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Cudjo Lewis at the UN

On March 25, the United Nations commemorated the second International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Slave Trade. A series of events was held from the 24 to the 26 at the UN headquarters in New York. The theme was “Breaking the Silence, Beating the Drum.”

The words that defined the commemoration and tied all events were those told by Cudjo Lewis to Zora Neale Hurston 81 years ago. “After dey free us, you understand me, we so glad, we make de drum and beat it lak in de Affica soil.”

They were printed on the cover of the program and repeated throughout the brochure; they were prominently displayed, with Cudjo’s photograph, in the accompanying exhibition; they were spoken at the opening of the concert that gathered, among others, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Akon, Whoopi Goldberg, Phylicia Rashad, ER and The Shield actress CCH Pounder, sprinter Carl Lewis, Bob Marley’s son Ky-Mani Marley, Salif Keita, Toumani Diabate and Tony award winning playwright Sarah Jones.

It was a moving moment for me to see Cudjo Lewis and his companions enter the United Nations. During a briefing on the 26, I showed an international audience the short film Zora Neale Hurston shot in 1928 of a then 87-year-old Cudjo. It is the only moving image of an African deported through the Transatlantic Slave Trade that exists in the entire Western Hemisphere.

As I signed copies of Dreams of Africa at the UN Bookstore, I saw how much the story touched a wide diversity of people.

From wherever they are, I hope Cudjo, Zuma, Albine, Pollee and the others savored the moment.
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