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What are the programmes of the Slave Route Project?

Since its inception, the Slave Route Project has organized its activities around four programmes :

  • the scientific programme on thematic networks (Fight against Racism, Discrimination and Xenophobia)
  • the programme for teaching and education on the slave trade and slavery implemented within the framework of UNESCO’s Associated Schools Project (Breaking the silence)
  • the programme for the promotion of cultures and living forms of artistic and spiritual expressions resulting from the interactions generated by the slave trade and slavery
  • the programme on cultural tourism for the identification, restoration and promotion of sites and places of memory of the slave trade and slavery in Africa, the Americas and the Caribbean. This includes the identification and preservation of archives – written and oral traditions – relative to the slave trade (Slave Trade Archives project) and the development of a tourism of memory

The Achievements and Intersectoral Approach of the Slave Route Project

During the initial ten years (1994-2004) of the programme, the Slave Route Project achieved significant results. The establishment of academic networks fostered research on key aspects of the slave trade and slavery such as its ideological and legal foundations, intangible heritage in Africa, the Indian Ocean, the Americas and the Caribbean, and the highlighting of cultures and living artistic and spiritual forms of expression.

In several countries, sites, buildings and places of memory have been identified in cooperation with the World Tourism Organization (WTO), stimulating tourism projects. Furthermore, cooperation has been established with relevant intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, such as the International Center for the Study of the Preservation and the Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) and the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS). The purpose of these efforts has been to preserve and open these sites to the public, while promoting respect for and appreciation of their significance.

The publication of several studies, documentary films and articles in the international press have brought this work to the attention of the general public, thereby enhancing the project’s visibility. Furthermore, through the Associated Schools Project Network, the slave trade and slavery, which have long been ignored, are the subject of a school textbook pilot project.

The adoption of the Declaration and Programme of Action of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (Durban, 31 August - 8 September 2001) and the proclamation of 2004 as the "International Year to Commemorate the Struggle against Slavery and its Abolition" have provided UNESCO with additional opportunities to strengthen the synergy among these various lines of action on the basis of an intersectoral approach.

In turn, UNESCO’s Culture and Education Sectors strive to encourage reflection, scientific and historical research and the dissemination of information on slavery and its consequences. The Social and Human Sciences Sector and the Communication Sector also participate importantly in the project by developing new initiatives to combat the lingering consequences of the slave trade and slavery such as discrimination and racism.

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What is the International Day for the Remembrance of Slave Trade and its Abolition?

The International Day for the Remembrance of Slave Trade and its Abolition is celebrated annually on 23 August. It offers an opportunity for collective consideration on the causes and consequences of slavery and the slave trade in order to break the silence that has long surrounded this tragedy. Each year numerous activities and commemorative events are organized world-wide.
For more information, please consult 2004, Commemoration Year

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What is the Slave Route Project?

The UNESCO Slave Route Project was officially launched at the First Session of the International Scientific Committee of the Slave Route in 1994 in Benin. The Project aims to break the silence surrounding slavery and the slave trade and contribute to the establishment of a culture of tolerance and peaceful coexistence among peoples and races.

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What is the Transatlantic Slave Trade Education Project - Breaking the Silence? Who are the members of the Associated Schools Network?

The Associated Schools Project Network (ASPnet) comprises over 7.600 educational institutions in 175 countries. In 1998 the network launched the Transatlantic Slave Trade Education Project, Breaking the Silence, with the aim of improving the teaching of history by telling the whole story behind slavery and the slave trade. The Project seeks to promote intercultural dialogue between young people and fight stereotypes, discrimination and prejudices of all kinds.

 

Membership of the UNESCO ASP Network is open to educational institutions with prior approval from the national authorities.

For more information, please consult the official website to the project.

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What is the UNESCO Slave Trade Archives Project? Is the project operational in my country?

The Slave Trade Archives Project was launched in 1999 with the aim of improving access to and safeguarding original documents related to slavery and the slave trade. It aims to create a searchable database of slave trade archives and engage in digitisation of documents. The Project is currently operational in several countries in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.

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Where can I find funding for projects and activities related to slavery and the slave trade?

