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Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition: Three Responsibilities

Fletcher School professor Abi Williams reflects on the significance of the International Day for The Remembrance of The Slave Trade and Its Abolition.

In light of today's International Day for The Remembrance of The Slave Trade and Its Abolition, August 23rd, we (virtually) heard from Director of the Institute for Global Leadership and Professor of the Practice of International Politics Abi Williams about his perspective on the day. Given the state of racial injustice in the United States today, it is more important than ever that we take a moment to recognize the weight of today’s mission and, above all, remember the tragedy and lessons left behind by the slave trade. 

Read on below for more from Professor Williams about the three responsibilities we have as a society when it comes to holding ourselves accountable for these atrocities and ensuring we learn from history.


The slave trade and its abolition impose upon us all three cardinal responsibilities. First: the responsibility to remember.  Racism, hatred and prejudice were the foundations of the slave trade in which millions of Africans were transported and sold for economic gain. They were taken from their homes and families to The New World that held only the certainty of cruelty and suffering. The repercussions of the slave trade remain and are still felt today.

Second, is the responsibility to advance human dignity. The slave trade was a monstrous denial and trampling of human dignity. We are all diminished by the violation of human dignity. Promotion of human dignity is of paramount importance within and among states. It should also be a guiding principle for contemporary international institutions. In the words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

Third, is the responsibility to educate and learn. History teaches us in its most tragic chapters that progress towards fostering peace and justice is rarely linear; it requires constant effort, as well as the application of expertise across borders and generations. Teaching and learning about the evil of the slave trade is a timeless imperative. It involves holding to account those who in our own times would justify this evil as “necessary.” The essential lesson of the slave trade and its abolition is that we must not be morally blind or passive spectators  in the face of evil.