Share This Page

In slavery's doorway, Obama promotes human rights

| Friday, June 28, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

DAKAR, Senegal — It was a brief but symbolically powerful moment.

President Obama stepped alone into the frame of the Door of No Return on Senegal's Goree Island on Thursday afternoon, peering out at the Atlantic Ocean from the same vantage point that thousands of African slaves once did on their way to North America.

The United States' first black president was then joined by his wife, first lady Michelle Obama. And their daughters, Malia and Sasha, took a turn.

For Obama, the tour of the former slave house was one in a series of emotionally weighty visits that the president intends to accentuate his bid to spread American values and strengthen his administration's ties with three budding African democracies during a week-long trip.

“This is a testament to when we're not vigilant in defense of human rights what can happen,” he told reporters at the scene.

On Friday, the president will continue his push in South Africa, where he will spend three days, highlighted by a tour this weekend of the Robben Island prison that housed anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela for two decades as a political prisoner.

White House officials have said Obama will defer to Mandela's family's wishes regarding a possible visit with the the 94-year-old, who continues to battle a serious lung infection.

During a news conference in Dakar, Obama called Mandela a “hero” whose writings in defiance of South Africa's apartheid movement inspired Obama to a life of political activism when he was a 19-year-old Occidental College freshman three decades ago.

“I've had the privilege of meeting Madiba and speaking to him,” Obama said, using Mandela's tribal name and referring to their 2005 meeting when Obama was a senator. “I think he's a hero for the world. And if and when he passes from this place, one thing I think we'll all know is that his legacy is one that will linger on throughout the ages.”

In a statement on Thursday, South African President Jacob Zuma said Mandela's health had improved from critical to stable, bringing some relief to South Africans whose concerns grew on Wednesday as Zuma abruptly canceled an official visit to Mozambique to visit Mandela and confer with his doctors.

But even as Zuma was suggesting that Mandela's health was improving, one of Mandela's daughters suggested otherwise. “I won't lie. It doesn't look good,” Makaziwe Mandela told the South African Broadcasting Corporation. “Anything is imminent.”

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.