Vice President Kamala Harris became visibly emotional Tuesday during a visit to a colonial-era African slave fort, lamenting the fate of millions of captives who passed through a “door of no return” to be carried away on ships and sold in the Americas.
“The horror of what happened here must always be remembered,” Harris told reporters in off-the-cuff remarks at the Cape Coast Castle in Ghana. “It cannot be denied. It must be taught. History must be learned.”
Harris, the first vice president of African ancestry, threw out her prepared remarks after touring the site alongside her husband, Doug Emhoff.
The 58-year-old said her visit was “immensely powerful and moving” and called the fortress a “place of horror.”
“There are dungeons here where human beings were kept — men, women and children,” the veep said.
“They were kidnapped from their homes. They were transported hundreds of miles from their homes, not really sure where they were headed. And they came to this place of horror — some to die, many to starve and be tortured, women to be raped — before they were then forcibly taken on a journey thousands of miles from their home to be sold by so-called merchants and taken to the Americas, to the Caribbean to be an enslaved people.
“And yet, they survived,” she added, her voice cracking with emotion.
“And they tell another history — a history of endurance, a history of faith, a history in believing what is possible, a history not only that tells about the ability that each individual has to survive, but to thrive.”
“All of us, regardless of our background, have benefited from their fight for freedom and justice,” Harris concluded her remarks.
Earlier Tuesday, during a speech in Accra’s Independence Square, Harris said the African trip carried “special significance.”
“Because of this history, this continent of course has a special significance for me personally, as the first black vice president of the United States,” she told a supportive crowd of thousands. “And this is a history, like many of us, that I learned as a young child.”
Harris also pledged a new era of partnership with Africa, envisioning “a future that is propelled by African innovation.”
The vice president is touring Africa this week to strengthen US ties to Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia — three nations also being courted by China as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.
Harris has yet to mention efforts by China or Russia to spread their influence in West Africa, but did announce $100 million in US aid to the region, some of which will have to be approved by Congress amid ongoing negotiations with the White House to increase Washington’s debt limit.
“What an honor it is to be here in Ghana and on the continent of Africa,” she said on Monday. “I’m very excited about the future of Africa.”
Cape Coast Castle is one of dozens of fortresses in West Africa that held slaves, many of them in Ghana.
The government here has viewed preserving them as part of its historical responsibility.
On their tour of the fortresses, Harris and Emhoff walked past a plaque commemorating a visit by President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama — the nation’s first black president and first lady.
At one point, Harris made her way down a darkened path leading through the infamous “door of no return,” through which slaves left the coast and never came back.
The vice president, her hand on her mouth, placed a white bouquet of flowers given to her during the arrival ceremony, at the entrance to a women’s dungeon nearby.
The Africa junket has also had its fair share of head-scratching remarks from the vice president, who tends to utter circular, off-the-cuff comments.
“There are a number of things on the issue of the economy as a whole that we must do … and a lot of that work is the work that I am here to do on the continent,” she said during a news conference with Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo.
“As you have mentioned, we have had today, this afternoon, a wide-ranging discussion,” Harris also said. “We have discussed a number of important topics, including the importance of concepts and priorities such as freedom and liberty.”