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United Nations Unveils Stunning Memorial in New York To The Millions Who Were Killed and Sacrificed in Slave Trade To Create America’s Riches

slavery memorialVisitors to the United Nations headquarters in New York will get a powerful reminder of the brutality of the transatlantic slave trade and its enormous impact on world history through a visually stunning new memorial that was unveiled yesterday in a solemn ceremony.

There were speeches intended to touch the emotionality of a system that operated for hundreds of years, killing an estimated 15 million African men, women and children and sending millions more into the jaws of a vicious system of plantation slavery in the Americas.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called slavery “a stain on human history.”

U.N. General Assembly President Sam Kutesa said slavery remained one of the “darkest and most abhorrent chapters” in world history.

It was only fitting that the ceremony take place at a site surrounded by the looming skyscrapers of New York. Slavery was the economic engine upon which American capitalism was built, providing the seed money for United States businesses to create the most vibrant economic system in the world. The enslaved Black person (whose gender is purposely vague to represent men, women and children) lying inside the dramatically shaped marble memorial, which is called The Ark of Return, is a symbol of the millions whose deaths led to the building of those skyscrapers, the visual emblems of American capitalism’s enormous financial windfall for the white beneficiaries of slavery and their descendants.

During his speech unveiling the memorial, Ban Ki-moon spoke directly to Black people in the Americas and the Caribbean who are descended from the enslaved Black people who were sacrificed.

“I hope descendants of the transatlantic slave trade will feel empowered as they remember those who overcame this brutal system and passed their rich cultural heritage from Africa on to their children,” Ban said.

In his remarks, he singled out Black women in particular, noting that a third of those Black people who were sold as slaves from Africa were female.

“In addition to enduring the harsh conditions of forced labor as slaves, they experienced extreme forms of discrimination and exploitation as a result of their gender,” he said.

slave memorial UNThe U.N. has declared 2015-2024 as the International Decade for People of African Descent. Kutesa said yesterday that The Ark of Return would be one of the most important contributions of the entire decade.

“The majority of the victims of this brutal, primitive trade in human beings remain unnamed and unknown. Nevertheless, their dignity and courage was boundless and worthy of this honor and tribute,” Kutesa said. “While this may be a solemn occasion, it is also an opportunity to celebrate the legacy of those unknown and unnamed enslaved Africans and honor their proud contribution to our societies, our institutions and our world.”

The memorial project was conceived more than five years ago by a group of African and Caribbean nations, led by Jamaica. Courtenay Rattray, the Permanent Representative of Jamaica, who also served as chair of the Permanent Memorial Committee, noted yesterday that several nations, along with UNESCO, helped raise more than $1.7 million to pay for it.

The 15-member Caribbean Community at the U.N. is in the midst of pursuing reparations claims against European nations that engaged in the slave trade. While Jamaica Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller didn’t mention the reparations issue in her remarks yesterday, she did speak of slavery’s enduring legacy, noting that even after Britain passed a law on March 25, 1807, abolishing the slave trade, the institution persisted.

“For us freedom came after a long journey,” she said. “Freedom was not gifted to us but rather earned by the sweat, blood, and tears of millions of our forebears on whose back the economic foundations of the New World was built.”

Rodney Leon

Rodney Leon

The memorial was designed by Rodney Leon, an American architect of Haitian descent who was chosen two years ago after an international competition that attracted 310 entries from 83 countries. Leon was also the designer of the African Burial Ground National Monument in lower Manhattan, which was built on a spot where 15,000 people of African descent were buried over a period of around 100 years from the 1690s until 1794.

“It makes me feel extremely proud that I can play a role and a part in the commemoration of such an important and historic day,” Leon said during an interview yesterday. “I feel really proud that we have a physical marker and a place of remembrance for this annual celebration to take place moving forward.”

As the son of Haitian immigrants, Leon said his parents filled him with the history of Haitian liberation and the country’s struggle to be the first independent African state in the western hemisphere.

“My parents were always able to communicate to us as a family in terms of our history and our culture,” he said. “And I think that that plays a role in my being extremely proud of our Haitian and our African heritage. And as a result, when we have these legacies and these opportunities I think I tend to gravitate towards them.”

