Patrick Chamoiseau and DiversCités on the Glorification of Slave Trade in French Street Names


The European foundation DiversCités (which plays on “various cities” and the word diversité) is a group that promotes remembrance of colonial history and the African slave trade legacy. Using as their motto Aimé Césaire´s famous quote, “Un people sans mémoire est un peuple sans avenir” [a people without memory is a people without a future], the foundation values the preservation of memory to better achieve the integration and democratic recognition of the contributions of the descendants of the slave trade in France.

Their recent national campaign “Débaptiser les rues de négriers?” seeks to open a discussion about the social significance of signs that glorify a colonial past in French cities and the possibility of changing certain street names as a mark of respect towards the victims of the slave trade and their descendants and to promote a healthier urban integration. The campaign was established in reaction to Martinican writer Patrick Chamoiseau’s criticism (in of the constant reminders of the slave-traders in urban centers such as Bordeaux, Nantes, La Rochelle, and Le Havre, his analysis of the emblematic nature and symbolic potency of these omnipresent signs, and his call for permanently “de-baptizing” the streets named after these colonial “forefathers” in order to face the complexities of today’s world and to begin a process of healing. Chamoiseau is president of the European Foundation for Slave Trade Memorial [Fondation européenne du Mémorial de la traite des Noirs].

The DiversCités foundation began their campaign in mid-September in Bordeaux and plans to continue their efforts to raise consciousness in other French cities. On October 17, 2009, they will bring their project and petition to La Rochelle, followed by similar activities in Nantes and Le Havre (on October 31). Karfa Diallo, president of the association, says that there are numerous streets named after slave traders: “there are six in Le Havre and La Rochelle, eleven in Nantes, and almost twenty-five in Bordeaux!” Diallo points out that the street signs show that many communities still do not see slavery as a criminal act and that these cities tend “to minimize their responsibility in this triangular commerce.” The mayor of Bordeaux, Alain Juppé, is quoted as saying that this enterprise is absurd, adding that “I am not going to engage [in this debate] . . . when will repentance ever end?” DiversCités foundation states that mayor of Nantes Jean-Marc Ayrault seemed more open to the idea of change, expressing his respect of and engagement with the project.
For full articles, see,1109463.html and

For more information on DiversCités, see

Photo of Chamoiseau (by Agence France Presse) from

2 thoughts on “Patrick Chamoiseau and DiversCités on the Glorification of Slave Trade in French Street Names

  1. Je suis terriblement éffondrée.J’ai choisi François Hollande comme président parce que j’étais convaincue de changement tel qu’il était annoncé et à la création d’un pouvoir irréprochable. Quelle trahison de découvrir que François Hollande retient comme Premier ministre Jean Marc Ayrault, qui n’est vraiment pas irréprochable. Il a clairement était condamné à une peine de prison pour acte de favoritisme ! Quelle déception….

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