Unfortunately, the Division of Cultural Policies and Intercultural Dialogue is unable to provide funding at the present time. However, we suggest you send your proposals to the National Commission of your country. We also encourage you to send a copy of your proposals to UNESCO to the following address:
The Slave Route Project, History and Culture Section
Division of Cultural Policies and Intercultural Dialogue
UNESCO
1, rue Miollis
75015, Paris
France
Tel: +33(1) 45684251; Fax: +33(1) 45685751
E-mail: r.esclave(at)unesco.org

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Who are the partner organizations of the Slave Route Project?

UNESCO works in collaboration with various institutes, museums and research centres in the development and implementation of the Slave Route Project. These include:

 

  • The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture of the New York Public Library, New York, United States of America
  • The Afro American Centre for Cultural Diversity, Sustainable Development and Intercultural Dialogue, Esmeraldas, Ecuador
  • National Maritime Museum, London, United Kingdom
  • Merseyside Maritime Museum, Liverpool, United Kingdom
  • The French Marine Archaeology Group (GRAN)
  • The UNESCO Chair on Réunion Island
  • The Nelson Mandela Foundation, Houghton, South Africa
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Who are the Scientific Committee Members?

The International Scientific Committee for the Slave Route Project is an advisory body to UNESCO on the implementation of the project.

It now comprises 20 members appointed by the Director-General and represent various disciplines (such as history, anthropology, archaeology, sociology and law) but also the various regions of the world (Africa, the Americas, the Caribbean, Europe, the Indian Ocean, the Arab States and Asia).

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Who can I contact for more information on the Slave Route Project?

Please address all inquiries to the National Commission of your country.

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Who was Frederick Douglass?

Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) was among the most prominent African Americans of his time. He served the national government in several official capacities and is recognized as one of the most influential lecturers and authors in the history of the United States.

 

Douglass was born into slavery in Maryland in 1818. He was separated from his mother when he was very young and never learnt the identity of his white father. At the age of eight, he was sent to Baltimore to work for Hugh and Sophia Auld. In defiance of state law, Sophia taught him to read. Her husband disapproved, claiming that if a slave learns to read he would become dissatisfied with his position and desire freedom.

In 1838, at the age of twenty, Douglass managed to flee by passing for a sailor. He settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he started a family with his new wife, Anna Murray. There, Douglass quickly became involved in the abolitionist movement and became a lecturer for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. He soon acquired acclaim as a powerful speaker, enthusiastic abolitionist and strong defender of women’s rights.

Douglass’ best known work is his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, published in 1845. It received overwhelmingly positive reviews and became an immediate bestseller.

However, Douglass’s new found fame had an unfortunate side effect. Fearing that his former owner would try to reclaim his "possession", Douglass decided to travel to Ireland. He spent two years in the British Isles and gave lectures on the horrors of slavery, mainly in Protestant churches. He was happy in his new surroundings and astonished that he encountered so little racial prejudice among the British, remarking that they treated him not "as a color, but as a man".

When Douglass returned to the United States he settled in Rochester, New York, and established his own newspaper, the North Star. The paper provided a forum for black writers and highlighted successful black figures in American society. From 1850 onwards, Douglass became involved in the Underground Railroad and his house, situated close to the Canadian border, became an important station on the road to freedom.

During the Civil War, Douglass insisted in several speeches and newspaper editorials that the aim of the war must be to abolish slavery and that blacks should be allowed to fight in the Union Army. On 31 December 1862, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that all slaves in areas not held by Union troops were free. The following year Congress authorized black individuals to enlist in the Union Army.

In 1865 the Confederate forces surrendered and with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution slavery was officially abolished in all areas of the United States.

After the war, Douglass continued to fight for the rights of black Americans, most notably black suffrage. Following the death of his first wife, Anna Murray, Douglass married his former secretary Helen Pitts. She was a white feminist, nearly 20 years his junior. The union provoked a storm of controversy. Douglass dismissed all criticism saying that in his first marriage he had honored his mother’s race and in his second his father’s.

During the course of his life, Douglass occupied several public posts, including Assistant Secretary of the Santo Domingo Commission (1871), U.S. Marshall of the District of Columbia (1877-1881) and U.S. Minister to Haiti (1889-1891).

Frederick Douglass died from a heart attack in 1895, at the age of 77.

 

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Who was Harriet Tubman?

Harriet Tubman (1820-1913), also known as ‘Black Moses’, was an African-American freedom fighter and one of the best known leaders of the Underground Railroad, an elaborate and secret series of houses, tunnels and roads set up by abolitionists to guide slaves to freedom.