626425Closeup_SlaveryIn creating the triangle-shaped marble structure, Leon said his team drew inspiration from the maps of the triangular slave trade that are etched in the structure. They were also inspired by the ships that ferried Africans to Europe and the Americas, and the experiences people underwent through what is called the “door of no return” — a door at a castle on Gorée Island in Senegal and Cape Coast in Ghana, where many slaves were kept before they were shipped to the Americas.

“We felt it was very important for us to counteract that experience and pay homage to their legacy,” Leon said.

In a profile of the work on the U.N. website, Leon talked about the process of creating it. He said his team consisted of professionals from around the world—other architects as well as structural, mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineers, sculptors, steel workers, lighting designers and people with expertise in building water features. They came from the Caribbean, Africa, as well as Europe.

“We were also interested in the idea of the slave ships and these vessels that carried people through tragic conditions to the new world,” he said. “So we felt it would be a good counterpoint to establish a spiritual space of return, an ‘Ark of Return,’ a vessel where we can begin to create a counter-narrative and undo some of that experience.”

Leon said he designed the monument so that it could be touched—by members of the public but also by dignitaries at the UN, reminding them, as they deal with global issues on a daily basis, of mistakes made in the past.

The memorial is etched with drawings of actual slave ships, depicting cross-sections of vessels and showing their systematic organization in order to pack in as much “human cargo” as possible.

“We felt that that experience was very much something that needed to be visually described,” he said, referring to the human forms, stacked horizontally in three levels, barely able to sit-up. “I think they lost at least 15 percent or more of the ‘cargo’ on a typical slave journey.”

Of the figure laying prone inside the sculpture, he said it is a deliberately androgynous human sculpture, called ‘the trinity figure,’ representing the human spirit and the spirit of the men, women and children of African descent whose deaths resulted from the slave trade.

“A lot of people had to suffer in very confined quarters,” he said. “And the reason why it kind of seems like it’s androgynous, it’s sort of meant to represent those three elements – men, women and children. You’re sort of not really supposed to be able to tell.”

He said the figure’s leg, hand and face are made from black Zimbabwean granite.

“It has an outreached hand that’s meant to kind of reach out to people that are coming in,” he said. “It features a kind of tear that comes out of the face. That tear is supposed to wash down the side of the face and sets up the third element in the project.”

That third element is a triangular waterfall, created by the tears that flow from the face of the ‘trinity statue’ into two triangular reflecting pools. Leon said this element, located outside of the memorial, is intended to look ahead to the future.

“It’s really about dealing with our current conditions of contemporary slavery and how that actually is something we need to be fighting today,” he said. “It’s about acknowledging that condition and thinking about future generations and educating future generations so this tragedy doesn’t happen again in the future. So that’s why it’s pointing the way forward for us after you’ve passed through.”

Leon said the idea that children will be interacting and learning from his work “actually brings me ongoing joy.”

What people are saying

49 thoughts on “United Nations Unveils Stunning Memorial in New York To The Millions Who Were Killed and Sacrificed in Slave Trade To Create America’s Riches

  1. oriente says:

    6 million Jews died in less the 10 year and estimated 15 million Africans died in hundreds of years. Doesn’t the number seem a bit low?

  2. It is imperative that I visit this memorial.

  3. Where is the photo credit? Why erase the photographer?

  4. Nick Chiles makes some good points but needs a history lesson.

  5. He seems very knowledgeable according to history. Where can he get the history lesson you speak of?

  6. Marcus Scott says:

    He's spot on needs history from who the ones who enslaved us hmmm I wonder how that would go

  7. Alsicia Pringle-Haddock – Google, for a start. He should not have claimed that the skyscrapers of New York were a product of slavery. They were not. Firstly, they were built long after slavery had been abolished. Secondly, they were funded not from pre-Civil war cotton farming but from profits from much more recent generators of wealth such as railroads, oil, mining, shipping, finance, trade and manufacturing.

  8. Marcus Scott says:

    So I guess all the money that went into creating all these endeavors just appeared out of thin air???¿

  9. Ola Rhodes says:

    Steve Broekmann Your country was built on slavery and Genocide, the sooner you start accepting the truth rather than living in denial, the better.

  10. Al Griff says:

    Google Tulsa, Oaklahoma 1921 also.

  11. Steve Broekmann Did you even read the same article? or are you that lacking in reading comprehension?

  12. Unfortunately, the blacks in south Africa are attacking and killing "foreigners" (blacks from neighboring countries) but aren't doing a thing about the REAL "FOREIGNERS" in their land.

