Vice President Kamala Harris’ weeklong tour of Africa isn’t only filled with diplomatic pleasantries.
Yes, Harris has been meeting with officials and bestowed with lavish gifts and honors as Ghanaians show out in throngs to give her a warm welcome to their nation. Harris has also done some serious political work while there, including pledging $100 million in aid from the U.S. in the face of economic and security concerns in Ghana.
But before Harris’ stay in Ghana came to an end on Wednesday, she took some time to pay her respects to the ancestors who passed through a former slave fortress on the West African country’s coast.
During her visit on Tuesday to Cape Coast Castle, the place in Ghana where shackled Africans were held in squalid dungeons before being shipped off into slavery in the U.S. and elsewhere, Harris became visibly and audibly emotional while delivering a brief but moving address.
After she laid flowers down in the dungeon where female slaves were kept, Harris called visiting the historic location “immensely powerful” as she recounted “the crimes” and “blood that was shed here.”
Harris, the first Black vice president, followed in the footsteps of Barack Obama, the first Black president, who in 2009 took the first family to visit Cape Coast Castle where he said he hoped the experience would help instill in his daughters a sense of their obligation to fight oppression and cruelty everywhere.
Below is the full text of Harris’ speech during her visit to Cape Coast Castle in Ghana, as provided by the White House.
So, being here was — was immensely powerful and moving, when we think about how human beings were treated by the hundreds of thousands in this very place that we now stand, the crimes that happened here, the blood that was shed here.
There are dungeons here where human beings were kept — men, women, and children. They were kidnapped from their homes. They were transported hundreds of miles from their homes, not really sure where they were headed. And they came to this place of horror — some to die, many to starve and be tortured, women to be raped — before they were then forcibly taken on a journey thousands of miles from their home to be sold by so-called merchants and taken to the Americas, to the Caribbean to be an enslaved people.
We don’t know the numbers who died on their way to this place, the numbers who were killed during that passage on the Atlantic. The horror of what happened here must always be remembered. It cannot be denied. It must be taught. History must be learned.
And we must then be guided by what we know also to be the history of those who survived in the Americas, in the Caribbean — those who proudly declare themselves to be the diaspora who then came out of — in, often, many situations — odds that were designed to break them, to demoralize them, to crea- — create systems and situations that were to make them feel like less than humans, less than full human beings.
But yet, they survived. And they tell another history — a history of endurance, a history of faith, a history in believing what is possible, a history not only that tells about the ability that each individual has to survive, but to thrive.
And so, all these stories must be told. All these stories must be told in a way that we take from this place — the pain we all feel, the anguish that reeks from this place. And we then carry the knowledge that we have may gained here toward the work that we do in lifting up all people, in recognizing the struggles of all people, of fighting for, as the walls of this place talk about, justice and freedom for all people, human rights for all people.
So, that’s what I take from being here. The descendants of the people who walked through that door were strong people, proud people, people of deep faith; people who loved their families, their traditions, their culture, and carried that innate being with them through all of these periods; went on to fight for civil rights, fight for justice in the United States of America and around the world.
And all of us, regardless of your background, have benefited from their struggle and their fight for freedom and for justice.
On Wednesday, Harris arrives in Tanzania where she is expected to meet with women entrepreneurs in an effort to help deepen Africa’s ties to the United States. Harris will head to Zambia after that before returning to the U.S. on Sunday.
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