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The Transatlantic Slave Trade (45874 hits)

The Transatlantic (Triangle) Slave Trade

Background and Summary

The Atlantic slave trade, also known as the Transatlantic slave trade, was the trade of African persons supplied to the European colonies of the "New World" (the newly discovered North and South American continents) that were in and around the Atlantic Ocean. It lasted from the 16th century to the 19th century. Most slaves were shipped from West Africa and Central Africa and taken to the New World. Some slaves were captured by European slave traders through raids and kidnapping, but most were obtained through coastal trading with fellow Africans. Most contemporary historians estimate that between 9.4 and 12 million Africans made it to the New World, although the number of people taken from their home is considerably higher. The slave-trade is sometimes called the “Maafa by African and Black scholars, which means "holocaust" or "great disaster" in Swahili. The slaves were one element of a three-part economic cycle—the Triangular Trade and its Middle Passage—which ultimately involved four continents, four centuries and millions of people.

Slavery was practiced in Africa and a number of other places around the world even before the first Europeans arrived there. After the arrival of the Europeans, this system provided a large number of Black slaves to a slave market supplied by well-established slave trade networks controlled by local tribes. Relying on African slaves to keep a plantation economy running wasn’t new to the Europeans. Most prominently, Portuguese islands off the African coast, for example Madeira, had already established this system, which helped to start the popularity of buying and selling slaves.

There are two main eras of the Atlantic system: The first Atlantic system was the trade of African slaves to mostly South American colonies owned by Portuguese and Spanish empires. It became significant in scale by about 1502 and lasted until 1580, when the Portuguese monarchy was united with the Spanish empire under the same king. While the Portuguese traded slaves themselves, the Spanish empire relied on the “asiento system,” awarding merchants mostly from other countries the license to trade slaves to their colonies. During the first Atlantic system, most of these traders were Portuguese giving them a near-monopoly during the era, although some Dutch, English, Spanish and French traders also participated in the slave trade. After the occupation, Portugal stayed formally autonomous, but was weakened, with its colonial empire being attacked by the Dutch and English.

The second Atlantic system was the trade of African slaves by mostly English, Brazilian, French and Dutch traders. The main destinations of this phase were the Caribbean colonies and Brazil, as a number of European countries built up economically slave-dependent colonial empires in the New World. Only slightly more than three percent of the slaves exported were traded between 1450 and 1600, 16 percent in the 17th century. More than half of them were exported in the 18th century, the remaining 28.5 percent in the 19th century.

European colonists initially practiced systems of both bonded labor and Indian slavery enslaving many of the natives of North and South America. For a variety of reasons, Africans replaced Indians as the main population of slaves in the Americas. In some cases, such as on some of the Caribbean Islands, disease and warfare eliminated the natives completely. In other cases, such as in South Carolina, Virginia and New England, the need for alliances with native tribes coupled with the availability of African slaves at affordable prices, beginning in the early 18th century for these colonies, resulted in a shift away from Native American slavery. It is often falsely stated that Indians made poor slaves compared to Africans, explaining the shift to using Africans. The reasons had more to do with economics and politics.

The most notorious triangular trade in human history was the 18th century trade between West Africa, the West Indies, and England. Of these, the sea lane west from Africa was the notorious “Middle Passage;” its cargo was abducted or purchased African slaves. The trade represented a profitable enterprise for merchants. The business was risky, competitive and severe, but enslaved Africans fetched a high price at auctions, making the trade in human cargo a lucrative business.

The first leg of the triangle was from a European port, where supplies such as copper, cloth, trinkets, slave beads, guns and ammunition would be shipped to a port in Africa. When the slave ship arrived, its cargo would be sold in exchange for slaves, who were often tightly-packed into ships like any other cargo to maximize profits. The ship would then make the journey along the Middle Passage to the “New World.” Once the slave ship reached the New World, the surviving slaves would be sold for a hefty profit. The ships were then sunk to get them thoroughly cleaned, drained and loaded for a return voyage to their home port. From the West Indies the main cargo was sugar, rum and molasses; from North America, it was tobacco and hemp. The ship then returned to Europe to complete the triangle.

