An Oct. 5-9, 1999 conference sponsored by
NYU's Institute for African-American Affairs.
Coverage by undergraduate journalism students.


Organizing an event of
this magnitude wasn't easy.

By Aileen Chang

Africa, Europe, the Caribbean: it traveled across three continents to reach the NYU campus. Its purpose: to remember.

Maya Angelou was one of the speakers

"Slave Routes: The Long Memory" a travelling international symposium on the slave trade, was held for the first time in the United States, during the week of Oct. 5 at NYU. With an internationally recognized panel of scholars, teachers, historians, authors and performers, it brought together more than 8,000 people to educate, relate, testify and remember the impact of slavery on the African diaspora.

It took almost two years to organize, according to Rosamond King, assistant program manager of the Africana studies program. It began as an international initiative by UNESCO to increase awareness of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and its consequences.

Local poet and writer Jayne Cortez proposed the conference to Manthia Diawara, who heads NYUıs Africana Studies Program and directs its Institute of African-American Affairs. "While a collective effort, this symposium has really been Ms. Cortezı brainchild," King said. Cortez headed up the conferenceıs organizing committee, which included King, John Fitzgerald Gates and Glenda Noel-Doyle.

Why NYU? What would bring the organizers of "Slave Routes" to Greenwich Village? "NYU has all the necessary resources including a support staff and a wide array of influential contacts," said Gates, who is associate director of NYUıs Africana studies program. "NYU is the perfect place because of our location in New York City and because the Institute of African-American Affairs is known internationally for sponsoring programming that deals with the beauty and complexity of black peoplesı experiences globally. It was a natural fit."

The fundraising for a conference of this size and magnitude is never easy, and certainly not in this case. "A lot of organizations donıt want to touch this subject matter," said Noel-Doyle, who is the assistant director of the Africana studies program. "It is some sort of collective guilt."

Along with the touchy subject matter came logistical costs. The conference was co-sponsored by UNESCO, within the framework of the Slave Routes Project; the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; the Anacostia Museum and Center for African-American History and Culture, a branch of the Smithsonian Institution; along with various corporations and organizations.

"We raised several thousand dollars for the African studies scholarship fund, but more importantly, we showcased the program and perhaps cultivated future donors," Gates said, adding that NYU is well-known for bringing "top-flight minds" together to discuss critical issues. In this instance, Nobel laureate Maya Angelou and author and activist Randall Robinson were among the many influential figures who appeared at the opening plenary and on various panels.

No one was willing to offer figures.

The media at work

Publicity was key. Word got out last May, with the leadership of Josh Plaut, a spokesperson for NYUıs College of Arts and Science. Media outlets such as The New York Times, ABC, NBC and smaller outlets such as The Amsterdam News, an African-American newspaper, and The Villager, a downtown weekly, were notified. "You have to get it out early," Plaut said. "You canıt do it the night before. Itıs not like a press conference with Barbara Streisand."

In all, Gates said, the 8,000 participants in the conference came from as far away as California; many had learned of the event via the Internet.

In hopes of correcting inaccuracies, healing scars, rehashing memories, as well as refining and honing textbook educations, "Slave Routes: The Long Memory" was a reflection of the present, as well as a journey into forgotten times. And this is exactly what the great historian John Hope Franklin, who was honored at the fund-raising dinner, meant when he said, "Never let them forget."

"Slave Routes: The Long Memory" focused on:

The social, ethnic and geographical origins of slavery.

New statistics on the uprooted population and routes of the slave trade.

The social, spiritual, political and artistic expressions, and creations resulting from slavery.

The economic impact of slavery on Africa, America, Europe, and the Caribbean.

Slavery as a crime: the ethical, philosophical and legal basis of slavery.

Sponsors of "Slave Routes: The Long Memory" include:

UNESCO stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. It promotes peace and cultural understanding in the world through education, science and communication.

The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is a national research library dedicated to collecting, preserving and procding access to the resources documenting the experiences of peoples of African descent throughout the world.

The Anacostia Museum and Center for African-American History is a branch of the Smithsonian Institution. Based in Washington D.C., the museum is a community based museum devoted to increase the the awareness of the Black experience through research, programs, and exhibions.

The Institute for African-American Affairs at New York University is a cultural and community center that sponsors research and special events relating to the Afro-American experience.


Produced for the web by Wing San Ho


These sites are not part of the J-Post, and the NYU Department of Journalism and Mass Communication has no control over their content or availability.


Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

The Anacostia Museum and Center for African-American History

The Institute for African-American Affairs

New York Times

The Villager