Four International Black History Sites Everyone Should Know About
Black History Month celebrates the legacy of struggle and achievement of African Americans throughout America’s episodic 244-year history. For travelers, the February celebration also provides a roadmap to discover national sites related to black history.
Yet travelers to the Caribbean and South America can also find contemporary sites related to black history, including the transatlantic slave trade through which millions of Africans were forcibly smuggled into the Americas.
The sites are both sober and hopeful. Some recount horrific events, including slave revolts and the innate cruelty of the plantation system. Others chronicle less explored aspects of post-slavery reconstruction and celebrate examples of progressive initiatives to further harmonize African, American, and European colonial cultures.
Visitors from several Caribbean and South American countries – including Brazil, Curacao, Martinique and Nevis – can explore these important places via organized tours or independent exploration, as all are located in the main tourist districts. Here are four international sites related to black history in the Americas:
Valongo wharf, Brazil
Located in Rio de Janeiro’s Jornal do Comércio Square, the archaeological site of Valongo Wharf is located in the city’s 19th-century port. the stone wharf was the landing place for generations of enslaved Africans from 1811 to the end of slavery in the country in 1888. An estimated 900,000 Africans arrived in South America through the Valongo wharf .
Excavated in 2011 and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017, the wharf has several archaeological layers. The lowest layer consists of floor tiles in the “pé de moleque” style, according to UNESCO officials, attributed to the original wharf.
Other layers represent the later Empress’s Quay, built in 1843. The construction features a waterfront covered with dressed stone paving forming a ramp and steps leading down to the sea.
UNESCO officials describe the Valongo as “the most significant physical trace of the arrival of enslaved Africans on the American continent”, which “thus has enormous historical and spiritual significance for African Americans”. The organization’s World Heritage Site designation for Valongo Wharf commemorates its painful history.
“It is a site of conscience,” officials say, “that illustrates strong and tangible associations with one of humanity’s most terrible crimes, the enslavement of hundreds of thousands of people creating the greatest movement of forced migration in history”.
The site is maintained by local groups but still needs further rehabilitation and development promised following the excavations, an issue that is still being debated in the country. Nonetheless, travelers can easily arrange tours of the important historical site.
Tula Monument, Curacao
Set amidst quiet beaches and a flamingo reserve on the south coast of Curacao, stands a monument where one of the Caribbean’s most famous slave rebellion leaders was executed.
Tula was an enslaved African who became aware of the Haitian Revolt of 1791 which ultimately led to freedom for that island’s enslaved population. Along with fellow slaves Louis Mercier, Bastian Karpata, and Pedro Wakao, he launched what became known as the Curaçao Slave Revolt or Tula Revolt on August 17, 1795.
The rebellion began at the Knip plantation in Bandabou where Tula led 40–50 slaves who told the master that they would no longer submit to servitude. That evening, Tula’s party had freed thousands of slaves who were camping on the waterfront of present-day Porto Mari, where they later defeated a Dutch attack.
Tula’s forces grew as the group freed more slaves on other plantations. Bloody battles ensued and the revolt lasted for over a month. The colonial army eventually defeated the rebels and Tula was captured and tortured to death on October 3, 1795. Her fellow revolt leaders were executed while other slaves were killed in a retaliatory massacre.
After the rebellion was suppressed, the government of Curaçao granted certain rights to the enslaved people in an attempt to prevent another uprising. Slavery was finally abolished in Curaçao in 1863.
Cottle Church, Nevis
The restored ruins of Nevis’ 19th century Cottle Church lack pews, stained glass and even a roof. Yet it is frequently cited as a favorite site by locals and travelers aware of its unique role in Caribbean history.
Thomas Cottle, an English colonial planter and owner of the Round Hill estate, built his church in 1824 as a Christian place of worship where his family and slaves could worship together. With slavery in place and unprecedented interracial worship, an outraged Anglican Church refused to recognize the place of worship.
Today, the hand-built structure features an Anglican cross layout. Attached to the back wall is a plaque inscribed with the names and ages of enslaved members of the congregation. The names of members born in Africa were noted with an asterisk; enslaved members with two names bore the surnames of their owners.
“It’s my favorite site in Nevis; it speaks to our history, which needs to be showcased and treated in an authentic way,” said Nevis native Greg Phillip, former CEO of the Nevis Tourism Authority and now operator of Nevis Sun Tours. The structure has become a setting for destination weddings, Phillip said. The location is particularly suitable for interracial couples, he added.
The Slave Savannah, Martinique
La Savane des Esclaves in the resort town of Trois Ilets in Martinique is a two-hectare farm and museum owned and operated by native Gilbert Larose. The working farm replicates a post-slavery indigenous village with traditional houses built of wooden palisades with dirt floors and cane leaf roofs.
The lush, rolling grounds of La Savane are filled with native trees and plants. Yams, sweet potatoes, cassava, corn, pineapples, guavas and bananas are traditionally grown without chemicals or pesticides. The gardens also feature medicinal plants that have been used for hundreds of years by the natives of the Caribbean to treat illnesses and injuries.
Other exhibits document the traditional building techniques and manufacturing processes used to shape cocoa sticks, cassava with cassava flour and sugarcane juice. La Savane is open every day except Sunday.
Unlike some current American and Caribbean plantations, which make little (if any) reference to the reality of slavery for all the inhabitants, the museum of La Savane offers frank and brutally precise documentation of slavery in Martinique.
Historical paintings, sculptures and drawings document the incredible cruelty and violence of the slave-based agricultural economy, depicting the capture and transport of Africans across the Atlantic Ocean and auctioning them off into lives of servitude. . The exhibits also include chilling scenes of insurgencies and slave revolts.
Nevertheless, La Savane is surprisingly uplifting as it also chronicles the transition of the Caribbean slave population to free people after slavery ended in Martinique. The harsh reality of the institution led men, including French abolitionist writer Victor Schoelcher, to push for an end to slavery, and in 1848 the institution was abolished in Martinique.