Lee, Member of Congress. May I also add that we are also very honored to have witnessed the unveiling this afternoon of the “Ark of the Return” – the Permanent Memorial in remembrance of the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. This memorial stands as a tribute to all of slavery’s victims, including those who escaped bondage and helped others in their journey to freedom.
There is no greater blemish in the history of the United States of America than that of slavery – of the crime defined by freedom denied. Around the year 1627, not far from these UN headquarters, the first enslaved Africans arrived in present-day New York City. In fact, one of the walls of New Amsterdam’s fort, built by enslaved African people, is bordered by today’s Wall Street. The stories of transatlantic slavery and its abolition, along with the stories of heroes, such as Harriet Tubman, who helped free slaves through the Underground Railroad, are woven into the very fabric of our nation.
Over the long arc of history, females in slavery have been exceptionally victimized. This is still true today. While sexual violence is used to compel the servitude of males and females alike, women and girls are often its victims. And victims of domestic servitude – who more often than not are female – are literally held in servitude behind closed doors, invisible to those who may otherwise be able to help, and at the complete mercy of their masters. Today’s observance occurs during the first year of the International Decade of People of African Descent. The United States comes to the Decade with a full and robust commitment to ensuring the rights of persons of African descent, and to combating racism and discrimination against them, indeed, it is our commitment to members of all groups.
So let us take this day to remember the victims of the transatlantic slave trade. Together, we abolished the transatlantic slave trade, and we must act in accordance with our international and domestic obligations to do the same for modern-day slavery. Thank you.