Virginia launches new African American history commission

Chelsea Griffin sings the national anthem during the First African Landing Commemorative Ceremony at Continental Park, Fort Monroe, Virginia on Saturday, August 24, 2019.

HAMPTON, VA — The state of Virginia recently paid homage to the black men and women who were forced to come to this country through the slave trade in a ceremonial event. The 2019 Commemoration of the First African Landing event was hosted by Virginia’s 2019 Commemoration, American Evolution, in partnership with Fort Monroe Authority, Fort Monroe National Monument, and the City of Hampton in August.

Thousands of people from around the world gathered at a commemorative ceremony at Point Comfort in Hampton, Virginia, which is the site where “20 and odd” enslaved African men and women were forcibly landed in English North America 400 years ago in August 1619.

In his remarks at the 2019 Commemoration of the First African Landing ceremony on Aug. 24, Virginia Gov. Ralph S. Northam announced that he had signed an executive directive to assign a commission on African American history education in the Commonwealth. The new commission will review education standards, instructional practices, content and resources currently used to teach African American history in Virginia schools.

“When we look back at events of 1619, or 1861, or 1964 when the Civil Rights Act was signed, we often look at them as history frozen in time, or locked in a book, relics in the past frozen in time,” said Gov. Northam. “We often fail to draw the connecting lines from those past events to our present day. But to move forward, that is what we must do. We want to make sure all students develop a full and comprehensive understanding of the African American voices that contribute to our story.”

As recorded by English colonist John Rolfe, “20 and odd” enslaved African men and women were stolen by English privateers from a Spanish slave ship and brought to Point Comfort on a ship called the White Lion. Natives of west central Africa, these enslaved individuals are believed to have been traded for food and supplies. They were the first Africans to be brought to English North America. Point Comfort, the site of the ship’s arrival, is the present site of Fort Monroe National Monument in Hampton.

The commemorative ceremony included a performance by Portsmouth, Virginia’s I.C. Norcom High School choir and a panel of distinguished speakers.

Hampton Mayor Donnie Tuck said those who endured this tragedy is probably somewhere looking down and smiling.

“This weekend, we honor, salute and commemorate those ’20 and odd,’ along with those other individuals, yea, even my own ancestors,” Tuck said. “For because of their strength, determination endurance, perseverance and resilience, survived the capture and months-long transport through the middle passage, and endured the indignities, dehumanization, brutality and atrocities of that peculiar institution,”

“Today, I can imagine that as our ancestors are looking over the battlements of glory, and beholding on this platform, two Congressional representatives, a lieutenant governor, a state senator, and a mayor who are all African Americans, their hearts must be overflowing with joy,” Tuck added.

Virginia Sen. Mark R. Warner who was in attendance at the event as well, reflected on the parallels of race and violence then to now.

“Two years ago this month, we saw the violent forces of hate and backlash on display in Charlottesville,” Warner said.  “That tragedy had a lot of folks asking ‘Is this who we are?’ The history we confront today reminds us that the answer is complicated.” He added, “But it is not who we should be. And I believe every American – especially our leaders – has a moral responsibility to speak up and demand America deliver on its promise of liberty and justice for all.”

As a part of the 1619 commemorative year, Virginia’s 2019 Commemoration, American Evolution has convened more than 20 events, programs, educational initiatives performances and exhibitions that showcase key events from 400 years ago in 1619 Virginia, which set our nation on a course towards the ideals of democracy, diversity and opportunity.

“How fortunate we are as a country that the descendants of African slaves and all who followed are still here and part of this nation. It is impossible to imagine an America without the courage spirit and accomplishment of the African diaspora,” said U.S. Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia. He added, “America would be so much poorer without our African roots. What does it mean to say that monstrous tragedy, in the passage of time, may sow the seeds of great beauty? It’s on each of us to understand our nation’s history and direct the change toward a better future. Let’s honor our African roots by finally living up to the American ideal that we are all created equal and deserve to live free.”

One of the highlights of the Commemorative Ceremony was the recitation of an original poem by the renowned American poet and activist, Yolande Cornelia “Nikki” Giovanni Jr. The poem, titled 1619 Jamestown (but not only) An Answer to the New York Times, was read by Jacquelyn E. Stone, co-chair of the 2019 Commemoration, American Evolution’s First Africans to English North America Committee.

The 2019 Commemoration of the First African Landing Ceremony also featured remarks by special guest speaker Van Jones, author and CNN political commentator.

“African American people and our close allies have been the driving force for progress and democracy on these shores, over these 400 years.” Jones said. “We have to take charge in our time as seriously as the people before us did so that someday, when we put our hands on our hearts, we will have a democratic republic, with liberty and justice for all.”

SOURCE American Evolution

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