Those that don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it. This age old saying remains true today as activists around the world seek to prevent a reoccurrence of the tragedies of history. The French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe is home to the UNESCO Slave Route project site called the Memorial ACTe, the Caribbean Center for Expressions and Memory of the Slave Trade and Slavery. The museum opened in 2015 on the site of a former sugar factory. From an expansive exhibit about the details of the country’s history of slavery, to the multitude of events to stop modern day slavery, the Memorial ACTe serves as a cultural and historical monument to begin a dialogue on the legacy of slavery. The history of slavery from Guadeloupe to Louisiana was the focus of a black history public lecture on March 1 at Xavier University’s administration auditorium
“It’s not just a museum. It’s a way of understanding our world,” said Jacques Martial, the museum’s president who spoke about the significance of the museum for the public lecture. The history of Guadeloupe’s second abolishment of slavery in 1884 was almost forgotten in the history books. “It was the beginning of 150 years of silence about this history,” Martial told the audience. He added that “forgetting is an offense, [but] a shared memory is abolishing this offense.” This, he said, was the value of the museum.
The building itself acts as a memorial to the enslaved by capturing the theme, “silver roots around a black box,” which Martial explained is the actual design of the museum. The silver roots are symbolic of roots of the fig tree planted by the enslaved people that hold up the ruins of the Darboussier sugar cane factory, the site upon which the Memorial ACTe was erected. The roots holding up the ruins symbolize the enslaved people’s ancestor’s drive to keep their history from being forgotten. It also symbolizes the enslaved people’s resistance to bondage. Martial said that a legend remains that the fig tree was originally planted in hopes that roots of the tree would break the walls of their prison: slavery.
The black box design portions of the museum represents the souls of enslaved, Martial said. The silver roots of this black box symbolizes the museum in its efforts to restore the history of slavery in Guadeloupe, Martial added. The museum retells this history, but does so in a modern context, he said. The museum also holds a variety of different lecture halls, theaters, banquet halls, a restaurant, and venues for performances.
It’s not often that students and the community get to learn about the various ways in which countries around the world are reclaiming and memorializing black history, said Torian Lee, Xavier’s director for the Center for Intercultural and International Programs. “It’s important for an HBCU to be a leader in educating people about this history,” Lee said. “If we’re not going to do it, who’s going to do it,” Lee added.
Bringing these types of public lectures to Xavier is a part of Xavier’s mission of creating a more just and humane society, Lee said. With new knowledge about black history, students can go out and make the world better by educating the public and making sure that this history isn’t repeated, he said. The international exchange also globalizes the learning experience for Xavier students. “You need to be able to think about the issues at hand from different perspectives,” Lee said, “and that takes place in the classrooms at Xavier.”
The lecture also contained a spoken word performance by Martial, who is an accomplished French theater, film and television actor, who studied theatre in Paris. He performed Aime Césaire’s “Notebook of a Return to the Native Land” for the audience. The spoken word depicted one’s journey back to their native land of Guadeloupe and explores the paradox of black identify under French colonial rule. His performance captivated the audience, especially the Xavier students that attended the lecture. Students such as freshman Tyler Kelly was interested in learning about a different perspective of slave history as she felt she had only heard about slavery in America. Tiffany Hogan, a Xavier freshman added that the lecture was history coming to life for her. “[It’s] better than reading a textbook. It’s like a real life interpretation.”
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