GOREE ISLAND, Senegal (AP) – US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen paid a solemn visit on Saturday to the salmon-colored house on an island off Senegal that is one of the most recognizable symbols of the horrors of the Atlantic trade in slaves who held tens of millions of Africans captive for generations.
Yellen, Senegal as part of a 10-day trip aimed at rebuilding economic relations between the U.S. and Africa, stayed in the Gorée Island building known as the House of Slaves and peered through the “Door of No Return” from which enslaved people people were shipped across the Atlantic.
“Gorée and the transatlantic slave trade are not just part of African history. They are also part of American history,” Yellen said in brief remarks during her visit.
“We know that the tragedy did not stop with the generation of humans taken from here. Even after slavery was abolished, black Americans – many of whom can trace their descent through ports like this one in Africa – have been denied the rights and freedoms promised to them under our Constitution.”
The economic benefits that major slave-trading nations, including the United States, reaped for hundreds of years on the back of unpaid labor could run into the tens of trillions of dollars, according to research into the trade.
And in the US, African slaves and their children contributed to the building of the country’s most storied institutions, including the White House and Capitol, according to the White House Historical Association.
Yellen recognized the ramifications of that brutal past.
“Both in Africa and the United States, even with tremendous advances, we are still living with the brutal consequences of the transatlantic slave trade,” she said.
“What I take away from this place is the importance of redoubling our commitment to fight for our shared values and principles wherever they are threatened – in the United States, in Africa and around the world,” she said. “We have more work to do.”
Yellen’s trip to the island was attended by many dignitaries, including former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton and South African Nelson Mandela. Today, Gorée Island is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Yellen’s stop there during a trip aimed at revitalizing US-African economic relations is one that has evoked the massive costs of the slave trade. There was a resurgence of interest in determining the true cost of slavery on the generations affected.
In recent years, the House Financial Services Committee has studied how American banks and insurance companies profited from the practice of slavery before it was outlawed in 1865. There have also been hearings on the study and development of redress proposals in the United States.