Interior Department Applauds UNESCO Designation of Fort Monroe as Slave Route Site of Memory

Last edited 02/19/2021

Date: Friday, Feb. 19, 2021 

WASHINGTON – The Department of the Interior today applauded the designation of Fort Monroe in Virginia as a Site of Memory Associated to the Slave Route by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Located where the first enslaved Africans arrived in English North America in 1619, Fort Monroe is one of approximately 50 sites related to the history of the transatlantic slave trade to receive this designation.

“National parks like Fort Monroe weave together the history and legacies of our shared heritage – including painful chapters such as the Atlantic Slave Trade and its legacies,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, Shannon Estenoz. “The UNESCO recognition reinforces our commitment to continuously research, preserve, protect, and interpret the full history of slavery and freedom in the cultural landscape.”

A significant location in the discussion of the ideas of freedom and democracy, Fort Monroe is cooperatively managed by the Fort Monroe Authority and the National Park Service’s Fort Monroe National Monument. The UNESCO designation links Fort Monroe to a global community of historic sites, organizations, and partners committed to civic dialogue and reconciliation.

Fort Monroe is connected to both the beginning and the end of slavery in America. In 1619, the first ship carrying enslaved Africans arrived at Point Comfort, which is now part of Fort Monroe. This event marked the beginning of 246 years of slavery in what became the United States. During the Civil War, Fort Monroe was one of the first places enslaved people were granted freedom. The “Contraband Decision,” had far-reaching legal, social, and political influence on the unraveling of slavery in the United States when the U.S. Army refused to return three freedom seekers seeking refuge in the fort to a slave holder. This decision resulted in thousands of enslaved people across the country finding freedom behind Union lines and started a series of legislative actions that eventually resulted in the 13th and 14th amendments that brought an end to slavery and defined citizenship.

President Obama used the Antiquities Act to designate Fort Monroe National Monument in November 2011.

Under the guidance of UNESCO’s International Scientific Committee, the Slave Route project was created in 1994 to encourage research, dialogue and outreach related to the history and consequences of slavery.


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