Dutch protesters burn photocopies of ‘Book of Negroes’ ('Someone Knows My Name') cover

A Dutch anti-slavery group has followed through on its threat to symbolically burn a copy of Canadian author Lawrence Hill’s acclaimed Book of Negroes because of its title, wrote The Star.

A spokesperson for Amsterdam’s de Telegraaf newspaper confirmed a photocopy of the book’s cover was burned Wednesday afternoon in the Oosterpark in Amsterdam, which has an anti-slavery monument.

The Dutch group, the Federation for Honour and Reparation of Slavery in Suriname, recently announced it would publicly burn the book on June 22 if the title wasn’t changed. The book has only recently been published in the Netherlands under the title, Het Negerboek.

The Book of Negroes is the title of an actual historical document which documents the migration of 3,000 African slaves who supported the British cause in the American Revolution and were allowed to go from New York to Nova Scotia. Many of them later returned to Africa.

“The title is not intended to be offensive, but. . . to shed light on a forgotten document and on a forgotten migration, that of thousands of blacks from the USA to Canada in 1783,” Hill wrote Groenberg in reply.

It’s not the first time the award-winning book’s title has raised controversy. Publishers in the United States and Australia insisted the title be changed to Someone Knows My Name and in Quebec, the book is titled Aminata, the name of a female slave who returned to Sierra Leone after being abducted as an 11-year-old.

In an interview with the Montreal Gazette author Lawrence Hill said: "If Mr. Groenberg spent five minutes reading The Book of Negroes, he probably would not want to burn it anymore, Mr. Hill suggested."

He added. "Book burning is something that Nazis did, it's something that the people who led the Spanish Inquisition did, it's a gesture designed to intimidate and silence -- it's hateful."

In the Dutch newspaper Het Parool Groenberg said he was not going to burn the book. “ This book is my friend. It tells the history and the horrors of slavery. Things that happened to my family.” See a video of the protest here.

Burning the entire cover wasn’t an option either. “ They have put one of our ancestors on the cover. We aren’t going to set fire to our grandmother,” said Groenberg.

The group "Eer and herstel" of Dutch Surinamese activist Roy Groenberg has threatened in the past to burn the standard Dutch dictionary “De Grote VanDale” because of the word Negro. Groenberg wanted the word to be removed. Although the word remained in the dictionary, the book wasn't burned.

The group was more successful with a candy called "Negro kiss", "Negerzoen" in Dutch. The name was later changed to "Buys Zoenen" ("Buys kisses").

But the Dutch publisher of the book knew this organisation would protest. In an interview in De Pers the publisher said they wanted to be provocative. Since Canadian author Lawrence Hill was in the Netherlands a few month ago to promote his book, he could have known that some black people in the Netherlands would protest against the title.

But both the publisher and the author got what they wanted, publicity. So one way or the other profit is being made. Again.

On the Dutch TV station AT5 the book was burned, but not by the Federation for Honour and Reparation of Slavery in Suriname of activist Groenberg.

See a video about the book


  1. Thanks for bringing this issue to my attention. I have a personal opinion concerning 1.) burning books, and 2.) when certain words should (not) be used. To get a few other opinions - and hopefully strike up a discussion - I've cross-posted your entry to two of my pages on Facebook. If you'd like, I can check back in a few days and let know know what reaction I receive.

  2. Hi uncagedbirds, thanks for cross-posting it. And please do!

  3. I'm still trying to figure out what is offensive. As a descendant of some of the people shipped to North America, shouldn't I be offended first?

    There's nothing wrong with the book or its title. The author looks like he has African ancestry anyways.

    The best way to beat an offensive book is to not buy it or as in this case, give it free publicity. Book burning too is very wrong as well. Hitler employed this strategy too well and we all know how that turned out.

    And I'm also surprised as to why there's an anti-Slavery group in 2011. I know the Dutch had a big hand in it, but still...

  4. Truth2011, the book wasn't burned by the group, they didn't even burned the picture of the black woman on the cover. They just burned photocopies of the text.

    Although I also think it's a bit exaggerated, I do agree that black people should actively influence their image in the media. If you say nothing, black people would still be called "negroes" in the media.


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