Two hundred years ago, on March 25, 1807, Great Britain passed the Slave Trade Abolition Act, which abolished the transatlantic slave trade in England and its colonies. This important milestone represented the beginning of the end of one of the most deplorable chapters in human history.
On May 1 of this year, the House of Representatives unanimously approved a resolution that I introduced to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the end of the transatlantic slave trade.
Specifically, the resolution I introduced, H. Res. 272 recognizes the historical significance of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade; honors the memory of those who died as a result of slavery; supports the preservation of historical records; and urges increased education of current and future generations about this crime against humanity.
I personally had the heart-wrenching experience of traveling to the areas from where slaves were captured.
One of my most distinct memories was standing at the "Doors of No Return" in Ghana and in Senegal. Every slave castle has such a door, where my ancestors stood on the shores of their homeland for the last time in their lives, awaiting a fate that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.
Standing before those doors, it was impossible to ignore the fact that those who walked through them laid the foundation of many modern nations — including the United States.
In spite of the immense wealth enslaved Africans created for others, the slave trade represented perhaps the lowest point in the history of humanity.
The world will never know the exact number of enslaved Africans transported to America, but it is estimated that between 10 to 15 million were brought here, making it the largest forced migration in history.
But despite its immense significance, the transatlantic slave trade is a subject only briefly discussed in our nation's classrooms. We must change that.
It is important for us to remember this dark period in our history and celebrate the efforts to bring it to an end, both to prevent such atrocities in the future and to confront the legacy of slavery that persists in this country to this day.
Just consider the facts: nearly one quarter of African Americans in the United States live in poverty. African Americans have one of the highest unemployment rates at 9.6 percent, and of the 46 million who lack health insurance, about 20 percent are African American and many of them are children.
There is a misguided idea held by many people in this country that the Civil Rights movement put an end to racism, and it is time to get on with a "color blind" society.
We saw the tragic results of that view in the wake of hurricane Katrina, and it ought to be a wake up call.
Our responsibility is not just to seek justice for Katrina survivors, but also to tackle the structural inequality, the endemic poverty and the flat out racism that turned a natural disaster into a human catastrophe of epic proportions. We must remake our unequal and unjust system of public education. We must attack the disparities in health care, economic opportunity, housing and employment. We must fight against the disproportionate toll that HIV/AIDS is taking on African Americans.
Slavery may be over, but in many ways the vestiges remain.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee represents California's 9th District.