Slavery Remembrance Day, or International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, is observed on August 23 all over the world. The day was chosen by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to memorialize the transatlantic slave trade.
The slave trade was one of the most horrible infringements of human rights in human history. For over 400 years, more than 15 million men, women, and children from Africa were the victims of the transatlantic slave trade. During this time, people were taken from their home tribes and forced to work under grueling conditions with little to no pay.
Slavery Remembrance Day is not just about remembering the horrors of slavery and honoring its victims; it is also about working to ensure the system of racism that caused slavery is abolished completely in today’s world.
History of Slavery Remembrance Day
The International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition was created by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) at its general conference in 1988. The first Slavery Remembrance Day was celebrated in Haiti in 1998 and other countries followed suit, like Senegal in 1999.
UNESCO chose August 23 as the official day for slavery remembrance because of its significance in the history of the transatlantic trade. From the night of August 22 to the morning of August 23 in 1791, the first major slave uprising during the transatlantic slave trade happened in Saint Domingue in modern-day Haiti.
The uprising was called the Haitian Revolution and it lasted for 13 years, from 1791 to 1804 when the former French colony got its independence. Thousands of slaves all over Saint Domingue rose in a revolution and attacked their slave masters. It was a defining moment in the history of slavery, and it had a major impact on the abolition of the slave trade around the world.
The transatlantic slave trade began in the 15th century with the Portuguese as the first slave traders in the triangular slave trade. The triangular trade referred to the triad involved in the slave trade – Africa, which supplied labor, the Americas which received them, and Europe which paid for them. Slave trade was made worse by Europe’s discovery of the American content with its sugar plantations. This led to an increased demand for unpaid labor in the form of slaves.
The African continent was the most affected by the transatlantic slave trade. The Europeans considered them inferior and used this as justification for their racist ideologies. They also discovered that Africans managed to survive even under grueling conditions — the cruelest of all being slavery.
Slavery Remembrance Day timeline
“Twenty and odd” Africans from Angola are carried to Jamestown, Virginia, and traded for provisions.
On February 18, the Pennsylvania Quakers adopts the first formal anti-slavery resolution in American history.
The rise of the cotton industry leads to an increased demand for labor in the form of enslaved Africans.
Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation makes it clear that a win for the Union during the American Civil War will mean the abolishment of slavery in the United States.
Slavery Remembrance Day FAQs
When is Slavery Abolition Day?
On December 2 every year, the world joins to observe the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. The day was chosen at the General Assembly of the U.N.’s Convention on the Traffic in Persons and Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others in 1949.
Where is slavery most common today?
Slavery is still well and alive today, with 40 million people being affected worldwide. Modern slavery is most prevalent in Africa, followed by Asia and the Pacific.
What is the ‘big house’ in slavery?
The ‘big house’ in slavery referred to the main house where the slave masters or mistresses lived. It is the most prominent building on a plantation, usually adorned with stylish architectural features. It was sometimes called the ‘great house.’
How to Observe Slavery Remembrance Day
Watch a movie about slavery
The history of slavery is depicted in films such as “12 Years A Slave” and “Roots.” You can have a movie marathon with movies about slavery on Slavery Remembrance Day. Films can help visualize the true horrors of slavery and show the resilience of the slaves.
Read up on the history of slavery
If you prefer books to movies, you can read up about the history of slavery instead. The history of slavery is so deep, yet too many people don’t know enough about it. Use Slavery Remembrance Day to learn more about the history of slavery in the world.
Join a walk of remembrance
In many cities and countries around the world, walks of remembrance are held in honor and remembrance of the victims of slavery and the slave trade. If you can’t find a walk of remembrance near you, feel free to organize one.
5 Facts About Slavery And The Slave Trade
The U.S. wasn’t the biggest player
In fact, less than 5% of the victims of the transatlantic slave trade ended up on the coast of the present-day United States – 90% were taken to Brazil or the Caribbean.
It could have ended in 1790
Benjamin Franklin wrote a petition to the U.S. Congress asking for the abolition of slavery and the slave trade in 1790, but it was immediately denounced by pro-slavery congressmen.
It hasn’t ended
There are estimated to be more people in various forms of slavery today than at any time in human history.
Freedom was bought
Per the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, the British Government spent over £20 million compensating slave owners in exchange for the freedom of all the slaves in the Empire.
Slavery in the U.K. before 2010
Before slavery was made a statutory offense in the U.K., someone could force another person already inside the U.K. or E.U. into servitude and get away with it.
Why Slavery Remembrance Day is Important
Reparations are necessary
Slavery was truly evil. While it may be tempting to shove this dark portion of our history in a dark corner, we need to acknowledge that it happened and work to make reparations for it. Black people have been historically marginalized and oppressed and Slavery Remembrance Day helps us remember why we need to make reparations for this.
The past is important for the future
Certain elements of the past can help us in the future. When we notice the patterns and attitudes that caused the slave trade to happen in the first place, we can put measures in place to stop it from happening again.
It raises awareness about race issues
No matter how much we try to ignore or deny it, racial injustice and discrimination are still very real today. Slavery Remembrance Day raises awareness about the danger of letting racism run free and reminds us to fight it wherever we see it.
Slavery Remembrance Day dates