Aspects of the Triangle

The first side of the triangle was the export of goods from Europe to Africa. A number of African kings and merchants took part in the trading of slaves from 1440 to about 1900. For each captive, the African rulers would receive a variety of goods from Europe. Many of them were confronted with the dilemma of trading with Europe or becoming slaves themselves. The second leg of the triangle exported enslaved Africans across the Atlantic Ocean to South America, the Caribbean islands, and North America. The third and final part of the triangle was the return of goods to Europe from the Americas. The goods were the products of slave-labor plantations and included cotton, sugar, tobacco, molasses and rum. However, Brazil, the main importer of slaves, manufactured these goods in South America and began trading directly with African ports, thus, did not take part in a triangular trade.

The trade in slaves to Europe began in the mid-15th century with Portuguese explorations along the west coast of Africa. The development of slavery is vital in understanding the importance of today’s current political, social and cultural issues. In order to comprehend the origins of the Middle Passage, there has to be an understanding of its functions. This journey was distinctive from others in that it was a forced journey, and because the rates of mortality were so high and social dislocation caused by the approach of capture and transportation. The slave trade was the instrument in which a large chunk of a population was transported across the Atlantic and made to develop the economy of many countries in the New World. Colonialism commanded the need of increased labor. The growth of profits from plantations was the driving factor in the movement of thousands of slaves. Slavery affected every part of life within the New World and Africa. Overall, the impact of slavery stopped the process of growth in the economy and population of Africa. Shortage of labor was one of the results of the Atlantic Slave Trade. Native peoples were the first used by Europeans as slaves until a large number died from overwork and diseases. Later, African slaves were available in large quantities at affordable prices. Other incentives, such as indentured servitude also failed to provide a sufficient workforce, making African slaves the choice commodity.

Many of the crops harvested in the New World could not be sold for profit or even grown in Europe. It was cheaper to import these crops and goods from the New World than from regions in Europe. Huge amounts of labor were needed for the plantations in the intensive growing, harvesting and processing of these novel crops. Western Africa, which became known as “the Slave Coast,” and later Central Africa, became the new source for slaves to meet this new demand for labor.

The key reason for the constant shortage of labor was that with large amounts of cheap land available and lots of landowners searching for workers, free European immigrants were able to become landowners themselves after a relatively short time, thus, the need for workers increased. The Atlantic slave trade was not the only slave trade taking a toll on Africa, although it was one of the largest in volume and intensity.

Europeans usually bought slaves who had been captured in tribal wars between African kingdoms and chiefdoms, or from Africans who had made a business out of capturing other Africans and selling them. Europeans provided a large, new market for an already-existing trade, and while an African held in slavery in his own region of Africa might escape or be traded back to his own people, a person shipped away would surely never to return. People living around the Niger River were transported from these markets to the West Coast and sold at European trading ports in exchange for musket guns and manufactured goods such as cloth or alcohol.

The Atlantic slave trade peaked in the late 18th century, when the largest number of slaves was captured on raiding expeditions into the interior of West Africa. These expeditions were typically carried out by coastal African kingdoms, such as the Yoruban empire and the kingdom of Dahomey.

Pinpointing the New Laborers

Europeans rarely entered the interior of Africa, due to fear of disease, and moreover, fierce African resistance. The slaves would be brought to coastal outposts where they would be traded for goods. Enslavement became a major by-product of war in Africa as nation states expanded through military conflicts in many cases through deliberate sponsorship of benefiting Western European nations. During such periods of rapid state formation or expansion, slavery formed an important element of political life which the Europeans exploited: As Queen Sara's plea to the Portuguese courts revealed, the system became "sell to the Europeans or be sold to the Europeans." In Africa, convicted criminals could be punished by enslavement and with European demands for slaves, this punishment became more prevalent. Since most of these nations did not have a prison system, convicts were often sold or used in the scattered local domestic slave market.

The majority of European conquests occurred toward the end or after the Transatlantic Slave Trade. One exception to this is the conquest of Ndongo in Angola where warriors, citizens and even nobility were taken into slavery after the fall of the state.

Slavery in African cultures was generally more like indentured servitude: slaves were not made to be chattel of other men, nor enslaved for life. In Africa, as elsewhere, slaves were subject to torture, s*xual exploitation and arbitrary death. African slaves were paid wages and were able to accumulate property. They often bought their own freedom and could then achieve social promotion — just as freedmen in ancient Rome — some even rose to the status of rulers. Regardless of the legal options open to slave owners, rational cost-earning calculation and/or voluntary adoption of moral restraints often tended to mitigate.

The different ethnic groups brought to the Americas closely correspond to the regions of heaviest activity in the slave trade. Over 45 distinct ethnic groups were taken to the Americas during the trade. Of the 45, the ten most prominent according to slave documentation of the era are listed below.

The Gbe speakers of Togo, Ghana and Benin (Adja, Mina, Ewe, Fon)

The Akan of Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire

The Mbundu of Angola (includes Ovimbundu)

The BaKongo of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola

The Igbo of Nigeria

The Yoruba of Nigeria

The Mandé speakers of Upper Guinea

The Wolof of Senegal

The Chamba of Cameroon

The Makua of Mozambique

A Massive Operation

The Transatlantic Slave Trade resulted in a vast and as yet still unknown loss of life for African captives both in and outside of America. Approximately 8 million Africans were killed during the shipment and initial landing process in the New World. The amount of life lost in the actual procurement of slaves remains a mystery but may equal or exceed the amount of those actually enslaved. If such a figure is to be believed, the total number of deaths would be between 16 and 20 million.

The savage nature of the trade, in which most of the slaves were prisoners from African wars, led to the destruction of entire cultures. The following figures do not include deaths of African slaves as a result of their actual labor, slave revolts or diseases they caught while living among New World populations.

A database compiled in the late 1990s put the figure for the Transatlantic Slave Trade at more than 11 million people. For a long time an accepted figure was 15 million, although this has, in recent years, been lowered. Most historians now agree that at least 12 million slaves left the continent between the 15th and 19th century, and 10 to 20 percent died onboard ships. Thus a figure of 11 million slaves transported to the Americas is the nearest demonstrable figure historians can produce.

According to David Stannard's American Holocaust, 50 percent of African deaths occurred in Africa as a result of wars between native kingdoms, which produced the majority of slaves. This includes not only those who died in battles, but also those who died as a result of forced marches from inland areas to slave ports on the various coasts. The practice of enslaving enemy combatants and their villages was widespread throughout Western and West Central Africa, although wars were rarely started to procure slaves. The slave trade was largely a by-product of tribal and state warfare as a way of removing potential dissidents after victory or financing future wars. However, some African groups proved particularly adept and brutal at the practice of enslaving such as Kaabu, Asanteman, Dahomey, the Aro Confederacy and the Imbangala war bands. By the end of this process, no less than 18.3 million people would be herded into "factories" to await shipment to the New World.

In letters written by the Manikongo, Nzinga Mbemba Affonso, to the King João III of Portugal, he writes that Portuguese merchandise flowing into is what is fueling the trade in Africans. He requests the King of Portugal to stop sending merchandise but to continue sending missionaries. In one of his letter he writes: "Each day the traders are kidnapping our people - children of this country, sons of our nobles and vassals, even people of our own family. This corruption and depravity are so widespread that our land is entirely depopulated. We need in this kingdom only priests and schoolteachers, and no merchandise, unless it is wine and flour for Mass. It is our wish that this Kingdom not be a place for the trade or transport of slaves. Many of our subjects eagerly lust after Portuguese merchandise that your subjects have brought into our domains. To satisfy this inordinate appetite, they seize many of our Black free subjects.... They sell them. After having taken these prisoners [to the coast] secretly or at night..... As soon as the captives are in the hands of white men they are branded with a red-hot iron.”

Before the arrival of the Portuguese, slavery had already existed in Congo. Despite its establishment within his kingdom, Afonso believed that the slave trade should be subject to Congo law. When he suspected the Portuguese of receiving illegally enslaved persons to sell, he wrote in to King João III in 1526 imploring him to put a stop to the practice. The kings of Dahomey sold their war captives into Transatlantic slavery, slaves that otherwise would have been killed in a ceremony known as the Annual Customs. As one of West Africa's principal slave states, Dahomey became extremely unpopular with neighboring peoples. Like the Bambara Empire to the east, the Khasso kingdoms depended heavily on the slave trade for their economy. A family's status was indicated by the number of slaves it owned; this lead to wars for the sole purpose of taking more captives. As a result, the Khasso had increasing contact with the European settlements of Africa's west coast, particularly the French.

After being marched to the coast for sale, Africans waited in large forts called factories. The amount of time in factories varied, but Milton Meltzer's Slavery: A World History states this process resulted in or around 4.5 percent of deaths during the Transatlantic slave trade. In other words, over 820,000 people would have died in African ports such as Benguela, Elmina and Bonny reducing the number of those shipped to 17.5 million. After being captured and held in the factories, slaves entered the infamous Middle Passage. Meltzer's research puts this phase of the slave trade's overall mortality at 12.5 percent. Around 2.2 million Africans died during these voyages where they were packed into tight, unsanitary spaces on ships for months at time. Measures were taken to stem the onboard mortality rate, such as mandatory dancing above deck and the practice of force-feeding any slaves that attempted to starve themselves. The conditions on board also resulted in the spread of fatal diseases. Other fatalities were the result of suicides by jumping over board by slaves who could no longer endure the conditions. Before the shipping of slaves was completely outlawed in 1853, 15.3 million "immigrants" had arrived in the Americas. Meltzer also states that 33 percent of Africans would have died in the first year at seasoning camps found throughout the Caribbean. Many slaves shipped directly to North America bypassed this process; however most slaves destined for island or South American plantations were likely to be put through this ordeal. The slaves were tortured for the purpose of "breaking" them, like the practice of breaking horses, and conditioning them to their new lot in life. Jamaica held one of the most notorious of these camps. All in all, 5 million Africans died in these camps, thereby reducing the final number of Africans to about 10 million.


Inventing the Slave Trade

The trade of enslaved Africans in the Atlantic has its origins in the explorations of Portuguese mariners down the coast of West Africa in the 15th century. Before that, contact with African slave markets was made to ransom Portuguese that had been captured by the intense North African Barbary pirate attacks to the Portuguese ships and coastal villages, frequently leaving them depopulated. The first Europeans to use African slaves in the New World were the Spaniards who sought auxiliaries for their conquest expeditions and laborers on islands such as Cuba and Hispaniola, where the alarming decline in the native population had spurred the first royal laws protecting those native populations. After Portugal had succeeded in establishing sugar plantations in northern Brazil around 1545, Portuguese merchants on the West African coast began to supply enslaved Africans to the sugar planters there. While at first these planters relied almost exclusively on the native Tupani population for slave labor, a titanic shift toward imported Africans took place after 1570 following a series of epidemics that decimated the already destabilized Tupani communities. By 1630, Africans had replaced the Tupani as the largest contingent of labor on Brazilian sugar plantations, heralding equally the final collapse of the European medieval household tradition of slavery, the rise of Brazil as the largest single destination for enslaved Africans and sugar as the reason that roughly 84 percent of said Africans were shipped to the New World.