  13. I have every right to be where I am. It's no more "their" land than mine. So stick your racism. And yes, you apparently do need some Africans to teach you your history.

  14. Marcus Scott says:

    Look racism Steve is were one race makes another race feel inferior to them and make it seems like there the superior race I doubt any black person is going around screaming black power we are the supream race do we were not racist because of the comments we make when who was the one who made up the word racist please you stick to your racist ways of thinking and keep thinking your better because of your skin color which no one has any choice over

  15. Steve Broekmann

    Steve Broekmann said: "he should not have claimed that the skyscrapers of New York were a product of slavery. They were not. Firstly, they were built long after slavery had been abolished. Secondly, they were funded not from pre-Civil war cotton farming but from profits from much more recent generators of wealth such as railroads, oil, mining, shipping, finance, trade and manufacturing."

    Steve, Steve, Steve…..

    Railroad on a stolen land clear by slavery.
    Oil from a stolen land cleared by slavery.
    Mining mineral from a stolen land financed by slavery.
    Shipping of stolen mineral on stole land financed by slavery.
    Trade of stolen resource cleared and financed by slavery.
    Manufacturing on stolen land, using stolen resource, cleared and financed by slavery.

    Steve Google Capital.
    Then Google Investment Capital.
    Then Google Interest.
    Then Google Inheritance.


    — Everyone Else.

    To understand Steve you have to understand where he's coming from.

    Sons of Thieves hide their father's guilt to protect their inheritance.

    A large percent of financial, political and social advantages received and accepted by some white people are Unjust, and they know it, but they try their hardest to Rationalize it, to escape Guilt and Shame.

    He has literally told himself this Justification of "No ties to Slave Guilt "Or Indian Genocide Guilt" hundreds of time in his head.

    Within the White community there are Rationalizations for all evils done through Colonization. The Echo chamber they create allows them to escape any-type of guilt.

    And not guilt for what their for fathers done, But the Guilt from Continuing to benefit from those evils knowing the truth.

    that why it's so important for them to create any and every excuse and repeat over and over until they can force themselves to believe it, to escape the guilt.

  16. You appear to be unable to be objective so there is no point in engaging in any debate.

  17. Steve Broekmann I believe he was referring to the funding of the buildings, rather than the actual building of the structures themselves.

  18. we don't need a monument, we need to stop being murdered in the streets and to receive retribution compensation for the horrific things that are still being done to us. If the UN wants to do something than do something for the descendants of those free people who were made slaves; not put up another tourist attraction in NYC where blacks are still suffering at the hands of the governments and it's racism. Why doesn't anyone ever come to the people and ask them what they want. I am so tired of being given what they think we should have!

  19. Read "Slavery by Another Name", by Douglas Blackmon. It details the creative ways that were used by corporations, like the railroads, J.P. Morgan, U.S. Steel (to name a few), where they used local "jim crow laws" to (re) enslave black-men. They sentenced them for jay-walking, and made-to-order charges, that financed corporations to the tune of millions and billions of dollars, created by this "newly found source of free labor".

  20. Rene' Thomas says:

    Steve Broekmann the chain gang built the railroads; these free men who were criminalized arrested on trumped up charges for the purpose of free labor; our prisons are another form of slavery mass incarceration. I understand the truth hurts.

  21. Rene – we're not talking chain gangs. We're talking slavery and its contribution to the sky-scrapers of New York. I think the economic advantages of slavery, while undoubted and significant, tend to be exaggerated, particularly by those wishing to emphasize the suffering and abuse of slaves. It is worth considering that slaves were labor units in the early colonies where slavery was permitted. And the traders – mostly Arabs – selling slaves sold them at market value. The difference between free and slave labor is that free labor is rented for a price (wage), while slave labor is purchased outright by a buyer who then enjoys the value stream of the slave's services. The market price of a slave measures the difference between the present value of the services the slave is expected to provide and the present value of maintenance costs and depreciation. The result is that the economic advantage of slaves was market-related. The ones who really scored the most were the slave traders rather than the farmers. See Capitalism and Slavery – Macmillan Encyclopedia of World Slavery, 1998 From World History in Context.

