About the event
Made an official observance by the UN in 1998, this day marks a crucial moment in the history of the transatlantic slave trade and the abolition movement. On the 22nd and 23rd of August in 1791 the Haitian Revolution began with thousands of slaves rebelling against their French Colonial masters. It was these events that paved the way for Haiti to become the first black republic, the first country to abolish slavery, and the only country in history to be run by former slaves. This significant day is used to draw attention to the horror of the transatlantic slave trade, its legacy and how slavery can be prevented in the present.
UNESCO plays a big role in this day by facilitating an international project called the ‘slave route’ that traces the countries and peoples involved in the slave trade from the ports of Britian and France, to the West African coast and the Americas. This is a day to reflect on our country's role in the slave trade and the celebrate the heroic people from London to Haiti that helped to abolish it.
How to approach it
Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, says that ‘Today, let us remember the victims and freedom fighters of the past so that they may inspire future generations to build just societies.’ A great way to do this is by telling the story of the Haitian Rebellion in class. This turns the narrative we are used to hearing about the abolition of the slave trade on its head. Often, even government ministers, will try to claim that Britain abolished the transatlantic slave trade, but this isn’t true. Engage your students by showing that, as with other progressive movements, change is usually achieved through pressure from the oppressed. Discuss with your class: why is this crucial aspect of history ignored? Similarly you could ask: what do you find inspiring about this story?
It's often mistakenly claimed that Britain was the first country to abolish transatlantic slavery. Actually, Haiti was the first country to do this. The slaves of Haiti rebelled against their masters and established a state for themselves, free from slavery, in 1804. Why do you think this fact is overlooked?