The International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery was observed by the United Nations in March. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hayne-Jones is the creator of The New York Times’s groundbreaking 1619 Project, addressed the U.N. General Assembly. We broadcast her full address as part our Juneteenth special. “It is time for the nations that engaged in and profited from the transatlantic slave trade to do what is right and what is just. It is time for them to make reparations to the descendants of chattel slavery in the Americas,” Hannah-Jones said. “This is our global truth, a truth we as human beings understand with stark clarity: There can be no atonement if there is no repair.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be final.
AMY GOODMAN:This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
As we continue our Juneteenth special, we turn to Nikole Henderson-Jones, the Pulitzer Prize winner New York TimesThe 1619 Project was started by a journalist. Nikole Hannah Jones addressed the United Nations General Assembly on March 19, as the U.N. commemorated the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery (Transatlantic Slave Trade)
NIKOLE HANNAH–JONES:Good morning. It is an honor to address you today on this international day of remembrance for the victims of the transatlantic slavery trade. I have dedicated my life’s work to excavating the modern legacy of transatlantic slavery, and so my thoughts are never far from what has become the defining subject of my journalism, and what I believe continues to be the defining undercurrent of life in the Americas: the legacy of slavery.
I stand before you, the great-great-grandchild of enslaved men and women born here in the United States of America, part of the millions who lived and died under the brutal, immoral and inhumane system of chattel slavery that existed for the first 250 years of the land that would come to think of itself as the freest nation in the history of the world.
We gather here to remember the global trade that transported 15 million people across the Atlantic in the hulls barbaric ships. This was the largest forced migration in world history and would change the Atlantic world. It is important to remember the extent and depth of the sufferings of people of African descent in the name profit. Profit that enriched the European colonial power and built the new American economy. We must never forget the fall of slavery, which was only to be reborn as other forms of violent, racist economic exploitation. This is what we refer to as Jim Crow in the United States, or what is more appropriately called apartheid.
But on this solemn day of remembrance, the looking back cannot be and should not be solely defined by African-descended people’s enslavement. Just as defining, just as important to remembering the legacy of the transatlantic slavery are the stories of Black resistance that would, more than any other force, lead to slavery’s collapse in our hemisphere.
People will not voluntarily surrender to their enslavement. We continue to do the work done by those who seek to justify slavery by stripping our collective humanity by hiding the role of Black resistance in our collective memories of the transatlantic slave trading.
People of African descent refused to be enslaved from the moment they were captured. They refused to walk the long distance from the interior of Africa towards the coast. They resisted at the castles, before being dragged to the waiting ships. They were so resistant on the water that slave ships had been specially designed to prevent them from mutiny. The ocean was chosen by thousands of Africans as the final resting spot for them, who chose to swim with their ancestors instead of being enslaved in another country.
As we recall our brutal enslavement by people who thought themselves civilized, even as tortured, abused, murdered other human beings, we must also remember the fierce Black radical tradition. It did not start with anti-colonialism movements on the continent or civil rights movements in other places. But, Cedric Robinson, a scholar, suggested that it began with the Cimarrones, Mexicans who fled to Indigenous communities, or created their own fugitive communities. palenques. We must remember Yanga who led a group of fugitive Africans, and fought the Spaniards fiercely to win their status as a Black settlement.
We must remember Brazil’s quilombolas, Palmares, a fugitive Black group that would last for 90 years in Portugal colony. It would import more Africans into slavery in Atlantic than any other place.
We must remember the Maroons of British and French Guiana, Cuba and the United States, and the “Bush Negroes” of Suriname, who fought against their oppressors for five decades attempting — as they were attempting to reenslave them.
We must remember the revolts of enslaved people in Jamaica in 1690, in New York City in 1712, Queen Nanny in 1720, the Stono Rebellion in 1739, and Tacky’s Rebellion in 1760. We must remember the successful uprising of enslaved people — the most successful uprising of enslaved people in the history of the world, the Haitian Revolution, where enslaved people rose up and defeated three mighty colonial empires, becoming the first nation in the Americas to abolish slavery and establishing the world’s first free Black republic — an audacity that the Western world has punished Haiti for ever since.
