On July 22, 1986, university scholars attended a conference hosted by UNESCO on Goree Island in Senegal to commemorate the 1686 Code Noir by Louis the 14th. Research Scholars gathered from around the world to attend the conference which marked 500th anniversary of the laws that were written by the king and subsequently led to the codification of slavery that would exist in America from 1776 until 1865.
The selection of Goree Island as the location for the conference was a brilliant choice because of the preservation of the Slave House and Fort on Goree Island. Alex Haley visited the Slave House for his research on Roots: The Saga of an American Family.
John Hope Franklin said that the Code Noir is fascinating because it is a clear historical document that shows the way that slavery was carefully planned, organized, and carried out. The Slave House has become a major tourist attraction for Senegal and during the UNESCO Code Noir Conference scholars were taken on a tour of the island and the Slave House. The present writer was a guest on Goree Island and attended the conference.
These are journal notes from the July 22, 1986 conference. "Today I stepped back in time. Joseph N'Diaye, the curator of the Slave House took us [Research Scholars] on a tour of the mansion that was transformed into a house of horrors by the slave traders who used Goree Island as the final staging area before the slaves were transported to the slave ships. It was an emotional experience as Joseph recounted how the kidnapped Africans were chained, beaten, and starved into submission before being herded into the bowels of the ships for the horrible journey across the Atlantic."
Having met Alex Haley in 1977 and remaining friends until his death in 1992 the present writer organized and lectured at the first memorial program of the life of Alex Haley at Howard University in February 1992 as a professor at Howard University. The Hilltop newspaper covered the memorial and published an article on the event in February 1992.
Nearly 30 years after going to Africa as a Professor of English at the Ecole Normale Superieure in Bamako, Mali, West Africa the memory of the week living on Goree Island still brings back vivid memories of the horrors of slavery. The visit to Goree Island gave Alex Haley insight in the pain and suffering that men, women, and children suffered before being loaded onto slave ships to never return.
Alex Haley has been dead for 20 years and although his settlement of a lawsuit for plagiarism severely damaged his reputation and caused Henry Louis Gates, Jr., to make the decision not to include Roots in the Norton Anthology of African American Literature, Haley was remembered for his research work on Goree Island. A plaque which was placed at the entrance to The Door of No Return included Alex Haley.