Forgotten Black History: Goree Island Historical Museum
Another Slave Myth
"Slave Portal Has Mythic Power"
by John Murphy
Baltimore Sun
August 8, 2004
Each year, more than 200,000 people tour the Slave House on Goree Island, Senegal, where millions of Africans supposedly passed through the “door of no return” onto slave ships. “After walking through the door,” says tour guide Aladji Ndiaye, “it was bye-bye Africa.  Many would try to escape.  Those who did died.  It was better to give ourselves to the sharks than be slaves.”  Slave House guides tell of the suffering of 20 million slaves who languished in holding cells.  Many visitors leave in tears.
The Goree Island Slave House, declared a World Heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 1978, has attracted such luminaries as Pope John Paul II, and President George W. Bush.  In 1998, President William Clinton gave a speech on the island in which he all but apologized to Africa for America’s role in slavery.  American blacks make pilgrimages to Goree Island in search of their roots.
There is just one problem with the Goree Island Slave House: the whole story is phoney,” says Philip D. Curtain, a retire history professor at Johns Hopkins University.  Goree Island was never a slave transport center; Senegalese slaves left from barracoons (holding stockades) on the Senegal and Gambia rivers.  As for the Slave House, it was the beautiful home of a wealthy merchant and would never have been used to warehouse slaves.  The “door of no return” through which slaves stepped onto the decks of waiting ships is also a fraud.  Professor Curtain points out that there are so many boulders in the water by the house, it would be impossible to dock a ship there.
Abdoulaye Camara, a historian and curator of the Goree Island Historical Museum, near—but not affiliated with—the Slave House, says the story was invented in the 1960’s to drum up tourism, but now serves as an emotional shrine for descendants of slaves.
“The slaves did not go through that door.  The door is a symbol.  The history and memory needs to have a strong symbol,” he explains. “You either accept it or you don’t accept it.  It’s difficult to interpret a symbol.” Some western tour books have caught on to the hoax.  “Goree Island’s fabricated history boils down to an emotional manipulation by government officials and tour companies of people who come here as part of a genuine search for cultural roots,” says Lonely Planet’s West African guide book.  UNESCO hasn’t changed its tune, “we are certain that the House of Slaves had something to do with the slave trade,” says a spokesman.