Harriet was born into slavery in Maryland sometime around 1820 under the name of Araminta Ross. She worked from the age of six, first as a maidservant and then on the fields under harsh conditions. She endured years of inhumane treatment by her various owners, including an incident when she was seriously injured by a blow to the head inflicted by an overseer. She never fully recovered from the injury and suffered intermittent blackouts for the rest of her life.

Around 1844 she married a free black man, John Tubman, and adopted his name. Later she also took up the first name of her mother, Harriet.

In 1849, on hearing that the slaves of the plantation were to be sold, she decided to flee. Tubman managed to reach Philadelphia, first on foot and then by train, aided by various members of the abolitionist movement along the Underground Railroad. In Philadelphia, she quickly found work as a maid and joined the city’s active abolitionist movement.

In 1850, after Congress adopted the Fugitive Slave Act, making assistance to fugitive slaves illegal, Tubman decided to join the Underground Railroad. Her first expedition to the South in 1851 was a success and she brought back her sister and her children. Six years later, she led her parents to freedom in Auburn, New York, where she made her home.

Between 1851 and the beginning of the American Civil War, Tubman undertook 18 expeditions to the South and assisted approximately 300 slaves. She was never caught and never lost a slave. Her reputation spread rapidly and she soon acquired the nickname of "Moses". The tales of her expeditions reveal her highly spiritual nature, courage and strong determination to protect those that she assisted.

During the Civil War, Tubman served as a nurse, scout and occasionally as a spy for the Union Army, notably in South Carolina. She also took part in a military campaign which lead to the release of some 750 slaves.

After the war, Tubman remarried and continued her fight for social justice, including the fight for women’s rights. She died on 10 March 1913, around 93 years of age, in a home for needy blacks that she herself had helped found in Auburn, New York.

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Who was Toussaint-Louverture?

François-Domenica Bréda known as Toussaint-Louverture (1743-1803) was one of the leaders of the Haitian revolution and the first black man to become governor of a colony.

Toussaint-Louverture was born into slavery in approximately 1743 in the French colony of Saint Domingue. He belonged to a small and priviledged class of slaves employed by humane masters as personal servants. The Count de Breda, Toussaint’s owner, actively encouraged him to learn to read and write. He developed a passion for books and his readings were to become a great influence in his political life. Toussaint was freed from slavery at around the age of 33 and colonial records show that he became a land and slave owner himself.

The French Revolution of 1789 had a powerful impact on Saint Domingue. A complex civil war broke out in 1790 when free men of color claimed that they too were French citizens and should be allowed to enjoy the rights proclaimed in the Declaration of the Rights of Man.

The following year, on 22 August 1791, Toussaint was one of the main organizers of a slave revolt that would eventually be known as the Haitian Revolution, the first and only victorious slave revolt in history.

In 1793 representatives of the French revolutionary government in Paris offered freedom to slaves who joined them in the fight against counter-revolutionaries and foreign invaders. The following year these orders were ratified by the revolutionary legislature in Paris, which abolished slavery throughout all French territories. This was a determining factor in Toussaint’s decision to join the French army. Under his increasingly influential leadership the French defeated the British and Spanish forces.

Having made himself ruler of the island, Toussaint did not wish to surrender power to Paris and ruled Saint Domingue as an autonomous entity. In 1801 he issued a Constitution for the island, which provided for autonomy and established Toussaint as governor for life. It abolished slavery and aspired to put in place a multiracial society composed of blacks, whites and mulattos.

When Napoleon Bonaparte came to power in France he aimed to return the Caribbean colonies to their earlier profitability as plantation colonies. In 1802 he dispatched an expedition of French soldiers to the island, lead by his brother in law Charles Leclerc, to reestablish French authority and slavery. Leclerc arrested Toussaint and deported him to France where he was imprisoned in Fort de Joux and died on 7 April 1803.

For a few months the island remained under Napoleonic rule. However, the French soldiers soon fell victim to weapons and disease and surrendered to the indigenous army in November 1803. On 1 January 1804, the colony became the first black republic under the name of Haiti.

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Who was Victor Schoelcher?

Victor Schoelcher (1804-1893) was a French humanitarian, statesman and writer who devoted his life and fortune to the abolition of slavery in the French colonies.

Victor was born in Paris in 1804. He was the son of a wealthy porcelain manufacturer, and after a short period of secondary education, he took over his father’s factory in Paris. However, it soon became clear that his interests lay elsewhere. He was a humanitarian thinker and chose music, reading, writing and politics over business and industry.

