By Auburn Mann
2019 marks 4 full centuries since the first enslaved Africans were brought to the shores of North America. From the Arrival in Jamestown from what is believed to be modern day Angola this was a just a small chapter in the greater transatlantic slave trade which spanned several centuries and four continents.
This anniversary has inspired Ghana to brand 2019 as the “Year of Return”. Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo said during an event at the National press Club last September. “The time is tight for people of African descent to make the journey back, with Ghana leading the way with open arms,” Said Akufo-Addo.
A Method of outreach and unification varying branches of the diaspora spawned by the transatlantic slave trade is widely seen as an effective means to facilitate much needed reconciliation. “We know of the extraordinary achievements and contributions they [Africans in the diaspora] made to the lives of the Americans, and it is important that this symbolic year—400 years later—we commemorate their existence and their sacrifices.”
Although there are other significant anniversaries and dates pertaining to the diaspora predating 1619, as black Africans were in the America’s, especially in the Caribbean and South America much earlier than the 1600s. The idea is also loosely rooted in the Joseph project that was a birthed in 2007 in recognition of the 200th anniversary of the
elimination of the international slave trade (as well as Ghana’s 50th Anniversary of independence from Great Britain), intended to encourage descendants of slaves to return to Africa.
Ghana has established quite the resume of promoting Pan-African atmosphere. Going back to the days of Kwame Nkrumah who embraced diaspora minded black leaders from all over the globe. When Ghana became Ghana in 1957 and throughout its early years, he invited the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Maya Angelou, ralph Bunche among others to foster this intra racial, intercontinental relationships; the great Scholar and civil rights activist W.E.B. Dubious immigrated to Ghana towards the end of his long, storied life, eventually passing in Accra in 1963.
This outreach has even taken the form of adopting the Black Star of the country’s flag from the moniker of Jamaican-born- Activist Marcus Garvey’s shipping company the Black Star Line during the Back to Africa movement. In 2000-01, the same time frame the Ghanaian parliament passed the Citizenship Act that granted citizenship to anyone of Ghanaian heritage in the Americas if they chose to migrate to Ghana, they also enacted the Immigration Act that permits anyone of African ancestry to travel to and from Ghana without hinderance.
Outside of Ghana, the United Nations (UN) proclaimed the decade extending from 2015 through 2024 as the International Decade for People of African Descent. According to an official statement given by the UN, the period is intended to, “promote respect, protection and fulfillment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms of people of African descent.” “To echo Nkrumah’s most famous lines, “I’m not African because I was born in Africa, but because Africa was born in me”.
This year the calendar heated up during the summer months largely being the time for much of the festival type events to be held. October and November will feature a series of tours of the many slave forts along the Ghanaian coast, like Elmina Castle and Cape Coast, to simulate the grueling, inhumane journey the ancestors had to endure before being shipped to the Western Hemisphere.
In response to this poetic diplomatic gesture, senator Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) stated “Let us be connected through our ancestry and the spirits. And let’s never forget the dark passage which will turn into a light of return in this wonderful year of 2019 commemorating our first venture (the Trans-Atlantic slave trade) in 1619.”