In Senegal, Yellen Recoils at the Business of Slave Trading

Treasury secretary says administration has not endorsed reparations
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 21, 2023 2:30 PM CST
In Senegal, Yellen Connects Slave Trade to US Injustices
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen delivers a speech Saturday on Goree Island, Senegal.   (AP Photo/Stefan Kleinowitz)

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen paid a solemn visit Saturday to the salmon-colored house on an island off Senegal that is one of the most recognized symbols of the horrors of the Atlantic slave trade that trapped tens of millions of Africans in bondage for generations. Yellen, in Senegal as part of a 10-day trip to rebuild economic relationships between the US and Africa, stood in the Gorée Island building known as the House of Slaves and peered out of the "Door of No Return," from which enslaved people were shipped across the Atlantic. She expressed "an overwhelming sense of sadness and pain thinking about those stolen from their families," per AFP.

Yellen was guided on a tour through various corridors and tight quarters in the house, shaking her head in disgust at what she was told about the economics of how slaves were valued. "Gorée and the trans-Atlantic slave trade are not just a part of African history. They are a part of American history as well," Yellen said later in brief remarks. "We know that the tragedy did not stop with the generation of humans taken from here," she added. "Even after slavery was abolished, Black Americans—many of whom can trace their descendance through ports like this across Africa—were denied the rights and freedoms promised to them under our Constitution."

Later, in an interview with the AP, Yellen said that while promoting diversity and racial equality is a key goal of the Biden administration, it "has not embraced reparations as part of the answer." The economic benefits that major slave-trading nations, including the US, reaped for hundreds of years on the backs of unpaid labor could amount to tens of trillions of dollars, according to research. In a guest book at the house, Yellen wrote that it served as "an important reminder that the histories of Africa and America are intimately connected. While I am pained by its past, I am also heartened by the vibrant community I have seen here."

(More slave trade stories.)

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