June 1965 | Volume 16, Issue 4
It would be possible to go on and on in this vein, to the limit of any reader’s endurance, but enough is enough. Eventually, of course, the slave trade did die; as Miss Donnan points out, people finally came to see “that this traffic was not business but crime, and crime of so intolerable a nature that it must be outlawed by civilization.” Outlawed it was, at last, and we do not really need to worry about it any more.
Except that it is and remains part of our background. This hideous chapter of the past has long echoes. There are such things as racial memories. If today there seems to be some difficulty in working out a good relationship between the white and black races of man—in the United States, and in Africa as well—is it going too far to suppose that the record of the four centuries that began in the 1440*5 may have something to do with it?
It is of course impossible to wipe that record out now, and nothing we can do will call the past back and permit a reconstruction. But it may be the beginning of wisdom if we remember what that record was. It is one of the immense burdens we are carrying in the twentieth century. The least we can do now is understand it. Some of the problems that bedevil us today have their roots there.
There is, in other words, a continuity in human history. There may even be a moral imperative at work somewhere. We who live now are not in the least responsible for what men who died a century or so ago did, but the path we have to follow is profoundly affected by those deeds.