"And it is difficult to fully describe the heartbreak and despair I felt standing at the site of such unthinkable cruelty and suffering," said Mrs. Obama of Goree Island.
On the first leg of the Obamas' trip to Africa, the First Family paid a visit to Goree Island off the coast of Dakar, Senegal. Mrs. Obama penned an emotional essay about her experience on the island and in particular her visit to "The Door of No Return."
As she writes, for nearly three-hundred years, a number of men, women and children were taken from their homes and transported to Goree Island where they would ultimately be sold into slavery and transported to various locations.
"On our tour of the island, we saw the dark, cramped cells where dozens of people were packed together for months on end, with heavy chains around their necks and arms," wrote Mrs. Obama. "We saw the courtyard where they were forced to stand naked while buyers examined them, negotiated a price, and bought them as if they were nothing but property."
According to her essay, it was a rough and emotional trip through the island and to "The Door of No Return." "And it is difficult to fully describe the heartbreak and despair I felt standing at the site of such unthinkable cruelty and suffering. It was almost hard for me to breathe as I thought about the terror and grief these men, women and children must have felt as they took their last steps through that doorway, knowing they would never again see their families or their country."
Mrs. Obama recognizes there is no real way to erase history, but recognizes a number of notable African-Americans who have broken barriers to succeed in the face of adversity. "…Folks like Harriet Tubman who led an underground railroad to freedom; and William Wilberforce and Frederick Douglass who spent their lives speaking out against slavery; and Dr. Martin Luther King who sacrificed his life working to fulfill his dream of a more just, more free America," she wrote.
To wrap up her experience Mrs. Obama shared a real lesson for all to learn. She hopes that people around the world will use the past for inspiration to do better. "So I hope that in your own lives, instead of being overwhelmed by the tragedies of our past, you will take inspiration from the triumphs of history’s heroes—and I hope you will follow in their footsteps to create a better future."
Click here to read Mrs. Obama's full essay.