  22. Hey Steve,

    The amount of detailed information that we have on who financed slave voyages, where they went, who they captured, which African leaders cooperated with which traders, how many trips they made, who captained and manned the ships, which companies insured the human cargo, how many Africans were expected to die during the voyage, what diseases they usually succumbed to while on-board, the ratio of human cargo to dry goods that would net the ship the highest profit margin, which countries dominated the trade during which decades, which countries ran illegal slave trading ships after the trade was supposed to be outlawed… none of that is a mystery. There are mounds of historical documents – invoices, contracts, etc. that evidence this fact. Because this capitalist venture worked as any capitalist venture does, investment capital and interest and inheritance propagated as one would expect. Let's say slavery ended when Lincoln "abolished" slavery (he didn't, I flush that out later), these components would've accrued a very – very – large capital sum – enough to finance something like the skyscrapers.

    I think you dismissed Rene''s point too blithely. She was considering the essential components needed to build something so labor-intensive – like the skyscrapers.

    How Abe Lincoln didn't abolish slavery: the 13th amendment was merely a declaration that said "don't own slaves" and that's all. There was no legislation, no statue, that said "we'll prosecute you if you enslave someone." There was no penalty set, there was no law you could bring a case under. That's why slavery continued to happen well past a decade after the 13th amendment.

    Now, what does this have to do with anything? Slavery is in the past and even if it's agreeable that this capitalistic venture financed things, it surely didn't reach as far as to be able to finance something as a modern skyscraper? Well, not completely.

    As discussed in the PBS documentary Slavery By Another Name, as the federal government withdrew funding and support for Reconstruction, the South began a system of leasing prisoners–allowed by law to be used as slaves–to the plantations to replace their free labor. Those affected by this system were treated even worse than those held in bondage under slavery before the Civil War, as slaves were an expensive investment–the $800 average cost of a slave in 1860 is roughly $21,000 in today’s dollars–but leased prisoners were replaced by the prison if killed and payment continued as scheduled, de-incentivizing what little humane treatment was afforded slaves.

    It was so profitable and in such high demand that, within ten years of its implementation, the stereotype of black people in America had changed. Prior to the Civil War, the stereotype of black people was that we were inherently docile, servile, and loyal. This only makes sense, because if we were viewed as inherently violent and thieving and criminal like we are today, why would they have trusted us with their livelihoods, their crops, and their children? (Side note: this is also where the stereotype of black people loving watermelon came from–the idea that if we were just given a cool slice of watermelon on a hot day, we would work forever). But once they were no longer allowed to own us outright and had to lease us from prisons, police and judges did everything in their power to make sure they had a robust source of free labor. Black people were arrested on false or trumped-up charges, and within ten years, the recorded arrest and conviction rate for black people had skyrocketed so much that the stereotype was entirely inverted from what it had been previously.

    The prison system may have stopped leasing prisoners to plantations, but they still lease prison labor to corporations and local governments. Prisoners–primarily black, of course, because we are targeted–are forced to fight wildfires, manufacture consumer goods, and even make goat cheese for Whole Foods. Our economy was built on slave labor, and it still runs on it to a disconcerting extent. And to make that work, black and Latino neighborhoods are targeted by law enforcement and manipulated through things like school closings and schools being unfathomably underfunded to ensure an ever-growing population of prisoners, an ever-growing population of slaves.

    So the next time someone asks you when slavery ended in America, tell them the truth. Tell them, “Never.”.

    Also, from Capitalism and Slavery – Macmillan, they assert facts and cite Time on the Cross by Fogel and Engerman, who established that if slavery had not been "abolished," the price of slaves would have continued to rise rapidly in the late 19th century as more land was put into production for cotton. The book compares conditions and economics in the "Old South" (Atlantic Coastal states) with the "New South" (areas further west, commonly called the Deep South). It evaluates available statistics to shed light on slave life. The authors point out that following emancipation and the end of the Civil War, the life expectancy of freedmen declined by ten percent, and their illnesses increased by twenty percent, over slavery times. (At the same time, there was considerable social dislocation across the South following the widespread destruction of the war and loss of life among a generation of men. White militias directly attacked and intimidated freedmen, and the agricultural economy was in the doldrums, causing widespread problems and suffering among the entire population.

