Trump vowed to never forget the conditions in which Africans were held before they were shipped across the Atlantic. She described the day’s events as an “emotional” experience and laid a wreath at Cape Coast Castle, a 17th-century fortress.
The castle, now a museum, is one of about 40 former slave warehouses along the Ghana coast that are still standing. The Cape Coast castle, at one time, shipped most of its slaves to America. One castle in nearby Elmina sent slaves to Brazil.
The first lady also spent some time asking questions of the museum director, Kwesi Essel-Blankson.
“It’s very emotional. This is a very special place,” Trump said after taking time to tour significant locations across the castle, including rooms that were formerly used as slave dungeons.
At the time, slaves were held in cramped, dark, and badly ventilated quarters until they were sent abroad.
According to a Ghanaian cultural assistant working with the U.S. State Department, an estimated 20 million slaves passed through the fortresses.
“I will never forget the incredible experience and the stories that I heard from the gentleman,” Trump said. “The dungeons that I saw … what happened so many years ago, it’s really a tragedy.”
The first lady laid a wreath nearby the so-called “Door of No Return,” where slaves were first brought inside the fort. A guide sang a song during the solemn wreath laying. Before leaving, she signed the guestbook in acknowledgment of the suffering that was borne there.
Earlier in the morning, Trump had arrived at the Emintsimadze Palace to meet with Osabarima Kwesi Atta II, the chieftain of the regional Fante (or Fanti) tribe. She was escorted by the regional minister and the queen mother of Dehia, a Cape Coast traditional area. The Fante is a subgroup of the Akan people, and many of them live in the area.
A group of men at the palace strung up a sign in the courtyard: “Awkwaaba [Welcome] to Cape Coast H.E Melania Trump” in anticipation of her arrival. The exterior of the palace was decorated with Ghanaian and American flags while inside, yellow and purple sashes symbolizing royalty and wealth adorned the walls.
The first lady shook hands with everyone in the front row and gave a wave before taking her seat before the chief to begin the ceremonial negotiation process. She was then granted permission to enter Cape Coast Castle by the chieftain.
“Thank you very much for your warm welcome. I’m very honored to be here in your beautiful country,” she told the crowd as part of her brief remarks. She accepted a ceremonial tray of kente cloths as a gift.
Later on Twitter, the first lady described the day.
“Day two in Ghana was so impactful. My visit to Cape Coast castle was a solemn reminder of a time in our history that should never be forgotten” she wrote on Oct. 3. “Thank you to Chief Osabarima Kwesi Atta & the chieftains for the warm welcome & cultural ceremony.”
Trump has made advocating for children’s welfare one of her main platform ideals. Her campaign, called “Be Best,” focuses on issues that children face today, including the effects of social media and opioid abuse.
The Fante chief had invited two deaf children from a local school to attend the ceremony with the first lady, marking a notable break from tradition because people with disabilities previously weren’t allowed to enter the palace. The chief made a point to tell the first lady’s entourage how strongly he felt that the students should attend, and that he personally went to the school to invite the students.
Trump also will visit Kenya, Malawi, and Egypt during her trip aimed to promote children’s welfare. She will return to Washington at the end of the week.
On Oct. 2, Trump visited the Greater Accra Regional Hospital in Ghana and spent time with some of the infants there to the delight of the assembled mothers and hospital officials.
All four countries the first lady is slated to visit will receive funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development. She highlighted what the United States is doing for each nation in her speech announcing the trip at the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Sept. 26.
Trump’s trip to Africa marks her first international solo journey since becoming first lady.