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Local Voices: We Have Been At This For Almost 400 Years

The State of Virginia is in the spotlight of the nation, given a violent protest of White Supremacists and Nationalists in Charlottesville. They gathered around the statue of Thomas Jefferson, one of their patron saints, and the statue of Robert E. Lee, a Confederate General. Their platform supports ideological notions that America is a country for White people, White leadership and legitimate oppressive systems against people who are not White. Given the history of Virginia, de facto and de jure policies and systemic practices have openly and tacitly supported this ideology. This reality has been in manifested in various forms since the arrival of African people at Point Comfort (not Jamestown) on August 20, 1619.

Virginia is a dichotomous state which has danced around forms of this kind of nationalist ideology. From the genocide of indigenous people, colonial and state-sanctioned enslavement, The Readjuster Party Movement, Massive Resistance, Urban Renewal, and ongoing repressive local policies involving residential segregation, disparate funding to historic African-American institutions, and other systemic behaviors that reflect bias and discrimination. However, Virginia elected the first African-American governor in America, is the terrain of notable revolts of enslaved people, is the place where Maggie Lena Walker became the first woman banker in this country, and was a major entryway of Africans entering Colonial Virginia in shackles.

Yet, social justice is an elusive value in Virginia, because our systems and those in power have tacitly approved ideologies that maintain notions of ‘separate AND unequal.’ In other words, those in power continue to underfund the two public historically Black universities by enforcing nonsensical financial formulas, underfunds public education in urban areas, remained silent when Saint Paul’s College, a historically Black university that served a rural community closed down. Virginia elected President Obama twice, but will not funnel the resources localities need to solve infrastructural poverty driven problems. So while racial hatred may not be openly espoused in everyday rhetoric, it is espoused in the implementation of social policies, budgetary funding, and resource sharing.

The City of Hampton has created a 2019 Commemorative Commission to raise awareness and plan events surrounding the arrival of African people on the ship White Lion, that disembarked at Point Comfort (present day Hampton), on August 20, 1619. My co-chair Lt. Col (ret) Claude Vann, III and I are leading the Commission to educate our school children about the events surrounding the arrival of a people who automatically were restricted to live their lives based upon their race, who had limited rights, whether they were indentured or enslaved.

We have included the history of the Kecoughtan, a proud people who originally occupied the land we call Hampton or Elizabeth City County. Of those Africans who disembarked, a man named Antoney and a woman named Isabella served Captain William Tucker at Fort Monroe, Hampton. They married and had a child named William around 1624 or 1625. Yet colonial history doesn’t include the sanctity of this couple nor the humanity of their child. As with the present day African-American family who is either ignored or shamed into every stereotyped imaginable, for almost 400 years, Virginia’s systems continue to favor and value the lives of Whites.

One may point the finger at those championing White Supremacy and violent hateful rhetoric. Yet, White Supremacy dominates our lives, and we engage in it every day. So while one may not have marched with them in Charlottesville, does one donate to one of the state’s four historically African-American universities, support social agencies attending to the needs of those living in squalor, funnel resources to communities who yearn to change environmental landscapes, fight hiring discrimination and biases, or seek African-American business ventures? Or does one ignore those systemic realities, which are based in racial indifference and racial intolerance?

A national spotlight is on Virginia because of what has happened in Charlottesville. But will the national spotlight reveal what Virginia will do to change a trajectory of White Supremacy that has existed since 1619?

Dr. Fairfax is an Associate Professor at Norfolk State University, is Co-Chair of the City of Hampton’s 2019 Commemorative Commission, and a member of the VA State Commemorative Commission’s African Arrival Committee.

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