Thu, 06 Aug 2020

A small island off the coast of Africa known for its role in the slave trade has changed the name of its main square in response to the death of George Floyd and the global Black Lives Matter movement.

The island of Goree, a few kilometers off Senegal's coast, announced Tuesday that Europe Square will now be known as Freedom and Human Dignity Square based on a decision by the municipal council.

Its original name was given in 1998 after European funding paid for renovations at the UNESCO World Heritage site.

"The name Europe Square was, in a way, a symbol of friendship between peoples," said Doudou Dia, president of the island's tourism commission.

"But we also said to ourselves ... that in another sense it is celebrating the persecutor," he added. "What happened to George Floyd was the final straw."

Floyd, an African American, died May 25 in police custody in the U.S. city of Minneapolis. A white police officer, Derek Chauvin, kept his knee on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes while Floyd said he couldn't breathe and cried out for his mother. Floyd's death set off protests led by the Black Lives Matter activist group.

Goree was the site of the largest holding area for enslaved people from 1536 to 1848. The island was valued for its small size and strategic location and was fought over by the Portuguese, Dutch, French and British during its 312-year history, according to the BBC.

The historic House of Slaves was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978 as a symbolic reminder of "human exploitation," the agency said.

Today, the island is popular with tourists, although several prominent world leaders, including Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul II and former U.S. president Barack Obama, have visited the site.

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