Visit to Historical Sites of James Island and Juffereh

22 May

On our first host country day in The Gambai, we took several buses to the Banjul port where we board our boats to James Island and Juffereh.

Background: James Island is known as one of the most significant sites in the history of the slave trade. Discovered in the 17th century, the British, Dutch and French repeatedly fought for control of the small island, because control of the island guaranteed control over the traffic on the River Gambia and a lion’s share of the region’s slave trade. Kunta Kinteh, made famous in Alex Haley’s Roots is said to have been transported to America from the island. The second place we visited was Juffereh, Kunta Kinteh’s home village and Alex Haley’s ancestral home. To read more about Juffereh, visit

I used the 2 hour boat ride on the River Gambia as an opportunity to speak to as many delegates as possible about their experiences. I wound up getting even more than I had bargained for. The conversations between the delegates were fascinating. Everyone was acutely aware of the sad history that had occurred on the same river we were floating on.

I noticed that one man was wearing an “Amistad” hat and struck up a conversation. His name is Lamin Sarr, a Gambian currently based in the United States and he is the founder and President of the Heritage Revival Project. I asked if he had planned to wear the hat on this day of the Congress and he simply answered “Of course, slavery is my obsession”. Through his project, his goal is to facilitate African cultural tours as pilgrimages for the African Diaspora to reconnect them with their roots. He says that we have the responsibility to “complete the cycle of freedom”. When I asked him how this can be done, he simply said “we are doing it right now…returning to Africa and visiting sites such as James Island and Juffereh”.

On this note, a group of delegates began to discuss the return of the African Diaspora to Africa, which by chance, was the subject of one of the most popular workshops at the Congress. One of the most inspiring accounts of “completing the cycle of freedom” came from another ATA Delegate known as Chief Margaret from Nigeria. She shared a fascinating story with me and several other delegates. Her family had been taken from Nigeria as slaves after she was born. When she was an adult, a successful young business man with her same family name contacted her from America. Eventually he came to Nigeria to meet her and when I asked her what her very first impression was of this stranger she simply said “He was as tall as my father.” The man now lives in Nigeria and is a successful banker. Chief Margaret has met his whole family and considers their relationship “a miracle.”

An issue discussed by the delegates on the boat was that Africans were not “slaves”, rather they were enslaved.

After a long boat ride in the Gambian sun, we were all excited to arrive at James Island. We boarded small canoes and were brought to the island. My first impression was that I could not believe how small it was! I learned that because of erosion, it is about 1/6th of its original size, which is why it is so important that this historical site is preserved by organizations such as UNESCO. ATA delegates were generous to provide contributions to help restore the jetty that people walk on to get to the island. A ceremony was organized for us all where they unveiled a plaque acknowledging ATA’s contribution. ATA is still collected contributions for the jetty restoration, please contact to find out how to donate. Then, we all received beautiful pink flowers that we set into the River Gambia after a moment of silence to remember all that has happened on the island. It was a beautiful day and I saw many people get very emotional, including myself.

See more pictures of our experience here!

Next we went to Juffereh. I am not sure what I expected, but when I think of a “historical site” I think of a place that is old, preserved, paused in time. But Juffereh was anything but. It is a vibrant, energetic community with schools, shops, and about 1,000 families. You would not believe the welcoming we received. Half the villiage must have been standing and waiting for the ATA delegation and each and every one of them shook out hands and looked us in the eyes and said “welcome”, a sentiment that was shared by every Gambian I met during my entire stay. The school children performed the national anthem for us and the Governor came to address the delegation and to welcome us. We then walked what seemed like miles and miles to meet the living members of the Kinteh family, all women, all beaming with pride and all very happy to meet us. The delegates shopped, visited the museum and we ate a huge African feast before we boarded our boats again to return.

See more pictures of our experience here!

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