Sierra Leone, not Goree Island or Elmina Castle is star of US television documentary
Discover Sierra Leone
Though not a top destination for so-called “slave tourism,” Sierra Leone has been the only African country featured in “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross,” an ongoing American public television series about the Atlantic Slave Trade. Elmina Castle in Ghana, a major attraction, was not even mentioned. And UNESCO World Heritage site Goree Island in Senegal only received a mention because it is sponsor of the series.
But Sierra Leone’s connection to human bondage dominated Episode 1 of the six-hour, six-part documentary series which began on Oct. 22 and will end on Nov. 26. To acquaint his audience with what slaves had to endure from the moment they were captured to when they were loaded onto ships for the Middle Passage, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. a Harvard professor, writer and presenter traveled to Port Loko and Bunce Island.
In small town hall type meetings in Port Loko, Gates engaged residents about African participation in the slave trade. Participants admitted that neither skin color nor tribal affiliation prevented people from being sold down the Port Loko creek into slavery. One villager said that his forebears at one time had 500 slaves.
On the ghostly ruins of Bunce Island, Isatu Smith conducted Gates on a tour of the living conditions of the slaves before they were branded with hot irons (letter S to imply they came from Sierra Leone) and shipped abroad. Amidst all the human suffering, the Europeans on Bunce Island lived in a two-story mansion and even enjoyed some golf.
Back in the United States, Gates traces the 250 story of a twelve year old slave girl named Priscilla who was shipped from Sierra Leone and ended up in a South Carolina plantation. Ed Ball, a descendant of Priscilla’s owners gives Gates and the television audience a tour of the plantation and its detailed records.
Those detailed records enabled Thomalind Polite to trace her ancestry through Priscilla to Sierra Leone. According to Gates, Priscilla was just one of 300,000 Sierra Leoneans who were shipped into slavery in the Americas. Watch Episode 1 of the "The African-Americans: Many Rivers to Cross," here.
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