Thursday, May 10, 2012

7th Annual Day of Remembrance of the Slave Trade, Slavery, and Their Abolition

Today France observed its 7th annual Day of Remembrance of the Slave Trade, Slavery, and Their Abolition.

As has been customary since the first commemoration in 2006, an official ceremony was held in the Luxembourg Garden. A few drops of rain fell but the weather was fairly warm for the occasion. The garden was closed to all but those who had been invited and security was tight at the one entrance that was open for the morning ceremony.

Tom and I arrived in time to position ourselves close to the gazebo, which was bedecked with a colorful backdrop that included a photo of the garden's sculpture Le Cri, L'Ecrit and the plaque that pays homage to the slaves of the French colonies. This is where the ceremony took place.

Gazebo at the Luxembourg Garden
© Discover Paris!

Christiane Taubira, author of the French law that declares slavery and the slave trade a crime against humanity; Lilian Thuram, former soccer player and founder of the organization Education contre le Racisme (Education Against Racism); and François Durpaire, president of the movement l'Appel pour une République multiculturelle et postraciale (Call for a Multicultural and Post-racial Republic) were among the VIPs in the audience.

Lilian Thuram and François Durpaire
© Discover Paris!

Guadeloupan actor Greg Germain acted as Master of Ceremonies. He briefly explained how the ceremony would proceed and listed the names of the dignitaries that would attend the event. He then read poetry while we waited for them to arrive.

Greg Germain
© Discover Paris!

The dignitaries included Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë; Françoise Vergès, president of the Committee for the Memory and History of Slavery; Jean-Pierre Bel, president of the French Senate, and none other than President-elect François Hollande! Nicolas Sarkozy, current leader of the French Republic, was announced by Germain as being part of the group, but he did not attend.

President-elect Hollande and the other dignitaries walked around the garden to greet those standing at the chain barrier between the crowd and the gazebo and then took their places on the stage.

The President-elect followed by the press
© Discover Paris!

President-elect François Hollande
© Discover Paris!

Françoise Vergès and Mayor Bertrand Delanoë
© Discover Paris!

Germain and fellow actor Nicole Dogué then read moving passages from the works of Edouard Glissant, Aimé Césaire, and Patrick Chamoiseau.

Greg Germain and Nicole Dogué center stage
© Discover Paris!

The culmination of the ceremony was an impassioned speech by Senate President Bel. He noted, among other things, that the Loi Taubira was passed unanimously by the Senate. He acknowledged the presence of several historians and anthropologists from the seven European nations that perpetrated the Transatlantic Slave Trade - England, Spain, Portugal, The Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, and France - who stood behind and to the left of the podium on the stage. He spoke of the work that they and others are doing to uncover details about slave life and the Middle Passage.

Senate President Jean-Pierre Bel
© Discover Paris!

President-elect Hollande did not speak at the ceremony, but was interviewed by the press afterward.

At the end of the ceremony, attendees were invited to stroll around the garden to enjoy its beauty and to see the sculpture and commemorative plaque.

Le Cri, L'Ecrit (2007)
Sculpture erected in commemoration of the abolition of slavery in France
Fabrice Hyber
© Discover Paris!


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Ellen Kountz said...

Thanks for this great article and photos! Mme Vergès speaks Monday at Reid Hall, rue de Chevreuse.

About Beauford Delaney said...

My pleasure, Ellen. I enjoyed the ceremony immensely and even got to shake François Hollande's hand! Thanks for providing the info about Mme Vergès' presentation at Reid Hall. I hope that she'll have a great crowd.