Vice President Kamala Harris began her Tuesday in Ghana with a look at Africa’s future – but on Tuesday afternoon she looked back at the continent’s dark history of slavery, visibly moved by what she had just witnessed at Cape Coast Castle, where Africans are being held captive held before being sent to America and the Caribbean.
“Being here was — was immensely powerful and moving,” Harris said after touring the site, her voice cracking with emotion. “When we think of people who have been rescued by the hundreds of thousands, then we stand in this very place. The crimes that happened here. The blood that was spilled here.”
Harris had prepared a speech for the tour and placed it on a stand before walking out, but afterward, an official in the vice president’s office said the remarks she actually made were mostly impromptu.
“There are dungeons here where people were held. men, women and children. They were kidnapped from their homes. They were transported hundreds of miles from their homes without really knowing where they were going. And they came to that place of horror,” Harris said. “Some to die, many to starve and torture, women to rape – before then being forcibly taken on a journey thousands of miles from their homeland to be sold by so-called traders and taken to America, in the Caribbean, to be an enslaved person to be people.”
During their tour, Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff entered the dungeons, first where the men were being held, and then looked out to the ocean where the ships would depart. Harris stood for a moment, hands on hips, wiping his face once.
As they headed to the Women’s Dungeon and the “Door of No Return” where slaves were forced onto ships, Harris was seen again overcome with emotion as she wiped her face.
She came out of the female dungeon with flowers and placed them in an adjoining room, where others had also left them on the floor against a wall.
Vice President Kamala Harris tours the Cape Coast Slave Castle during her week-long trip to Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia in Cape Coast, Ghana March 28, 2023.Francis Kokoroko/Portal
“We do not know the number of dead on the way to this place, the number of those killed during this passage on the Atlantic [Ocean]’ she said after the tour.
But she said: “The horror of what happened here must always be remembered. It cannot be denied. It must be taught. History must be learned in America, survived in the Caribbean – those who proudly declare themselves diaspora.”
The docent, who accompanied the vice president at Cape Coast Castle, told reporters she told Harris how the prisoners in the dungeons would look through the holes in the walls and ceilings around them at the sky beyond and pray for salvation.
The lecturer also spoke of how some of the slaves would sing – and said that she also sang a song for Harris about “life’s problems” and death wishes “because that means freedom”.
In her speech at Cape Coast Castle, Harris said, “All of these stories need to be told. All of these stories need to be told in a way that we take away from this place. The pain we all feel. The torment that emanates from this place.”
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at Cape Coast Castle, Ghana on March 28, 2023.Nipah Dennis/AFP via Getty Images
“The descendants of the people who walked through that door were strong people, proud people, people of deep faith. People who loved their families, loved their traditions, loved their culture, and had that innate essence,” Harris said. Despite the horrors they endured, “their descendants continued to fight for civil rights, fought for justice, in the United States and around the world,” she said. “And all of us, regardless of your background, have benefited from their struggle and struggle.”
Harris, the first black US vice president, is on a week-long trip to Africa, her first in office. She arrived in Ghana on Sunday and will also travel to Tanzania and Zambia.
She said in a short speech after arriving in Ghana that she wanted to promote “increasing investment”, the “economic empowerment” of women, girls and young business people, “digital inclusion” and food security in the face of increasing challenges posed by climate change.
Earlier Tuesday, she spoke to thousands of young Ghanaians in front of the Black Star Monument, a major landmark in the heart of the capital, Accra. There she emphasized the importance of the “full participation of women and girls in economic, political and social life” and praised “African ingenuity and creativity”.
“What happens on this continent has an impact on the whole world,” she told the gathered activists, entrepreneurs and students. “Seeing you all here today makes me so optimistic and excited for this future.”