Day for Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition is celebrated on August 22. On this night in 1971, the people of Santo Domingo (present-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic) began an uprising unlike any the world had seen. The slave population of the island — brutally suppressed for centuries — rose up and fought valiantly for their dignity and freedom from colonialism. From 1791 to 1804, French and British armies suffered tremendous losses at the hands of the Haitian people. In 1804, Haiti became independent from France, effectively abolishing the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade. Each year, the United Nations (U.N.) commemorates the day to honor their struggles and victory.
History of Day for Remembrance of the Slave Trade and Its Abolition
The day owes its origins to the Haitian people who fought valiantly for freedom from slavery. For 400 years, 15 million people from Africa suffered the brutalities of the institutionalized transatlantic slave trade. Thousands of men, women, and children were torn from their homes and sold into slavery.
Since the arrival of the Spanish in the 15th century, the island of Haiti’s history has been fraught with conflict. European colonizers forced the indigenous Haitian people to mine for gold under inhumane conditions. A wave of new diseases from the outside world began to plague the island. Conditions were so brutal that by the end of the 16th century, the island’s original inhabitants had almost died out. The Spanish and later the French shipped people from other Caribbean islands to continue the work, all of whom met the same fate. By the end of the 17th century, Haiti’s slave population was over 5,000.
Most of the slave population comprised people from West Africa who worked in French settlements. They worked in the fields, as household servants, and in the sugar mills. Some were aspirational and even became slave drivers to win the approval of the Europeans. Regardless, everyone worked back-breaking hours and often died from disease and starvation.
The Haitian Revolution in the early 1790s was a result of pent-up anger at decades of brutal racism. It coincided with the unrest created by the French Revolution and the continuing wars among European countries. On January 1, 1804, the island of Haiti became independent, and slavery was abolished. The U.N. observes a day of remembrance on August 23 every year to honor the people who died fighting for their humanity and dignity.
Day for Remembrance of the Slave Trade and Its Abolition timeline
The Spanish arrive and colonize the native Ciboney and Taino people.
The island’s slave population in French settlements grows to 500,000 people.
Enslaved people across the island begin a revolution.
Haiti celebrates the first International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition.
Day for Remembrance of the Slave Trade and Its Abolition FAQs
Why is International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition celebrated?
The Haitian Revolution laid the foundations for the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade. Every year, the day seeks to remind the world of the horrors of slavery.
When did slavery end in the U.S. officially?
Under the leadership of Abraham Lincoln, Congress passed the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution on December 6, 1865. The amendment officially abolished slavery in the United States.
Who started slavery in Africa?
Portugal first began the transatlantic slave trade during the 15th century. The Portuguese would kidnap and enslave people from west Africa, taking them back to Europe. They paved the way for other European countries to expand their colonial ambitions in Africa.
How to Observe Day for Remembrance of the Slave Trade and Its Abolition
Speak up against racism
Slavery may not exist anymore, but systemic racism is still rampant. Start from where you are. Stand up for people who battle everyday racism on the streets, in supermarkets, or at work.
Learn the history
Read up on some of the darkest chapters of human history. To know and understand is a decisive step in dismantling prejudice.
Go somewhere new
Celebrate diversity in your city or community. Visit cultural centers you’ve never been to, or eat at restaurants run by different ethnic communities.
5 Facts About Haiti That Will Blow Your Mind
A symbol of freedom
The 1790 Haitian Revolution was the world's first successful slave revolt, with America catching up only 65 years later.
Voodoo and Haiti are synonymous
Haiti is one of the only countries where Voodoo is an official religion.
Cave paintings and heritage preservation
Although slavery almost wiped out the native Taino people, their art and heritage endure in cave paintings across Haiti.
Haitian currency and its curious name
The Haitian currency, Gourde, gets its name from the gourd plant - the most vital food source on the island.
An island of mountains
Haiti comes from the indigenous “Ayiti,” which means land of mountains.
Why Day for Remembrance of the Slave Trade and Its Abolition is Important
The transatlantic slave trade profoundly impacted the Haitian economy and culture and its effects are still prevalent generations later. The day is a call to world leaders and communities to never make the same mistakes.
The power of resistance
The day reminds us to keep fighting for what is right. Things with value take time, so we must keep at it.
Impossible doesn't exist
It’s easy to get wrapped up in everything wrong with the world. But today reminds us of how far we’ve come. Humanity prevailed, and we achieved seemingly impossible feats.
Day for Remembrance of the Slave Trade and Its Abolition dates