Roundtable Discussion

Remembering Slavery: From Bunce Island to the Americas

participants in discussion

 A group photo of panellists and speakers from today's special event on the occasion of the International Day of Remembrance 
of Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade (UN Photo/Rick Bajornas)


24 March 2016 -- Tens of thousands of African slaves were captured and transported to the Americas from Bunce Island, Sierra Leone during the transatlantic slave trade. Preservation of the site is key to preserving the links and bonds that exist between the descendants of these slaves and their ancestral home. Many of these slaves were skilled rice workers who helped to shape the economy, culture, history and language of the Gullah culture of the sea islands of Georgia and South Carolina, Nova Scotia and Jamaica.

The Permanent Mission of Sierra Leone organized a panel discussion and performance on 24 March 2016 at United Nations Headquarters in New York in observance of the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade to examine this history. Titled “ The Transatlantic Slave Trade: Constructing New Amistad, Bunce Island, Gullah, Maroon and Nova Scotia Bridges,” the event was co-sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Jamaica to the United Nations, the Sierra Leone Monuments and Relics Commission and the United Nations Remember Slavery Programme.

H.E. Mr. Vandi Chidi Minah, Permanent Representative of Sierra Leone to the United Nations, explained that building bridges can help commemorate the shift from enslavement to comprehensive cultural and political emancipation for people of colour.  “Today is about celebration and commemoration,” Ambassador Minah said. “Today is about not only acknowledging the past, but building on the past to create the future.” Opening remarks were also delivered by Ms. Cristina Gallach, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, and H.E. Miss Shorna- Kay Richards, Deputy Permanent Representative of Jamaica to the United Nations. 

About 400,000 victims of the transatlantic slave trade hailed from Sierra Leone, Dr. Sylviane A. Diouf, Director of the Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture of the New York Public Library, told the audience. The West African country holds a unique place in the transatlantic slave trade because it was at the confluence of several migratory movements. “It was a place of departure, a place of return, a place of exile and a place a refuge,” said Dr. Diouf, who moderated the panel.

Remembering history comes with a responsibility to the present and future, Dr. Diouf said.  By recognizing landmarks of suffering, resistance, resilience and creativity, the past can be linked with the present and future, she added.

The panellists included Mr. Al Marder, President of the Amistad Committee, New Haven, Connecticut; Dr. Bernard Powers, Professor of History, College of Charleston, South Carolina and Board Member of the International African American Museum (IAAM); Ms. Isatu Smith, Chair of the Sierra Leone Monuments and Relics Commission was represented by Mr. Melbourne Garber; Dr. Christopher DeCorse, Professor of Anthropology, Maxwell School, Syracuse University; and Mr. Roy Anderson, director and producer of the films Akwantu: The Journey and Queen Nanny: Legendary Maroon Chieftainess. Ron Daise, singer/songwriter and former Chair of the federal Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission, performed several songs.Dr. Sylvester Rowe, former Deputy Permanent Representative of Sierra Leone to the United Nations, played a key role in the organization of the event.