We must remember revolts in Barbados in 1816, the Baptist War in Jamaica in 1831 and Nat Turner’s Rebellion that same year in the United States, as Black people attempted to make manifest the words of Patrick Henry, the famed American revolutionary, who proclaimed, “Give me liberty, or give me death!” — even as he enslaved African human beings for profit. We should remember freedom fighters like Harriet Tubman (Fred Douglass), Gabriel Prosser (and others).
We must remember that it was not merely the Enlightenment ideas, some reckoning amongst white abolitionists, that brought the end to the system that had enriched colonial powers, but that abolition was propelled by constant revolt that forced colonial powers to realize, as scholar Mary Reckford wrote, it would remain “more expensive and dangerous to maintain the old system than to abolish it.” Black people were actors in their own freedom.
The hypocrisy of the United States and colonial Europe by marginalizing the stories of Black resistance serves as a justification for their hypocrisy. It implies that if slavery was so bad, surely African peoples would have fought harder to stop it. These are lies of omission which, in the absence truth, warp our collective memory.
Resistance must therefore be central to any remembrances about the transatlantic slave trade and must therefore be linked to ongoing resistance movements in support of Black liberation around the world.
I stand here today as a recipient from that tradition of resistance.
My father was born on a Mississippi cotton plantation in Greenwood, Mississippi in a tiny shack. He was born to a family of sharecroppers. They were the ones who enforced the brutal system of labor exploitation that emerged after the fall of slavery. He was born into a strictly apartheid state, one where Black people could not vote, could not use the public library, could not attend schools with white children, and were lynched for things such as starting a union, walking into a room where a white woman was alone, failing to get off of the sidewalk fast enough in deference to a white person, or — the greatest crime of all in the American South — having the audacity to be a financially prosperous Black person. In Greenwood, the 1940s were so hard on Black children that they could be sent to the fields at the age of three to transport water to workers. My father was 2 years of age when Arlena, a Black woman sharecropper packed a bag and loaded her two children onto a northbound train. This allowed my grandmother to escape the apartheid American South.
My grandmother was educated in fourth grade and would work as a domestic maid and janitor for the rest of her life. This single act of resistance, in which she left the racial castinge system of America’s South with nothing but the determination to ensure her children wouldn’t pick cotton like her parents, or her enslaved grandparents had done, set off the events that would bring me before this distinguished body today, as I address this most prestigious convening, representing all nations. Her resistance was similar to the actions of millions of enslaved Blacks who refused to be subjugated in every way possible. Like our ancestors, she resisted to plant the seeds for freedoms and opportunities she would never be able to see.
It is this history, my understanding that leads me argue that the African diaspora’s defining story in the Americas isn’t slavery. It is our resistance to slavery, of people who were determined to be free within societies that didn’t believe they had a right.
This history must be acknowledged as the legacy of slavery can still be seen all around us. Today, descendants of slaves struggle to resist their conditions in the societies they once lived in. They are subject to the highest levels of poverty, incarceration, and violence. The resistance to police violence and inequality continues from Brazil to Cuba to America.
But the people of Africa diaspora should not be resisting. It is time for the European colonial forces, the United States of America to realize their true potential and become the great and moral nations they claim to be. It is not enough to regret the past, they must also repair it.
As I stand before the representatives of countries that once enslaved African populations and peoples who were once slaves, as we collectively recall this day, I will say this clear and unflinchingly: It is time for those nations that participated in and profited off the transatlantic slavery trade to do what is right.
It is now that they must make reparations to those who were subject to chattel slavery in the Americas. This is our global truth, the truth we as human beings understand with stark clarity: There can be no atonement if there’s no repair. It is time — it is long past time — for reparations for the transatlantic slave trade and all the devastation that it has wrought, and all the devastation that it continues to reap.
Thank you very much for your consideration as we remember this crime against humanity. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN:Nikole Hannah Jones, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York TimesThe 1619 Project was started by a journalist.
When we come back, we look at how Harvard University has revealed the school’s extensive ties to slavery. We’ll speak to MITCraig Steven Wilder is the historian and author of Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities.