Door of No Return


Remember President Obama’s visit to Africa last fall?  Those pictures of him and his family walking though the old stone slave fortress in Ghana, its walls lined with cannons? I surely do.  The dungeons where slaves were once confined to filthy cells awaiting ships headed for the slave markets of the New World are indelibly imprinted in my mind. 

But then, I have an especially potent reminder. I walked through  just such a slave fortress. 

I, too, gazed through “the door of no return.” 

I, too, quaked at the spectre of thousands upon thousands of chained captives herded through that door…  packed into the holds of ships… shipped away to distant places of horror, never again to set foot in their homeland. 

My personal living history lesson was at Goree Island, off the coast of Senegal, West Africa.  The image that will haunt me forever was a set of baby-sized manacles bolted to a wall.

Being a writer, I did the only thing I could after an encounter with historical horror—I wrote about it.  Curiously, though, historical slavery wasn’t a topic editors were eager to touch.  “Why dredge up the past?” one asked.  “It will only stir up resentment and guilt.”

Say what?

Simmering silence is not the same as forgetting.  And avoidance is neither remorse nor seeking forgiveness.

In August, Abingdon Press pushed the usual objections aside and published the first book of my Grace in Africa historical fiction trilogy, The Call of Zulina.  (More about that in future days.)

That day at Goree Island a woman commented, “Thank God the days of slavery are over!”

Okay, right there is the main reason I write about slavery.  For that face is, that scourge is far from over.  Today, two hundred years after Britain passed its first laws barring slave ships from sailing freely across the Atlantic—and almost a century and a half after slavery was finally abolished in the U.S. –three  times as many people around the world live as slaves.  That’s an increase from an estimated four million in the 18th century to UNICEF’s estimate of twelve million today.  (Their estimate is conservative, by the way. Other organizations cite a number twice that high.)

Today slavery goes by an assortment of designations: sex trafficking, human trafficking, bonded labor, child labor.  But whenever people are owned as property, bought and sold, locked up and held against their will, and tortured to make them work harder, they are slaves.

In December, InterVarsity Press released a book I co-authored with Michele Rickett of Sisters in Service, Forgotten Girls: Stories of Hope and Courage.  It tells the stories of some who know the truth of 21st century slavery all too well.  (More about this book will also be coming.)

One of the things I especially like about Black History Month is that it calls us to remember.  All of us.  Black and white and in between.

Let us vow to look at the horrors of slavery through the “door of no return.”   Today slavery is against the law in every country of the world.  It is up to us who have a voice to demand that those laws be enforced.


“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

  George Santayana


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