My Visit To Ghana: Remembrance of Black History Long Before Slavery

John W. Fountain stands at Cape Coast Castle in Ghana, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. 
He visited Ghana in 2007 and will return this August as a Fulbright Scholar where he will teach 
at the University of Ghana in Accra and conduct a research project titled,
"Africa Calling: Portraits of Black Americans Drawn To The Motherland."
He is a professor of journalism at Roosevelt University.
By John W. Fountain

Imagine. If the ocean could cry. If the walls did cry. If the sands could speak. If the cells here in Cape Coast would try to tell the tale of blood lost, of tears shed. Of souls dead. Imagine…

These were the words I penned shortly after visiting the former slave castle in Cape Coast, Ghana, in 2007--a hauntingly majestic white stone fortress overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. 

Standing on that side of the Atlantic upon this castle, where my ancestors began their shackled journey to North America, staring into waves that lapped at its shores, I was awash in Black history. Moved in ways I had not been before by our story as African Americans, by our journey, which did not begin in 1619.





Cape Coast Castle, Ghana
In the humid dungeon, I could feel the human carnage, the volume of perished souls. I was staggered by the depth of darkness, by visions of Black bodies stacked, and imaginations of the thinness of the air, mixed with sweat, urine and feces. I could hear their cries.

Black history gripped my body and soul. And it left me almost breathless, certainly temporarily tearless. I felt lost, stunned silent, as I wandered through the belly of hell inside Cape Coast Castle. 

The docent’s words were like static amid my own internal conversations within my psyche and soul, which found both solace and searing torture in this place. Not lost were his words that above the dungeon’s hell stood “the church.” 

Then walking up from the slave pen, I encountered the “Door of No Return.” My heart stopped as my eyes met the rolling seas, and I imagined slave ships awaiting to carry us into the Middle Passage.

Cape Coast Castle was only part of my experience in Ghana. Simply breathing the air as I walked through its streets, into its markets, and otherwise encountered a sea of beautiful deep dark Black people, I felt, for the first time in my life, free among a people for whom my skin is not a sin. 

I was not a Black man but simply a man. I was home.

A Ghanaian man pours libation in the
dungeon of Cape Coast Castle.
I inhaled the beauty of Ghana. Its splendor. Its pride. And it reminded me, spoke clearly to me, of our existence long before slavery. Of the time when we were kings and queens upon the continent from whose soil emerged the beginning of man.

Not lost on me was that Ghana, in 1957, became the first sub-Saharan nation to gain its freedom from colonial rule, or that W.E.B. Du Bois is buried there, or that Ghana has been dubbed the mecca of the Black liberation movement and Pan-Africanism. 

This much I vowed to myself while there: I would return to Ghana someday and bring my family with me. For I am convinced that every African American--even if not seeking to repatriate--must make pilgrimage to the Motherland. I hear her calling my soul.

This August I will make good on that promise to myself as a 2021-22 Fulbright Scholar to the University of Ghana in Accra, where I will teach and also undertake a research project: “Africa Calling: Portraits of Black Americans Drawn To The Motherland.” 

My work will chronicle, in part, the story of thousands of African Americans living as expatriates in Ghana, many seeking to escape the racial animus and discrimination of America.

I have no illusions. Ghana is not “Wakanda.” But imagine. 

Imagine if I stood where my fathers cried. Where my people died. Where slavery tried to steal our souls. And Mother pride. Imagine what I'd feel inside.

Land where we once reigned as kings and queens. The land where my soul at last felt free. Imagine...


The huddled masses

Sardined and wearied soul

Sweat, blood and urine flow

Like rivers of tears swollen

And the children of Africa knowin'

That the ship's a comin'

That that old ship's a comin'

And the children of Africa know

It soon will be time to go

Imagine ...

Imagine a musty cell--

Disease infested, hatred ingested--

Salt-air from the sea sifting

through slits for vents

where sunlight barely shows

Like dim-lit rainbows,

though in these holes,

the reflections in the dark

show no reflections of the dark ones here

who huddle in fear

as the end draws near.


Imagine the terror

The shameful error

of those who

knowingly sold their brothers and sisters

into a slavery so cruel

So brutal

So lewd

So without human rules


Imagine the door

The Point of No Return

The wail from hell

Where the Children of Africa fell

Oh, the hell!

I can smell the hell

Sense the hell

Feel the hell:

Seagulls crying

Buzzards flying

Sharks lying await

White men filled up with hate

Black folks beat down by hate

Black folks in shackles of hate

That old slave ship sealed up with hate

That old slave ship setting sail in winds of hate

And this old slave castle the birthplace of my fate.



If I stood where my fathers cried

Where my people died

Where slavery tried to steal our souls

And Mother pride

Imagine what I'd feel inside.