Remarks at the UN General Assembly Commemoration of the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
March 27, 2023


Good morning and thank you Madam Chair. And let me start by thanking the Secretary-General, for his participation in today’s somber commemoration of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade.

I stand before you as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nation; as a diplomat who proudly represents my country on the world stage. But I also stand before you as the descendant of a slave; as someone whose ancestors were subject to the horrors of a system where human beings were bought, trafficked, imprisoned, sold, owned as property into perpetuity.

My great-grandmother, Mary Thomas, born in 1865, was the child of a slave. This is just three generations back from me. And I feel a profound responsibility to continue to tell her story – and stories from one of the darkest chapters in human history. Stories of immense pain and cruelty, of struggle, of perseverance. And stories of the unsung heroes who don’t always show up in history books, but whose lives are nonetheless remarkable.

People like Maria Stewart, one of the first American women of any race to speak in public about political issues. Maria was orphaned at an early age and received no formal education. But with courage and conviction, she became a powerful force in the abolitionist movement and the fight for women’s rights.

Her words still ring true today, especially speeches that rallied against the educational opportunities denied to Black women. She told an audience in Boston in 1832, “There are no chains so galling as the chains of ignorance.”

We can honor women like Maria Stewart by continuing to teach young people the full, honest history of slavery. And that’s what makes the theme of this year’s commemoration, “Fighting Slavery’s Legacy of Racism through Transformative Education,” so important. For when we understand our history, we can start to untangle the lasting, shameful legacy of slavery and anti-Black racism.

It is undeniable that this legacy is systemic and violent. And it is undeniable that this legacy continues to prevent people of African descent from reaching their full potential – even today.

Colleagues, we know that structural racism weakens societies. That it makes countries less prosperous, less stable, and less equitable. That it undermines peace, democracy, and the rule of law. That it harms everyone. And we must not rest until we root out the entrenched systems of racial injustice that exist around the world.

The Biden Administration is deeply committed to this urgent work; to expanding economic opportunity for Black families; to supporting Historically Black Colleges and Universities; to improving health outcomes for Black communities; and to taking important steps to protect voting rights, advance police reform, and enhance access to justice.

This work also extends to our foreign policy, because racial discrimination and the legacy of slavery is a global problem.

And that’s why the United States continues to call for all countries to ratify and implement the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. And that’s why we are proud champions of the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent. We were the only country that made a voluntary contribution to support the historic launch of the Permanent Forum last year and we look forward to the next session of the Forum.

Because here at the United Nations, we must do our part to dismantle structural racism; to end discrimination and fight back against all forms of hate; to continue to elevate the stories of unsung heroes like Maria Stewart – and all those who persevered, like my great-grandmother, in the face of persecution.

Only by looking to our history – and that goes for all of us – and understanding that history, can we shape a future that is more free, more tolerant, and more just for our children and our grandchildren.

Thank you very much.