The Transatlantic Slave Trade

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American port cities from New England to New Orleans were shaped by the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Explore the history and legacy of the Transatlantic Slave Trade

Between 1501 and 1867, nearly 13 million African people were kidnapped, forced onto European and American ships, and trafficked across the Atlantic Ocean to be enslaved, abused, and forever separated from their homes, families, and cultures. Coastal communities across the U.S. were permanently shaped by the trafficking of African people. New England, Boston, New York City, the Mid-Atlantic, Virginia, Richmond, the Carolinas, Charleston, Savannah, the Deep South, and New Orleans had local economies built around the enslavement of Black people. Few have acknowledged this history. EJI’s new report examines the economic legacy of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, which created generational wealth for Europeans and white Americans and introduced a racial hierarchy that continues to haunt our nation.

Overview

The Transatlantic Slave Trade represents one of the most violent, traumatizing, and horrific eras in world history.

Nearly 13 million African people were kidnapped and trafficked across the Atlantic to the Americas, including the British, French, and Spanish colonies that would later comprise the United States. Two million people died during the barbaric Middle Passage. African countries were destabilized and left vulnerable to conquest, colonization, and violence for centuries. In the Americas, a caste system based on race and color emerged in tandem with legal and political systems to codify white supremacy and enshrine enslavement as a permanent and hereditary status. Kidnapping, trafficking, abusing, and dehumanizing African people and their descendants was as lucrative for Europeans and white Americans as it was traumatizing for Black people. The Transatlantic Slave Trade enriched many white people across occupations and industries—from early European colonists to priests and popes, shipbuilders to rum and textile producers, bankers to insurers—and generated the capital used to build some of America’s greatest cities and most successful companies. While many families, businesses, and institutions continue to benefit today from the enormous wealth produced by enslavement, and Black Americans are still forced to grapple with its legacy of inequality and injustice across all areas of American life, few have acknowledged or honestly confronted this history. This report seeks to contribute to a new era of truth-telling and reckoning with our past in order to create a healthy and just future.

To learn more about the Transatlantic Slave Trade, visit the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama.

How to cite

Equal Justice Initiative, “The Transatlantic Slave Trade” (2022).