In this Globe Trekker Special - The Transatlantic Slave Trade - Zoe Palmer, Ian Wright, Justine Shapiro, and Megan McCormick, travel throughout Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, and North and South America, discovering the terrible truth about this shameful episode of history, which saw 12 million slaves taken out of Africa, and 2 million killed.
All along the West African coast, from the 15th century onwards, dozens of European forts were built to house captured slaves, before they were shipped across the Atlantic to the Americas. Justine Shapiro is at Ouidah in Benin, Megan McCormick travels to Elmina in Ghana, whilst Zoe Palmer visits Goree Island in Senegal, as well as the Cape Verde islands just off the African coast.
The conditions in which the slaves were held in these forts were shocking, but even worse awaited them on board the ships that took an average of eight weeks to sail from Africa to the New World. All told, around 2 million slaves are estimated to have died on board the ships.
For those Africans who did survive the voyage, life in the Americas was no better. We visit sugar and cotton plantations formerly worked by slaves in the Caribbean, and the United States – Ian Wright travels to Jamaica and the Turks & Caicos Islands, Zoe Palmer visits St. Lucia and Guadeloupe, whilst Megan McCormick and Justine Shapiro are at former slave plantations in the United States. The average life expectancy for enslaved Africans on plantations was a mere 7 years. Plantation owners did their sums and calculated that rather than looking after the slaves they "owned", it was cheaper to work them to death and then ship across fresh slaves from Africa.
Portugal and Spain were the first slaving nations, and today their cities abound with the fabulous wealth generated thanks to the countries' first explorers and slavers. Other leading European nations, such as France, and the Netherlands, were heavily involved, but by the end of the 18th century, it was Britain that had become the largest slaving nation in the world. Zoe Palmer discovers how many of London's most famous companies and institutions were founded and developed on the back of slavery.
Subsequently, the British MP William Wilberforce led a long campaign in Parliament to abolish the slave trade. Zoe Palmer explores the background to the successful campaign,including the influential contribution of freed slave and best-selling author Olaudah Equiano. Megan McCormick and Justine Shapiro, meanwhile, see how the Civil War in the United States changed the course of history and finally led to the freeing of slaves in the slave-owning south.
Finally, at the world's most dazzling carnivals, we celebrate the cultural legacy of slave culture. Ian Wright is at the world's most famous carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Justine Shapiro is at the Trinidad carnival, Megan McCormick visits the Notting Hill Carnival in London, whilst Zoe Palmer sambas the night away in Cape Verde, off the coast of Africa. It's a happy modern day ending, sadly not shared by the millions of enslaved Africans who died and were appallingly abused for hundreds of years prior to the abolition of slavery in the nineteenth century.