    So, Steve, no. I don't think the "economic advantages of slavery […] tend to be exaggerated" – especially not to heighten the perception of horrific slave treatment – we don't need any help in that department 🙂

  23. Good post Breylon. There is a reason you are a top commentator! You make some interesting points. Thanks

  24. Oh – and I forgot to mention that I am actually a descendant of a slave. But the dynamics of slavery in Cape Town in the later 17th century were rather different to the US.

  25. Sidney Davis says:

    First of all WHO KNEW about this? Why didn't the black community in Boston know about this event? Did Rodney Leon's slave ancestors come across the Atlantic dressed like an Arab sheik?

  26. Wonderful concept and creation!

  27. You have to be kidding me! America's wealth was directly because of the slave trade, period! No slaves, NO wealth!

  28. Reminiscent of the slavery memorial at the Liberty Bell pavilion in Philadelphia, Pa.

  29. Funny that most Black people that could appreciate this don't even know about it… smdh. We don't need a statue… We need change!

  30. Kenneth Vick says:

    Concider the legacy? What a joke! Nothing to be concidered here. It's a FACT that our ancestors lived and died in captivity!

  31. Mark Seery says:

    You think black people had exclusivity in slavery? As someone said. Go take some history lessons…

  32. very moving, I look forward to visiting.

  33. Carl Hewitt says:

    I agree about change, but that change will only come about economically. Without $$$, all the symbolism and monuments ring hollow.

  34. Carl Hewitt says:

    Where did the money for these other industries come from, a benevolant influx of $$$ from the English? 2 + 2 = 4, not 7

  35. Carl Hewitt says:

    Steve Broekmann Google "Black Wall Street – Tulsa, OK"
    Don't hurt your eyes reading about it, Stevie!

  36. Carl Hewitt says:

    Steve Broekmann You made it through law school being that stupid??? Really, Steve??? I pity the law school that admitted you. The fact that someone as vapid, entitled and frighteningly dumb can get admitted to and graduate from law school, is indeed a scary thought.

  37. Cia Israel says:


  38. Mark Seery says:

    You're welcome, Adrienne

  39. very interesting. thanks for the link!

  40. Ivan Cherry says:

    Steve Broekmann The slave trade profited people around the world(especially those in the shipping industry) in every industry of that time. If you're trying to say the profits of the slave trade only involved a few bales of cotton; you're not being honest. And, if your saying that the profits of 400 years of slavery didn't fund the wealth that built this country's industries; your being more dishonest with your revisionist history.

  41. Ivan Cherry says:

    I never heard of this, and I didn't see where any American Blacks had anything to do with this memorial to US!

  42. We really needed a memorial ? Aren't the blacks the ones who are insisting "Civil War" memorials remind them of slavery ? Then WHY would you want a memorial TO slavery ? Ridiculous…. the civil war was connected to slavery AFTER the war was fought. Why should the ancestors of Confederate soldiers NOT be able to commemorate their dead with a monument or marker, or even a flag. I FIND THIS "SLAVERY" MONUMENT OFFENSIVE and think it should be torn down…Pappy

  43. Too bad carol, you just don't get it probably never will!

  44. Kofi Agbotse says:

    Were your ancestors taken from Palestine

  45. Cia Israel says:

    Kofi Agbotse my ancestors were brought here on slaves ships.. as documented inDeuteronomy the 28th chapter of my history book

  46. Under British rule, the first slaves in Jamaica were Irish. Part of my heritege is Irish and I grew up on a road in Kingston that is named after an Irish county. The African slaves came after and comprise the vast majority of slaves during European expansion. Some estimates claim over 30 million Africans were stolen from Africa and brought to the New World. After the end of the African slave trade in 1834, plantation owners and industrialist still wanted slave labour and so they found other creative methods to find slave labour for large projects such as building the Panama Canal. Chinese labour were brougt in from other areas in the British and French empires as "indentured servants", which is just a fancy name for slave. After the Chinese came the East Indian slaves came. Jamaica is an example of a country made up of dispalaced people. Let us also remember that the Native population in the entire hemisphere was enslaved by Europeans and this also remains the greatest genocide in history. Jamaica has never forgotten the Irish slaves but we also do remember that the African slave trade was one of the largest in history and very representative of the cruelty inflicted on the Indigenous peoples of the world. The main idea here is to end all slavery in the world for there are more slaves alive today than there were in 1860.

  47. Mark Seery says:

    Ann Marie Hake Hughes Yeah right. There are those who claim that the Jewish haulocaust never happened as well !

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