During his stop in Senegal, President Obama was photographed in the “Door of No Return” on the island of Goree, said to be an entrance to a slave house through which many passed before being shipped off to other lands. But, historians have cast doubt on the island’s role in the slave trade, saying the site may have been used as a garbage dump.
According to the Daily Mail, Philip Curtin an emeritus history professor at Johns Hopkins University and a prolific author of books on the Atlantic slave trade, was one of the first to question the authenticity of the slave house back in the 1990s.
Curtin said in an online discussion forum that he believed the “hoax” began when the site became a museum and the first curator, Joseph Ndiaye, told dramatic stories of the millions who passed through and the horrors they endured.
When Curtin visited in 1992, Ndiaye told of 40 million who would become slaves, which Curtin said was four times the number of slaves ultimately exported from Africa, by Curtin’s estimate.
“A lot of people have been taken in by the Goree scam,” Curtin wrote. “Though Goree is a picturesque place, it was marginal to the slave trade.”
Pictures have circulated showing Obama, standing with his wife, in the infamous doorway, but the Telegraph reported another historian’s analysis of the site:
Despite the claims that millions of slaves passed through the door, its most likely use is now thought to have been for disposing of rubbish. Likewise, the waters it overlooks are too rocky and shallow for a slave ship to have used it as a loading bay.
“There are literally no historians who believe the Slave House is what they’re claiming it to be, or that believe Goree was statistically significant in terms of the slave trade,” said Ralph Austen, a professor at the University of Chicago who has researched the subject.
The Daily Mail said the debate over the site’s historical value is “emotionally charged and politically treacherous” in Senegal. Numerous high-profile tourists are attracted to the island museum, and past visitors have included Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul II and former U.S Presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush.
Watch the short video of Obama’s remarks via Daily Mail:
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