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Illustrated here in this 1861 drawing is a chain gang of slaves in Haiti. During the French colonial period beginning in 1625, the economy of Haiti (then known as Saint-Domingue) was based on slavery, and the practice there was regarded as the most brutal in the world. The Haitian Revolution of 1804, the only successful slave revolt in human history, precipitated the end of slavery not only in Saint-Domingue, but in all French colonies in the Caribbean / Photo: LCP

France to build memorial to slavery, president announces

In his likely final speech as president, François Hollande, has called on France to fight hate speech and announced a new working group that will be put in charge of designing a memorial and a museum for victims of slavery.

Speaking at a ceremony in Paris on Wednesday to commemorate the abolition of slavery, and accompanied by French President-elect Emmanuel Macron, Hollande warned France not to forget the “darker” moments of its long history.

“It’s not about opposing one kind of suffering to another,” the outgoing president said. “We are gathered here today to prevent the worst from ever happening again… We must continue fighting the kind of language that pits one people against another.”

Recalling former president Jacques Chirac’s wish to create a place of remembrance for the victims of slavery, Hollande said a foundation dedicated to that cause would be established in Paris next year and be presided over by Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.

The foundation will be based in the building that was once home to France’s Ministry for the Navy and Colonies, and where the French abolitionist and politician Victor Schoelcher signed the decree ending slavery in the French colonies in 1848.

 “The foundation will work with the City of Paris to build a monument and a museum dedicated to the memory of slavery,” Hollande said.

Though the Portuguese and British dominated the transatlantic slave trade, the French were the third largest slave traders, elevated to that rank by the staggering numbers of Africans delivered to Saint-Domingue (Haiti) in the late eighteenth century. Of the 1,381,000 Africans loaded onto French ships during the course of the transatlantic trade, 1,165,000 survived the Middle Passage to encounter harsh conditions mostly in French Caribbean colonies.


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