Merchants from various European nations were later involved in the Atlantic Slave trade: Portugal, Spain, France, England, Scotland, Brandenburg-Prussia, Denmark, Holland. As Britain rose in naval power and settled continental North America and some islands of the West Indies, they became the leading slave traders, mostly operating out of Bristol and Liverpool. By the late 17th century, one out of every four ships that left Liverpool harbor was a slave trading ship. Other British cities also profited from the slave trade. Birmingham, the largest gun producing town in Britain at the time, supplied guns to be traded for slaves. Seventy-five percent of all sugar produced in the plantations came to London to supply the highly lucrative coffee houses there.

Religious Beliefs and Slavery

In general, early Christians, such as Paul, St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas did not oppose slavery. Pope Nicholas V even encouraged enslaving non-Christian Africans in his Papal Bull Romanus Pontifex of 1454. Since then, other popes stated that slavery was against Christian teachings, as is now generally believed. Even earlier, in 1435, Pope Eugene IV condemned the enslavement of the inhabitants of the Canary Islands. Most Christian sects found some way to soothe the consciences of their slave-owning members. One notable exception was the Society of Friends, otherwise known as Quakers, who advocated the abolition of slavery from earliest times.

African slaves were brought to many different regions first starting in 1441 with the Portuguese kidnapping of Africans from what is now Mauritania. The first slaves to arrive as part of a labor force appeared in 1502 on the island of Hispaniola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic). Cuba received its first four slaves in 1513. Slave exports to Honduras and Guatemala started in 1526. The first African slaves to reach what would become the U.S. arrived in January of 1526 as part of a Spanish attempt at colonizing South Carolina. By November, the 300 Spanish colonist were reduced to a mere 100 accompanied by 70 of their original 100 slaves. The slaves revolted and joined a nearby native population while the Spanish abandoned the colony altogether. Colombia received its first slaves in 1533. El Salvador, Costa Rica and Florida began their stint in the slave trade in 1541, 1563 and 1581 respectively. The 17th century saw an increase in shipments with slaves arriving in the English colony of Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. Irish immigrants brought slaves to Montserrat in 1651. And in 1655, slaves arrive in Belize.

A Profitable Endeavor

Slavery was involved in some of the most profitable industries in history. Seventy percent of the slaves brought to the new world were used to produce sugar, the most labor-intensive crop. The rest were employed to harvest coffee, cotton and tobacco, and in some cases do mining. The West Indian colonies of the European powers were some of their most important possessions, so they went to extremes to protect and retain them. For example, at the end of the Seven Years' War in 1763, France agreed to cede the vast territory of New France to the victors in exchange for keeping the minute Antillean island of Guadeloupe.

Slave trade profits have been the object of many fantasies. Returns for the investors were not absurdly high, but they were considerably higher than domestic alternatives. Risks — maritime and commercial — were important for individual voyages. Investors mitigated this by buying small shares of many ships at the same time. In that way, they were able to diversify a large part of the risk away. Between voyages, ship shares could be freely sold and bought. All these made the slave trade a very interesting investment.

By far the most successful West Indian colonies in 1800 belonged to the United Kingdom. After entering the sugar colony business late, British naval supremacy and control over key islands such as Jamaica, Trinidad, and Barbados and the territory of British Guiana gave it an important edge over all competitors; while many British did not make gains, some made enormous fortunes, even by upper class standards. This advantage was reinforced when France lost its most important colony, St. Dominigue, (now Haiti) to a slave revolt in 1791. Before 1791, British sugar had to be protected to compete against cheaper French sugar.

After 1791, the British islands produced the most sugar, and the British people quickly became the largest consumers. West Indian sugar became ubiquitous as an additive to Indian tea. Nevertheless, the profits of the slave trade and of West Indian plantations amounted to less than 5 percent of the British economy at the time of the Industrial Revolution in the latter half of the 1700s.

Walter Rodney argues that at the start of the slave trade in 16th century, even though there was technological gap between Europe and Africa, it was not very substantial. Both were using Iron Age technology. The major advantage that Europe had was in ship building. During the period of slavery, the populations of Europe and the Americas grew exponentially while the population of Africa remained stagnant. He contends that the profits from slavery were used to fund economic growth and technological advancement in Europe and the Americas. Earlier theories of Eric Williams’ assert that the industrial revolution was at least in part funded by agricultural profits from the Americas. He cites examples such as the invention of the steam engine by James Watt, which was funded by plantation owners from the Caribbean.

Other historians have attacked both Rodney's methodology and factual accuracy. Joseph C. Miller has argued that the social change and demographic stagnation was caused primarily by domestic factors. Yet historian Patrick Manning has shown that the slave trade did indeed have profound impact on African demographics and social institutions, but nevertheless criticized others’ approach for not taking other factors such as famine and drought into account and thus being highly speculative.

No scholars dispute the harm done to the slaves themselves, but the effect of the trade on African societies is much debated due to the apparent influx of capital to Africans. Proponents of the slave trade, such as Archibald Dalzel, argued that African societies were robust and not much affected by the ongoing trade. In the 19th century, European abolitionists, most prominently Dr. David Livingstone, took the opposite view arguing that the fragile local economy and societies were being severely harmed by the ongoing trade. This view continued with scholars until the 1960s and 1970s who conceded it might have had some benefits but still acknowledging its largely negative impact on Africa. Historian Rodney estimates that by around 1770, the King of Dahomey was earning an estimated £250,000 per year by selling captive African soldiers and even his own people to the European slave-traders.

The demographic effects of the slave trade are some of the most controversial and debated issues. More than 10 million people were removed from Africa via the slave trade, and what effect this had on Africa is an important question. Rodney argued that the export of so many people had been a demographic disaster and had left Africa permanently disadvantaged when compared to other parts of the world, and this largely explains the continent's continued poverty. He presents numbers that show that Africa's population stagnated during this period, while that of Europe and Asia grew dramatically. According to Rodney, all other areas of the economy were disrupted by the slave trade as the top merchants abandoned traditional industries to pursue slaving and the lower levels of the population were disrupted by being taken into slavery.

Others have challenged this view. For example, David Eltis has compared the numbers to the rate of immigration from Europe to the United States during this period. In the 19th century alone, over 50 million people left Europe for the Americas, proving to be a far higher rate than were ever taken from Africa. But some scholars accused Rodney of mischaracterizing the trade between Africans and Europeans. They argue that Africans, or more accurately African elites, deliberately let European traders join in an already large trade in slaves and were not patronized.

As Joseph E. Inikori argues, the history of the region shows that the effects were still quite deleterious. He argues that the African economic model of the period was very different from the European, and could not sustain such population losses. Population reductions in certain areas also led to widespread problems. Inikori also notes that after the suppression of the slave trade Africa's population almost immediately began to rapidly increase, even prior to the introduction of modern medicines. Maulana Karenga states that the effects of slavery were "the morally monstrous destruction of human possibility involved redefining African humanity to the world, poisoning past, present and future relations with others who only know us through this stereotyping and thus damaging the truly human relations among peoples." He states that it constituted the destruction of culture, language, religion and human possibility.

Trade Block

The Transatlantic slave trade was, without question, a long-standing system which displaced many African people from their native lands, tribes, and families. The evidence of the populations of descendant Africans is most clear in the continents of North America and South America.

In Britain and in other parts of Europe, opposition developed against the slave trade. Led by the Quakers and Evangelicals such as William Wilberforce, the movement was joined by many and began to protest the trade, but they were opposed by the owners of the colonial holdings. Denmark, which had been active in the slave trade, was the first country to ban the trade through legislation in 1792, which took effect in 1803. Britain banned the slave trade, but not slavery itself, in 1807, imposing stiff fines for any slave found aboard a British ship. The Royal Navy, which then controlled the world's seas, moved to stop other nations from filling Britain's place in the slave trade and declared that slaving was equal to piracy and was punishable by death. The United States outlawed the importation of slaves on January 1, 1808, the earliest date permitted by the constitution for such a ban.

