The following 2006 congressional record of the United States Congress, entered by Representative Major R. Owens and drafted by Marian Douglas-Ungaro, praises the work of Christiane Taubira and Gwendolyn Midlo Hall in documenting France's role in the slave trade and recording the experiences of those enslaved across the Louisiana area.
Mr Speaker, the African slave trade stands out in the annals of world history as one of the greatest crimes ever committed against humanity. It is important that we institutionalise every possible reminder of this horrible chapter in our civilisation.
I want to take this opportunity to commend the French republic and the work of Madame Christiane Taubira for setting 10 May as an annual national day in France to remember its role in slavery and the slave trade.
On the afternoon of 23 May 1848, Africans and their New World descendants enslaved by France were set free. That was 45 years after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, when France sold most of its territory in the Americas to the fledgling USA, and 15 years before President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of 1863.
Madame Christiane Taubira is a member of the French parliament, representing her native Guiana in South America. She is also an economist. On 10 May 2001, Madame Taubira successfully proposed French legislation that thereafter declared slavery a crime against humanity, making France the first country in the world to make this declaration.
Madame Taubira's work in France complements the work of Professor Gwendolyn Midlo Hall here in the United States. Not only is Dr Hall a distinguished historian, she is also a New Orleans, Louisiana, native.
Hurricane Katrina's devastation in the Gulf Coast region has given an urgency and importance to the work of both Professor Hall and Madame Taubira.
Our active understanding and appreciation of the French and American culture and history of New Orleans and Louisiana, as part of the Gulf Coast, will help the people of the region as they restore and rebuild their community over the coming months, years and decades. We cannot honour a unique community and its people without honouring its history that has grown over four centuries from both French and American roots.
Gwendolyn Midlo Hall has spent her life honouring the history of her home region. For 15 years she laboured at finding, translating, reading and transcribing the old French slavery records in courthouses all over Louisiana, and travelling to study related records she found in other places.
It is a little-known fact among Americans that the French slave traders and slaveholders kept far better and more detailed records of the captive Africans and African-Americans they enslaved than did their British and American counterparts. Dr Hall's monumental assembly of these records has been organised in two outstanding databases available on CD-ROM. These are the Louisiana Slave Database and the Louisiana Free Database.
The New York Times has called her slave database 'the largest collection of individual slave information ever assembled', and in 1997 the French government appointed her a 'Cavalier in the Order of Arts and Letters' ('Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.')
I do not know whether Madame Taubira and Dr Hall have met in person, but thanks to the efforts of each in addressing slavery and the slave trade in world history, their lives already intersect.
Gwendolyn Midlo Hall's and Christiane Taubira's efforts give all of us a broader, clearer view of our history internationally, in the US, in France, and for every other country whose history shaped and was shaped by the African slave trade. I commend the French republic and these two women for their contributions.
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* Drafted by Marian Douglas-Ungaro, this article comprises a 2006 statement entered into the congressional record of the United States Congress by Representative Major R. Owens, 11th Cong District, Brooklyn, New York (retired from Congress, December 2006).
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