History of Slavery in France's Wine Capital

    18 December, 2016

    The southwestern French city of Bordeaux is a center of the wine trade. But hundreds of years ago, it was the second-largest slave-trading port in France.

    From the 17th to the 19th century, the city sent hundreds of ships carrying 130,000 slaves to America. The ships returned to Bordeaux with cotton, tobacco, sugar and rum, helping the city and its merchants grow rich.

    Some former slave-trading cities have remembered that history with large public memorials. There is no such memorial in Bordeaux.

    Karfa Diallo wants to change that. He immigrated to France from Dakar, Senegal, 20 years ago. Goree Island, near Dakar, was the place many slaves left Africa for the Americas.

    Diallo is the director of the Memory and Sharing Association, which tells about Bordeaux's slave-trading past. He believes the city has not yet dealt with its history or admitted the benefits it received from slavery. He said after studying the city's history he realized it, in his words, "enriched itself on the blood and sweat of my ancestors and did nothing to remember this."

    His group offers travelers a two-hour trip through areas in the city where slave-trading activities took place.

    "The image of wine is very hard to reconcile with the image of slavery. That is why the town was very late in giving history the place it merited in public spaces and schools."

    He explains that more than 12 city streets in Bordeaux are named after well-known slave traders.

    Diallo had asked the city to consider renaming those streets. But now, he is asking officials to place signs near the streets explaining the history of their names.

    Even people who live in the city do not know much about its role in the slave trade.

    The city government has created a group to study Bordeaux's slave-trading history. It has asked people who live in the city what they believe the government should do to remember the city's history. Marik Fetouh is the deputy mayor of Bordeaux. He says the city's efforts need to be done, in his words, "intelligently, without accusations."

    Diallo agrees. He says his tours are not about "shaming" people. Instead, he aims to tell the story of the city's past in a way that is "measured and thought out."

    I'm Caty Weaver.

    Correspondent Lisa Bryant reported this story from Bordeaux. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted the story for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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    Words in This Story

    image – n. the idea that people have about someone or something

    reconcile – v. to accept together; to compare with

    merit – v. to deserve

    shame – v. to cause (someone) to feel ashamed or disgraced

    measured – adj. done with thought and care