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Horrified by history

Today I was genuinely shocked by man’s capacity for evil and cruelty. I am in Ghana working on some stories related to President Obama’s upcoming visit. During his trip, the President and his family will stop at a former slave castle along Ghana’s coast. I went there ahead of time today and had an experience that I’m certain will be with me forever.

The castle at Cape Coast was built about 500 years ago. It was essentially a commercial post, where European nations traded in several commodities; things like gold, tobacco, and human beings.

The castle is a fortress that sits right on the ocean. Within earshot of the crashing waves are the dungeons, one for men, one for women. You can see some photos here, but I’m not sure that even images truly capture the horror of those places.

The men’s dungeon at Cape Coast is about ten feet underground. It is totally and completely dark except for one small window, which was used for ventilation and light. At times more than one thousand men were crammed into that space. They were never allowed outside, and were forced to use the bathroom right where they stood. They also ate here when food was thrown in from a kind of trap door. Most remained there for several months, waiting for the ships to arrive. Then they began the equally horrifying trans-Atlantic voyage to the Americas. My tour guide described conditions on the ship as being “as comfortable as your coffin.”

When the captives were marched out of the dungeons and onto the ships they passed through the so-called “Door of No Return.” Once they left the castle they would never see their family or home again. Their last glimpse of their country was of that awful fort.

The people at Cape Coast castle have re-named one side of that doorway the “Door of Return”, for all of the slaves' ancestors who have come back to witness the remnants of a tragic history. Michelle Obama is one of them.

Saturday the First Family will visit the Cape Coast Castle in what is sure to be a powerful experience, for them, and for all of us watching.