Between 1500 and 1866, 12.5 million enslaved Africans were transported by ship from Africa to the Americas as part of the Middle Passage crossing. Some 1.8 million of them died, their bodies thrown into the Atlantic, while the others who survived undertook journeys of misery and terror – chained together, starved, and surrounded by disease, to be sold into slavery and forced to work in brutal, dehumanising conditions. The slave mutinies that took place on these ships were the beginning of a long history of Black resistance.
In February 2022, the World Monuments Fund in partnership with Intelligence Squared brought together a panel of experts to explore key sites in Black history and illustrate the pivotal role heritage can play in teaching us about underrepresented narratives from the past.
We began our journey by examining buildings connected to slavery across Africa and the Caribbean, focusing on the ports, trading posts, and slave forts that were the starting points of the transatlantic slave trade. Moving forward in time we then discussed the struggle for emancipation, highlighting lesser known sites where newly freed slaves took refuge. Our trajectory ended with the landmark places in Birmingham, Montgomery, Selma and across the Black Belt in the U.S. that stood at the heart of the civil rights movement. These include churches and a barber shop where historic meetings took place between representatives of the Black and white populations of Montgomery in the beginning of the civil rights era.
Our panel unlocked the stories associated with these historic buildings and their importance in ensuring that the long struggle for racial equality is never forgotten.