It’s a grim part of Annapolis’s waterfront past: the city was one of the Chesapeake region’s earliest slave ports. And now, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will officially recognize it as a Site of Memory with a port marker.
At the foot of Main Street, overlooking Ego Alley, a well-known memorial already stands in honor of enslaved African Kunta Kinte—kidnapped in Gambia, enslaved and carried across the Atlantic Ocean by ship, and sold at City
Dock in Annapolis—and Roots author Alex Haley, who wrote the story of his life. The statue depicts Haley reading the book to a group of children.
“He was a trailblazer of the written word,” Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley says. “Alex Haley’s ties to Annapolis are rooted in the most barbaric chapter of the American story. It was a story that needed to be told, and he was the one to tell it.”
The UNESCO port marker was announced as the City of Annapolis commemorated Haley and proclaimed August 11, his birthday, “Alex Haley Day” during a public ceremony held at City Dock.
Along with various city leaders, the Coast Guard arrived by boat to pay tribute to Haley, who served 20 years in the service branch, and historian Janice Hayes-Williams spoke to the importance of not just discovering and preserving as much African-American history as possible, but also pursuing and discovering one’s personal history.
“Alex Haley is the beginning of teaching us where we’re from,” says Hayes-Williams, who has traced her own family back to the country of Benin, and a ship carrying enslaved people that landed in Annapolis.
Hayes-Williams says reconizing City Dock as a Site of Memory in UNESCO’s Slave Route Project will tell a necessary piece of history.
“For the first time you will actually see that Annapolis was a part of the slave trade, that this is how we got here,” said Hayes-Williams. “We are bringing the port marker home, further continuing the legacy of Alex Haley.”