The Door of No Return; Pt 1
Many Rivers to Cross, w/ Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Goree Island, Senegal is the symbolic geographic location of that we have come to memorialize the horrific Atlantic Slave Trade. I have ancestors who have lived their lives as abject slaves.
I had to cry today because so many historians want to take issue with the accuracy of the designation of the sight being an actual spot, on a actual map, where captured Africans had a glimpse of where their future lie.
For my Ancestors, there were many ‘doors of no return’ along the western shores of Africa. Somebody had to choose one to serve as a memorial point. It doesn’t matter if it wasn’t directly on the shore or an actual port where the slave ships docked. It just had to be on African soil and facing east to the Americas. It is symbolic of all of the slave ports where the the cruel trafficking of humans into bondage occurred.
The House of Slaves (Maison des Esclaves) and its Door of No Return is a museum and memorial to the Atlantic slave trade on Gorée Island. A museum and memorial.
According to Wikipedia, the museum, opened in 1962 and curated until his death in 2009 by Boubacar Joseph Ndiaye, is said to memorialize the final exit point of the slaves from Africa. That’s good enough for me.
Recently, African American president, Barack Obama, visited the site. He sensed and felt the impact that so many before him did. Historians are complicit in denying people the sensory depth that such a horrific human tragedy ever happened. Calling the location a fraud, chips away at the notion that the slave trade wasn’t as we were told it was. Revisionists can use the historian’s assertions to make a mockery of Obama’s visit and, subsequently, all of the peoples of the world who came to Goree Island, in the spirit of acknowledging, cleansing and healing. Cruelty happened to my people. Boubacar Joseph Ndiaye suggested that the ‘door of no return’ was real for a lot of conscious Africans.
When I was in junior high school, my English teacher taught us about capitalizing proper names. French with a capital ‘F’; Irish with a capital ‘I’; German with a capital ‘G’, and so on.
When it came to me, Mrs. Ahearn noted Negro with a capital ‘N’.
The school bell rings and we go to History class. My classmates and I encounter a similar lesson plan but focused around geography. I was called to the blackboard and chalked ‘Negro’. Mrs. Shenton admonished me stating that ‘negro’ is NEVER capitalized.
“There is no such country as ‘Negro’. Do you know what country your family comes from? Since you don’t know, you are only a ‘negro’ and it is not to be capitalized — in spite of what you may have been told in English class.”
In the third grade, in this same school, we were reading, aloud, from ‘Little Black Sambo’, one of the most racist children’s book that you can imagine. My mother quickly got that book out of the classroom and out of the Binghamton, New York school curriculum. Those are only a couple of the educational challenges I confronted in the 1950s and 1960s.
Early on I learned that evil towards my people was being taught in the schools that I attended. I couldn’t rely on my teachers to tell me the truth about my Ancestors and my peoples. I couldn’t trust the professors and historians to be honest with my history. Damn them.
I do put my faith in genealogists and family historians. These folks are the ‘New Guards’ of African Ancestored research. As they scour the record books, census records, obituaries, and news clippings, a new narrative, a new truth, emerges of what happened to my people. And I trust them.
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., in the first episode of ‘Many Rivers To Cross’, has successfully raised the tenor of the questions we must ask to learn about our people, our history, our culture.
To Be Continued.
I’m on twitter @georgegeder