Slavery is part of our history. Nantes was the largest French slave port in the 18th century. A part of the city’s wealth was therefore amassed via this odious traffic which we recognise today as a crime against humanity. For a long time, Nantes averted its eyes from this aspect of the past, until the 1990s when the decision was taken to face up to it. We exhumed, explored, analysed, understood and took responsibility. This allowed us to free our conscience. Les Anneaux de la Mémoire exhibition in 1992 symbolized the dawn of this collective awareness. Taking responsibility for such a past, without feelings of repentance, allows us to carry on our struggles with our eyes wide open. The Memorial demonstrates this strong political will. It is not another act of contrition, but a genuine call to us all to remember past struggles in order to project ourselves into the future, fighting against all modern forms of slavery and denial of human rights in order to build a more united world. By building the memorial on the banks of the Loire, in the heart of the city, at the point from which the slave-trading expeditions departed, and by giving it a monumental artistic form linked to the court house by the Victor-Schœlcher footbridge, we recall the fact that the struggle for freedom and dignity for all human beings is a fundamental cause inextricably linked to our vision of society. The Memorial is a new page in understanding our history and demonstrating the future which we hope to build together. From the rooms dedicated to the slave trade in the Dukes of Brittany’s Castle, through Le Bouffay, Feydeau island and Quai de la Fosse, it adopts its complete significance within a memory trail rooted in the city’s historic reality. This Memorial, whose size makes it unique in Europe, is a message from the people of Nantes, the metropolis, the département and the region to all people, all over the world, who share this history and these struggles and fights. My wish is for it to become a place where younger generations can learn and develop awareness. The Memorial will then have fulfilled its promises: it will be a living site, a place where people unite and commit collectively to upholding the memory of past struggles and continuing our fight for the recognition and promotion of human rights.

Jean-Marc Ayrault
Deputy and Mayor of Nantes