On October 28, 1787, Wilberforce wrote in his diary: “God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the slave trade and the Reformation of society.” For the rest of his life, Wilberforce dedicated his life as a Member of Parliament to opposing the slave trade and working for the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire. On February 22, 1807, 20 years after he first began his crusade, and in the middle of Britain’s war with France, Wilberforce and his team’s labors were rewarded with victory. By an overwhelming 283 votes for to 16 against, the motion to abolish the slave trade was carried in the House of Commons.

Between 1807 and 1860, the West Africa Squadron seized approximately 1,600 ships involved in the slave trade and freed 150,000 Africans who were aboard those vessels. The last recorded slave ship to land on American soil was the Clotilde, which, in 1859, illegally smuggled a number of Africans into the town of Mobile, Ala. The Africans on board were sold as slaves; however slavery was abolished 5 years later at the end of the Civil War. Action was also taken against African leaders who refused to agree to British treaties to outlaw the trade, for example against “the usurping King of Lagos,” deposed in 1851. Anti-slavery treaties were signed with over 50 African rulers.

Although the slave trade had become illegal, slavery remained a reality in British colonies. Wilberforce was privately convinced that the institution of slavery should be entirely abolished, but understood that there was little political will for emancipation. In parliament, the Emancipation Bill gathered support and received its final commons reading on July 26, 1833. Slavery would be abolished, but the planters would be heavily compensated. Thank God, said Wilberforce that I have lived to witness a day in which England is willing to give twenty millions sterling for the Abolition of Slavery. The last country to ban the Atlantic slave trade was Brazil in 1888.

At the 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, African nations demanded a clear apology for the slavery from the former slave-trading countries. Some EU nations were ready to express an apology, but the opposition, mainly from the United Kingdom, Spain, Netherlands, Portugal and the United States blocked attempts to do so. A fear of monetary compensation was one of the reasons for the opposition. Apologies on behalf of African nations for their role in trading their countrymen into slavery, also remain an open issue.

On January 30, 2006, the Prime Minister of France, Jacques Chirac, said that 10 May would henceforth be a national day of remembrance for the victims of slavery in France, marking the day in 2001 when France passed a law recognizing slavery as a crime against humanity.

On November 27, 2006, Great Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair made a partial apology for Britain's role in the African slavery trade. However African rights activists denounced it as "empty rhetoric" that failed to address the issue properly. They feel his apology stopped shy to prevent any legal retort. Blair said sorry again on March 14, 2007.

On February 24, 2007, in the U.S., the Virginia General Assembly passed House Joint Resolution Number 728 acknowledging "with profound regret the involuntary servitude of Africans and the exploitation of Native Americans, and call for reconciliation among all Virginians." With the passing of this resolution, Virginia becomes the first of 50 states to acknowledge their state's negative involvement in slavery. The passing of this resolution comes on the heels of the 400th anniversary celebration of the city of Jamestown, Va., which was the first permanent English colony in the United States to survive. Jamestown is also recognized as one of the first slave ports of the American colonies.

On May 31, 2007, Alabama Governor Bob Riley signed a resolution expressing "profound regret" for Alabama's role in slavery and apologized for slavery's wrongs and lingering effects. Alabama is the fourth Southern state to pass a slavery apology, following votes by the legislatures in Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina to do so.

On August 24, 2007, Mayor Ken Livingstone of London apologized publicly for England's role in colonial slave trade. "You can look across there to see the institutions that still have the benefit of the wealth they created from slavery," he said pointing towards the financial district. He claimed that London was still tainted by the horrors of slavery. Jesse Jackson praised Mayor Livingstone, and added that reparations should be made.

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