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Virginia event marks landing of first Africans on American soil
Commemoration of 400th anniversary
Published Saturday, August 17, 2019 8:15 pm
by Stacy M. Brown | National Newspaper Publishers Association

The 400th anniversary of the first Africans shipped to America, and the start of their enslavement in the New World, will be marked Aug. 23 in Hampton, Virginia.

In August 1619, more than 20 Africans landed at Old Point Comfort, the present-day Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia, and were forced into labor as slaves.

That was the beginning of the slave trade in America.

This month, 400 years later, the city of Hampton will commemorate “African Landing Day.”

The three-day commemoration, which begins Aug. 23, will include a host of special guests and a variety of history tours, education programs and special exhibits.

“One of the objectives we want to achieve is to correct history,” said retired Lt. Col. Claude Vann, the Hampton 2019 Commission co-chair.

“I think history has done the African American a disservice because we have never been told what our real history was. For the folks here at Hampton, particularly, we were taught that the first African landed in Jamestown. Well, that’s incorrect,” Vann said.

The place where the first African landed was Point Comfort, described by PRI.org as far east as you can get in Virginia — on a peninsula that extends out into the Chesapeake Bay.

To get to it, you have to cross a bridge over a moat. On the other side is the largest stone fort in America — Fort Monroe — encompassing 565 acres, according to PRI.

“The city saw the importance of this commemoration early on and they created a commission within the city for it,” said Luci Cochran, the executive director of the Hampton History Museum.

“This is a history that so many people are not aware of and we want people to understand that the landing of the first African is a thread that shaped everything.

“It shaped our country and it continues to affect our country today,” she said.

According to a news release, the commemoration kicks off on Aug. 23 at 12 p.m. at the Hampton Roads Convention Center where Byron Pitts of ABC “Nightline,” and formerly of CBS Evening News and “60 Minutes,” will host the African-American Political Firsts Luncheon featuring panelists Kentucky Lt. Governor Jenean Hampton; L. Douglas Wilder, former governor of Virginia; U.S. Representative Bobby Scott, and former Chapel Hill mayor and North Carolina Sen. Howard Lee.

On Saturday in Continental Park, Fort Monroe, the 2019 Commemoration of the First African Landing Ceremony will include remarks from CNN political contributor Van Jones and remarks and greetings from Virginia Governor Ralph Northam; U.S. Sen.  Mark Warner; U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine; U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, and Dr. Joseph Green, Jr., chair of 400 Years of African American History Federal Commission.   

The event will include a bell ringing across the United States, gospel choir performances, and a keynote speech by Michael Eric Dyson.

The event will feature a National Park Service Town Hall, libation ceremony, blessing of the land, a tribute to the ancestors with a release of 400 butterflies, and Ghanaian drumming.  

“From a historian’s perspective, we hope people will take away that all of this wasn’t an accident,” said Beth Austin of the Hampton History Museum, who conducted much of the research. “It happened in a global context both in terms of the wider Atlantic world in 1619 and it had the enormous global impact. The slave trade and the practice of slavery in America impacted the New World and Africa and it’s had a very long-term and profound legacy.”

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