How the Word Is Passed

by Clint Smith

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What is the purpose of Smith's visit to Gorée Island in How the Word Is Passed?

The purpose of Clint Smith's visit to Gorée Island in How the Word Is Passed is to come to terms with the African involvement in slavery and to open up deeper veins of African American history and culture.

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In How the Word Is Passed, Clint Smith visits Gorée Island to try to come to terms with the African aspects of slavery. Smith knows that slavery and African-American history and culture did not start in the United States. This is why he needs to return to Africa to get a stronger sense of a deeper history. He chooses Gorée Island because of its historical sites.

Gorée Island is home to the House of Slaves (also called the Door of No Return), which was the point of embarkation for thousands of slaves on their way from Africa to the New World. Yet Smith wants to make sure that the true history of this place comes to light, because for many years, the site's curators have misinformed visitors, saying that Gorée Island actually saw the departure of millions of slaves. Smith needs to be sure people get the facts straight, so he challenges misleading information.

But at the same time, Smith's visit to Gorée Island allows him to explore the involvement of the Africans in the slave trade. African slave merchants were all too happy to take advantage of both warfare among tribes and European offers of goods like guns and alcohol. They therefore sold their fellow Africans as slaves without hardly a second thought. They focused on gaining wealth rather than stopping to consider the fate of the people they were selling like animals. Smith implies that Africans must certainly accept a share of the blame for the slave trade.

Indeed, Smith's journey to Africa opens up new vistas of history and culture that must be included in the story of African Americans.

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