NEW YORK — President Ruth Simmons spoke about remembering slavery and Brown’s recognition of its historical ties to the slave trade in her keynote address at the United Nations General Assembly’s fourth annual international slavery remembrance day March 25 in New York City.
Simmons began her speech by thanking the United Nations for recognizing the importance of “this international day of remembrance” for 400 years of international slave trading, which she called a “monumental violation of human rights.”
“I thank you for recognizing that nations cannot fully embrace principles of fairness, equality and shared governance without acknowledging the occurrence of heinous acts that violated these principles,” she said.
Simmons also called attention to the slave trade’s contemporary implications. “Invaluable” cultural connections were lost during the slave trade for the benefits of commerce, she said.
“This willful erasure has had far-reaching consequences,” she said. “Inheritors of this erasure have been left to a patchwork existence with gaping holes that cannot, for the most part, ever be filled with pieces that precisely match.”
Simmons spoke of the need for education to prevent such human rights violations from occurring again, calling universities “vital partners” in that process.
Universities “must also reveal the truth of their own histories,” she added, even if it does not accurately reflect their current principles. “The fear of the truth has no place in a university that purports to expose the truth,” she said.
Simmons cited Brown’s efforts to uncover its relationship with slavery through the Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice, which studied the topic from 2003 to 2006. Though this history was “largely absent from the University’s official documents,” she said the committee discovered that Brown’s founders were involved in the transatlantic slave trade.
These results have compelled the University to memorialize its early history and make it a “visual dimension” of the University’s “current identity,” Simmons said.
She spoke about the upcoming creation of a research center and a physical memorial to slavery on campus. She told the members of the General Assembly about the contributions the University’s Fund for the Education of the Children of Providence has made for teachers and students who may have been affected by the slave trade’s long-lasting legacy.
These contributions are not intended to “make amends,” Simmons said, but rather to serve as “constant reminders” of the values of justice and equality.
“The most important action is that which addresses the offense, cleanses the record and brings to light the truth of what has transpired,” Simmons said.
She added she hopes other universities will follow Brown’s example.
Simmons’ keynote address followed a morning of speeches from regional representatives about the living legacy of the transatlantic slave trade.
The event, held to commemorate the fourth annual International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, was titled “The Living Legacy of 30 Million Untold Stories.”
The chairs of regions from around the world made statements addressing the injustice of the slave trade and urging the United Nations to commission a physical memorial to slavery at its New York headquarters. Several cultural groups also gave performances.