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From the Transatlantic Slave Trade to Emancipation and Present Day Effects


The transatlantic slave trade, also known as chattel slavery or the triangle of trade, took place for roughly 300 years between the early 1500s until abolition in the British empire in 1838 and in the United States in 1865.


Africans were taken from the west coast of the continent, and forcibly placed on slave ships on a long journey that lasted weeks to the New World (Brazil, the Caribbean or the USA). Conditions on slave ships were inhumane and many slaves died on the way from overcrowding, disease or committed suicide.


Triangle of trade

The so-called triangle of trade was as such:

  • People were taken from Africa and brought to the New World as slaves
  • Raw materials reaped by slaves, mostly cotton, sugar and rum were brought to Europe
  • Europe manufactured goods like guns, alcohol and textiles, and sold them to African leaders who sold people as slaves in exchange

Once slaves were brought to work on plantations, conditions were even more brutal. Slaves were made to work long days in the sun and were routinely brutalized by white overseers. Of course, they were not paid for their work. Black slaves were seen as property, akin to horses or cattle, thus the name ‘chattel’ slavery. Pregnant women and children were made to work in equally cruel circumstances; many babies, pregnant women and children died from overwork.

Present day effects

The effects of slavery continue to be seen wherever chattel slavery existed. Societies in the New World that were built on slavery were built on a fundamental belief that Black people belonged at the bottom of social hierarchies. Systems that govern the way societies run, like the judicial, health, housing and education systems, have legacies of anti-Blackness that affect the way they work today.

In places where Black people are a minority, they are systematically over-policed, under-educated, under-housedand less healthy than their white peers. In places where Black people are a majority, like the Caribbean and regions like Bahia in Brazil, overall infrastructure tends to be worse than in white-dominated countries and regions.

Emancipation Day

Emancipation came to British, Spanish, Dutch and French colonies and the US at different times. The earliest abolition of the practice of slavery (not to be confused with the slave trade) was 1811 in Spanish colonies and the latest being Brazil in 1888. In British colonies, full slavery was abolished as of midnight, July 31, 1838.

Of course, slaves and their descendants have celebrated emancipation every year. In the US, Black folks celebrate Juneteenth while in the English-speaking Caribbean and Canada, Emancipation Day is celebrated on August 1 or the first Monday of the month. On March 24, 2021, the Canadian House of Commons officially designated August 1 as Emancipation Day. Celebrations vary by country, with Cropover in Barbados and the Grand Gala in Jamaica. Regardless of where you are, the day is an opportunity to reflect, be inspired by the resilience of Black people and chart the path forward for Black liberation. 

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