Documenting Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade
This year's Day of Remembrance pays particular tribute to the many women who suffered and died during the slave trade. ... Women slaves played a key role in maintaining the dignity of their communities. Too often their leadership and brave resistance have been underestimated or forgotten. –Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General
The UN Secretary-General's statement is the backdrop to my Black History Month and Women's History Month experiences this year. It all began when, along with about 300 others, I showed up at the United Nations on February 11 to view the pre-screening of Episode 4 of THE BOOK OF NEGROES, the BET mini-series, based on the acclaimed novel by Lawrence Hill. You may remember TBON was on Oprah's 2010 Summer Reading List (also known in the US as Someone Knows My Name.
Book of Negroes is a historical document that records names and descriptions of 3,000 enslaved African-American who had to work for the British army during the American Revolution so as to qualify for their freedom. Following their service, they were evacuated on a British ship to points in Nova Scotia, Canada. Indeed, according to the author Hill, "Unless you were in Book of Negroes, you couldn't escape to Canada."
The screening was held in the cavernously imposing Economic & Social Council Chambers, at UN headquarters, with dizzying elevated tiers of semi-circular seating, all mounted with banks of mics and hundreds of tabletop monitors, lit up in cobalt blue hashtags -- #REMEMBERSLAVERY and #BOOKOFNEGROES. I noticed a smaller monitor where, with only a click, I could surf through several hundred channels of the world's languages. I figured out how to "program" the slender headphones, delightfully clicking away, first French then Mandarin Chinese, Swahili, Xhosa, Creole, and more. Much more. Tower of Babble, indeed.
United Nation's Economic and Social Chamber. Photo by Luvon Roberson
What's The 411 Book Editor, Luvon Roberson, at her seat at the United Nation's Economic and Social Chamber. Photo Credit: Luvon Roberson
Then, the lights dim, and I was transported from my high-tech 2015 world to Aminata Diallo's world in 1783. When only 11 years old, Aminata is snatched from her parents and village shackled in iron manacles, and beaten, enduring the horrific Middle Passage across the Atlantic. Yet, throughout this amazing woman's life, in the face of fearsome turbulence, adversity, and heartbreak, we see her steadfast determination, independence, and burning ambition for justice for herself – and all enslaved peoples. When the lights come up again, I am so immersed in her world that I feel a bit disconcerted to find myself, blinking, in the bright lights of the United Nations chamber. #REMEMBERSLAVERY #BOOKOFNEGROES.
Following the screening, we are treated to a Q & A with the stars of The Book of Negroes mini-series: Leading actress Aunjanue Ellis who plays Aminata Diallo, the enslaved African woman who wrote down and catalogued Book of Negroes and ultimately won her freedom through that service, and Oscar-award & Emmy-award winning actor Louis Gossett, Jr., as well as the mini-series director, co-writer Clement Virgo.
Q and A session with stars of the mini-series, Book of Negroes, and the mini-series writer and co-director. Photo by Luvon Roberson
The preview screening, co-sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Canada, can also be viewed here.
Book of Negroes would never have documented – or help set free -- so many of the transatlantic slave trade without Aminata Diallo's shining intelligence, tireless labor, and fiercely courageous efforts. Actor Lyriq Bent plays Chekura Diallo, the loving and brave man she eventually marries but, who, as a child, was among her enslavers in Africa. Oscar-winner Cuba Gooding, Jr., plays Samuel Fraunces, the renowned tavern owner/businessman in New York, who supports Aminato Diallo's efforts, yet caters to slaveholder General George Washington. After returning to Sierre Leone, West Africa, Aminata Diallo later becomes a vocal abolitionist in Britain, who fights to write her own story about the horrors of slavery. Actress Aunjanue Ellis shares her views on Aminata Diallo, here.
Every year, on March 25, the UN holds International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. This year, as I sought to learn more about the contributions of African-Americans to US history -- and the world -- in February: Black History Month, I came to see new and fuller expressions of women's lives and stories for March: Women's History Month.
More on Women & Slavery...
From March 25 to March 27, the United Nations is holding a "Women and Slavery" briefing and hosting a global video conference of students living in countries affected by the transatlantic slave trade. For more information, visit Twitter: @rememberslavery, Facebook: www.facebook.com/rememberslavery, and Website: rememberslavery.un.org. You can also watch the events live on the UN webcast. Videos, profiles, historical documents, and more about THE BOOK OF NEGROES is available on the BET website here.
CLOSING LINES & SNIPPETS...
The novel by Lawrence Hill is entitled The Book of Negroes (also known as Someone Knows My Name), and was published in 2007, by HarperCollins. The historical document is Book of Negroes. The television miniseries is The Book of Negroes (miniseries).