Federal commission looks to commemorate 400 years of black history in Virginia

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The Memorial church, built in the early 1900s. (Andrew Harris/WYDaily)
Jamestown is among the sites on the Virginia Peninsula that could receive funding for the 400th anniversary commemoration. (Andrew Harris/WYDaily)

Four hundred years after the first Africans were brought to the English colonies at Point Comfort, Virginia, the federal government is looking to raise awareness on the historic importance of African-Americans in Virginia.

In January, President Donald Trump signed into law the “400 Years of African-American History Commission Act,” which established a federal commission to acknowledge, recognize, and highlight the trials, tribulations and successes of African-Americans throughout the United States, according to an American Evolution 2019 news release.

The law was introduced by Democratic Congressman Bobby Scott, VA-3, to the U.S. House of Representatives before it was sponsored in the U.S. Senate by both of Virginia’s Democratic senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner.

“The legislation was enacted days before Black History Month, when communities across the country come together to recognize the contributions of African American trailblazers and influencers,” the release stated. “The 400 Years of African-American History Commission will raise national awareness about the moment when African culture first became an integral part of the American narrative and it will highlight the significant contributions of African Americans over the last 400 years of American history.”

The federal body can provide grants to non-profit, historic and civic organizations, as well as fund academic research on the subject to encourage participation and preservation during and after the 400th anniversary commemoration.

“The 1619 African arrival story is a key historical point in the foundation of America, as well as a core focus of Virginia’s 2019 Commemoration,” American Evolution executive director Kathy Spangler said. “We are committed to our mission of uncovering untold stories, dispelling perpetuated historical inaccuracies, and expanding our collective knowledge of the African American experience over the last four centuries.”

Historic locations and attractions honoring the legacy of African-Americans on the Virginian Peninsula include:

  • Freedom Park — James City County is home to the first free black settlement.
  • Historic Jamestowne — The historic first English settlement now serves as an archeological site where archaeologists are rediscovering the home of one of the first Africans to arrive in Virginia.
  • Jamestown Settlement — Visitors can pay homage to the “Africa to Virginia” exhibit and a statue of Angolan Queen Njinga.
  • Fort Monroe — The national monument is the site of the arrival of the first Africans in Virginia and later served as a Civil War-era shelter for refugee slaves.
  • Hampton History Museum — The museum features an exhibition that explores the lives of fugitive slaves who fought for their liberty or ran to find it.
  • The Hampton University Emancipation Oak — Under this tree, enslaved African Americans in the South heard the Emancipation Proclamation for the first time.

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