International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, under the initiative of the United Nations, is observed on March 25 every year. The day honors the victims of the transatlantic slave trade that spanned over four centuries and impacted an estimate of nearly 15 million African men, women, and children. The day was first observed in 2008 with “Breaking the Silence, Lest We Forget” as its main theme. Every year, exhibits, film screenings, and discussion panels are planned at the United Nations Headquarters, and institutions from all around the world are requested to pay respects to the victims of this unthinkable horror.
History of International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade
Slavery has existed since time immemorial and has been a practice in almost all cultures of the world. Slavery as a punishment for crimes has been a long-held standard for nearly every past civilization. The transatlantic slave trade marked an egregious turn of events when West African leaders sold their subjects, mainly captured people from raids and prisoners to the Western and European slave traders. The formal import of slaves began in 1525 and lasted until 1866. In total, more than 12.5 million Africans were shipped to western countries, out of which only 10.7 million survived. The total number of victims of the centuries-long exercise hangs at around 15 million.
International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade is an annual observation initiated by the United Nations in 2007. Each year, a new theme is adopted by the United Nations to bring focused attention to the layered lessons about slavery.
The United Nations considers the tragedy of the transatlantic slave trade as “one of the darkest chapters in human history.” The observation calls for the establishment to mobilize, educate, and inculcate future generations about the horrors, lessons, and consequences of the transatlantic slave trade. Even though we have come far in our quest for progress, African Americans and African Europeans continue to face racial discrimination at an institutional level. To this day, racial discrimination and racial profiling are the biggest causes of death of African Americans. The day aims to create awareness about the prejudice and racism felt by the African diaspora across the western world.
International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade timeline
The first slave ship departs from Africa for the western world and lands in Cuba.
The first 50 Africans from Angola are brought to Jamestown, Virginia in the U.S.
Nigerian writer Olaudah Equiano publishes the first accounts of the enslaved life that contributes to the cause of slavery abolition in the U.K. and other western nations.
Great Britain ends the slave trade following the abolition of slavery in the northern U.S.
U.S. President Abraham Lincoln signs the decree of emancipation and frees all the slaves from the southern states.
International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade FAQs
Is there an official memorial for slavery?
Yes, the United Nations launched The Permanent Memorial in New York in 2015 as the official memorial for the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
What was the theme for the observation in 2022?
In 2022, the theme was “Stories of Courage: Resistance to Slavery and Unity against Racism”
When was slavery officially abolished in the U.S.?
The U.S. abolished slavery on December 18, 1865.
How to Observe International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade
Organize a walk of remembrance
Take a candle, make a poster, invite a friend, and organize a vigil in the honor of the victims. Slavery may have ended centuries ago, but it can never be a thing of the past. The magnitude of such horror continues to haunt the modern world; and on March 25, we honor the victims and further reflect on the consequences of and lessons from the tragic legacy of slavery.
Read about the history of slavery
There are many misconceptions about slavery in the U.S. and around the world. For example, did you know that the U.S. received less than 5% of the captured Africans? March 25 is a day that would offer the best opportunity to stream a documentary or read a book about the horrors of that time and become a better-informed citizen.
Fight against discrimination
Slavery, now an unthinkable horror, was the law of the land for nearly four centuries. Injustices are often shielded by unjust laws to discriminate against minority groups. Take a look around, be mindful of the injustices in the world that are permissible by law, and take concrete action.
5 Shocking Facts About Slavery
Foundation of the international trade system
Several cities along the coast of Britain were built specifically to transport over 10 million slaves, which spurred Britain’s economic growth.
The catalyst for the American Revolution
Britain’s changing attitude regarding slavery in the late 18th century propelled the southern leaders of the U.S. to declare independence from the English.
Anti-minority, not anti-tax
Southern states desisted paying taxes because they didn’t want the freed African population in the U.S. to benefit from public programs.
The enslavement of the smart
Africans knew how to farm in sub-tropical climates and were specifically chosen and enslaved due to their intelligence and skillset.
The case for reparations
Slaves generated astronomical wealth for the southern U.S. states, exceeding more than $12 million per plantation, yet former slaves received nothing after the abolition.
Why International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade is Important
It’s a day to “break the silence”
The United Nations urges us to break the silence and speak out against racial and economic discrimination that people continue to suffer. The annual remembrance for the victims reminds us that we would be wise to not sweep the horrific stories under the rug. Learning from our history guidance to not repeat the same mistakes in the future.
Memories are powerful
We are way past the final generation that was impacted directly by the horrors of slavery. The only way to keep the memories fresh and alive is to continue to talk about them. The descendants of enslaved Africans must come together to share stories, build connections, and maintain an open dialogue.
The remnants of slavery still haunt us
The Transatlantic Slave Trade memorial stands as a reminder of the legacy of slavery. The placard reads “consider the legacy,” symbolizing the remnants of the past and how it continues to haunt us in the form of racism, inequality, and unjust treatment. On March 25, we renew our pledge to fight discrimination and take sincere steps to leave the world better than how we found it.
International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade dates