By New Journal and Guide Staff
The 400th anniversary of the first documented arrival of Africans in (today’s) Virginia in August 1619 was commemorated August 23-25, 2019 in Hampton. Several thousand people gathered throughout the weekend at various venues to mark the occasion commemorating the first landing of “20 and odd” Africans in what is now Fort Monroe.
From the 1619 arrival of these men and women on board the White Lion, an English ship, until the 1860 arrival of the Clotilda, the last known ship to transport slaves to America, an estimated ten million Africans were captured and shipped to the Americas and the Caribbean. They endured two centuries of brutal enslavement in the United States until slavery officially ended in 1865.
Cultural activities and speeches, all designed to highlight the impact of Blacks to the evolution of the nation as a world power, occurred over the three-day period.
The commemoration began as a bill in Congress to establish a commission to plan programs and activities across the country to recognize the arrival and influence of Africans and their descendants in America since 1619. The commission was charged with highlighting the resilience and contributions of African-Americans, as well as acknowledging the painful impact that slavery and other atrocities have had on the nation.
The 400 Years of African-American History Act was sponsored in the House of Representatives in 2017 by Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott [D-VA-3] and became Public Law No: 115-102 in 2018. It created an opportunity to bring these stories to the forefront of the nation’s consciousness and create a space to discuss race relations in America with a focus on dismantling the institutional systems that have hindered African-American progress.
In recent years the nation has commemorated the English and Spanish heritage of the nation’s founding. In 2007, the nation marked the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, Va., by English colonists. In 2015, the 450th anniversary of the founding of St. Augustine, Fla. was observed.