These words by Pan Africanist historian Dr. John Hendrik Clark, gave birth to the founding of the African Ancestors Memorial Foundation.
The African Ancestors Memorial Foundation (AFAMF) is an art and educational project developed to establish a memorial to honor the millions of African ancestors who perished during “The Middle Passage” en route to the Americas as slaves, and to draw attention to the continuing practice of slavery today.
The enslavement of Africans caused the largest forced migration of people the world has ever seen. Slavery in the New World began before 1500 and did not end until the late 1800s. During this time there may have been up to 20 million Africans put on ships to be taken to the New World. The actual figures are in dispute because a substantial part of the documentation concerning slave ship voyages no longer exists. Africans were transported in vessels in which they lay in unfathomable conditions, chained head to foot lying in human waste for days. They were fed barely edible food and disease was rampant. There were many instances when Africans, rather than endure slavery, jumped overboard in chains dragging others they were linked to down into the salty depths. There were numerous other obstacles to successful voyages, from contrary trade winds and ocean currents to well-armed antislavery ships. It is estimated that millions, who were taken from African shores, died before they reached their destinations. These poor individuals died unknown, unrecognized and unsung.
There is recent scholarship that indicates that from the time of Christ to the late 1800s comparable numbers of Africans were taken east across the Sahara and the Red Sea. Unfortunately, there has been little scholarship devoted to determining the numbers of Africans lost in the grueling eastward trek. The primary difference between those taken east and those taken west was the length of the harsh and rigorous sea voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. Africans were transported to ports in both North and South America on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. This forced migration across the Atlantic Ocean was known as “The Middle Passage.”
Mainstream history scholars have for the most part ignored or discounted the loss of African lives during “The Middle Passage,” yet it is important that we recognize and memorialize those millions who died horrible deaths during “The Middle Passage” crossing.
In all human society there are important rituals that are performed for birth, rites of passage and death. We do a disservice to the memory of all those who died if we do not memorialize their untimely and savage demise.
The African Ancestors Memorial Foundation (AFAMF) believes, the time has come to memorialize and acknowledge our fallen ancestors. To this end, the AFAMF has been established to recognize all of those lives lost in “The Middle Passage.”
It is unfortunately true that slavery in all of its insidious forms is still with us today. Slavery presently exists in many countries around the world. Today, it is more likely to involve women and the sex trade. Yet, children are also at high risk according to the United Nations. The Global Slavery Index estimate is that 29.8 million people are enslaved in some form today. As we acknowledge that “The Middle Passage” was a great tragedy in human history, we also acknowledge that slavery continues to exist today.
Thus, it is also the goal of the AFAMF to call attention to the continuing exploitation and enslavement of mankind around the world. This is a vile activity that is often hidden away and not understood for what it truly is.
One of the objectives of the AFAMF is to create a monument carved from native African stone by a prominent African sculptor and transported across “The Middle Passage” to the United States by ship. Fragments from the stone chipped off during the sculpting of the monument will be ceremoniously cast into the ocean at various points during the voyage by an African spiritual leader in a symbolic burial.
Upon arrival in the United States, the monument will be erected in a prominent and well visited location. With the success of this first installation of a monument in the United States, the foundation intends to establish monuments in Africa, South America the Caribbean and the United Kingdom.
The development of an educational component which clearly delineates the rigors of the Middle Passage and the rise of modern day slavery, stands a key element for what the foundation represents. The critical and most important element in manifesting this project will of course be fundraising and the generosity and kindness of those individuals, foundations and corporations, who believe as we do, that the time is now, to finally memorialize our ancestors. Slavery has made a comeback but it is time to say, “Not on Our Watch!”