In 1829-1831 Schoelcher was sent to the Americas in search of new customers for the business. On his journey in Mexico, Cuba and the southern United States, he discovered the harsh realities of slavery and began his career as an abolitionist writer. His writings centered around the social, economic and political advantages that could be gained from the abolition of slavery, drawn from a comparative analysis of the results of emancipation in the British colonies (1834-1838). Schoelcher believed that the production of sugar should continue in the colonies with the construction of large factories in replacement of slave labor.

When the Revolution of 1848 broke out in France, Schoelcher returned with haste to take up appointment as Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies. He set up and presided over a commission for the abolition of slavery. Under his direction the commission prepared a decree abolishing slavery in all French territories, which the provisional government adopted on 27 April 1848. As a result, more than 260.000 people in the Americas, Africa and the Indian Ocean gained their freedom.

In 1851, Schoelcher opposed the coup d’état of Louis Napoleon and was forced into exile in England and Belgium until Napoleon’s fall in 1870. On his return, Schoelcher regained his place in the National Assembly for Martinique and Guadalupe, sitting on the extreme left. In 1875 he was elected senator for life.

Victor Schoelcher died in 1893. His ashes were transferred to the Pantheon in Paris in 1949.

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Who was William Wilberforce?

William Wilberforce (1759-1833) is one of the best known British abolitionists. He was a Parliamentarian, writer and social reformer.

 

William was born in Hull in the North East of England in 1759, to a prosperous middle class family. However, his father died when he was very young and William was sent to live in Wimbledon with his aunt who was a stanch supporter of the Methodist movement. Fearing that the boy might be influenced by his aunt’s religion, his mother brought him back to the family home.

At the age of seventeen, Wilberforce enrolled in Saint John’s College, Cambridge. There he formed a close friendship with William Pitt, who was later to become the youngest Prime Minister in British history.

Wilberforce decided to enter into politics and was elected to the House of Commons in 1780. He later confessed that his primary aim had not been to do good but rather to achieve personal success. He did not involve himself with any major cause but he and William Pitt soon became political celebrities; their charm and wit making them popular in elite social circles.

In 1784, Wilberforce’s views and goals changed radically. He converted to Evangelical Christianity and joined the Clapham Sect, an Evangelical group of the Anglican Church. He became eager to reform the morals of society and wrote a book calling on the upper classes to regain true Christian values in their lives. From that point on he approached politics from a position of strict Christian morality.

Around this time, Wilberforce also developed a strong interest in social matters. He campaigned for health care, educational and prison reform and legislation to prohibit the worst forms of child labor. However, his greatest political efforts concerned the abolition of the slave trade and slavery.

In 1787 Wilberforce became, at the suggestion of the William Pitt, the parliamentary leader of the abolitionist movement. This was a daunting task as a great deal of the country’s wealth depended on slavery and there were powerful vested interests determined to prevent any restrictions of the practice.

In 1788-1789 he presented his Abolitionist Bill before the house for the first time. In a moving speech, he recited the horrific facts of slavery for three hours and ended with the words: "having heard all of this you may choose to look the other way but you can never again say that you did not know". Newspapers praised the speech highly, claiming it to be one of the most eloquent ever to have been read in the house.

Despite Wilberforce’s efforts the bill did not pass. Year after year, he re-introduced anti-slavery motions but to no avail. Finally, in 1807 the Abolition Bill was passed with 283 votes to 16, making the slave trade illegal on all British ships. It was an emotional day in Parliament and Wilberforce, having campaigned so strenuously, broke down and cried.

However, despite this victory, slavery itself remained intact and Wilberforce soon turned his attention to the emancipation of slaves in the British colonies. In 1823, he published the influential pamphlet "Appeal on Behalf of the Negro Slaves". It led to the formation of the Anti-Slavery Society, which headed the emancipation campaign.

Wilberforce retired from the House of Commons in 1825 and leadership of the Parliamentary campaign passed to Thomas Fowell Buxton. The Emancipation Bill slowly gathered support and was approved on 26 July 1833. On that day, slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire but planters were to receive high compensation. Wilberforce commented "Thank God that I have lived to witness a day in which England is willing to give twenty million sterling for the abolition of slavery". He died three days later, on 29 July, and was buried at Westminster Abbey in London.

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