Marking 400 Years Since Arrival Of Enslaved Africans
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This weekend marks 400 years since enslaved Africans, abducted from what is now Angola, arrived in the colony of Virginia. Several events are underway across Virginia to recognize the significant role that free and enslaved black people have played in building the commonwealth and the country. Yasmine Jumaa with member station VPM reports.
YASMINE JUMAA, BYLINE: On the shore of Jamestown Island, people gathered this month to pay tribute to the Africans who arrived in Virginia in 1619.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Singing, unintelligible).
JUMAA: Dancers of all ages performed traditional African dances and were accompanied by drummers.
(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMMING)
JUMAA: This event, 1619 Fest, is one of many to honor the history of Africans and African Americans. To learn more about the first Africans, the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation and the National Park Service began excavations. Archaeologist Lee McBee said the most significant finds are three cowry shells.
LEE MCBEE: Those are actual pieces that would've been on their person.
JUMAA: McBee says the shells may have been the only objects from home carried by the enslaved Africans. He says the artifacts are a direct trace of African presence on the island.
MCBEE: As we dig, we find pieces of that story, of the enslavement here from 1619 till the end of the Civil War. We have something in our hands that people can develop empathy for.
JUMAA: Through archaeology, they hope to learn about early Africans' lives and shed light on the intersection of English and Angolan cultures. Commemorations for the 400-year anniversary are at Fort Monroe this weekend.
TERRY BROWN: Fort Monroe is - in a lot of ways, it's America.
JUMAA: Terry Brown is superintendent of Fort Monroe.
BROWN: It has racism, and it has classism, and it has all kind of -isms. And you can find that in this little space historically.
JUMAA: This used to be Point Comfort, and it's where the first documented Africans landed in the Virginia colony. Fort Monroe was built by enslaved people, like many structures at the time, including the White House.
BROWN: I think when you learn about African American history, you begin to humanize that culture a little bit. You begin to not view them as others.
JUMAA: Most of Fort Monroe's visitors are white, so Brown says he's focused on engaging more people of color, especially youth. The Fort is also building a new education center to tell a more complete history about Indigenous peoples, the arrival of Africans and the white colonists. One exhibit shares the story of Anthony and Isabella, who were on the first ship, and their son William Tucker.
VINCENT TUCKER: My name is Vincent Tucker. I am the president of William Tucker 1624 Society.
JUMAA: Vincent Tucker is a descendant. Through research and preservation, his family's nonprofit aims to share an overlooked history.
TUCKER: We have survived 400 years of hatred and slavery and a lot of injustice. So to come forth and remember those times and talk about those times and share the stories with many folks even in that region and throughout the United States is pretty significant for us to do.
JUMAA: Tucker says he doesn't want the country's attention on African Americans to fade after this weekend.
TUCKER: The injustice - it's not fair. But you have to keep pressing forward. You have to keep moving forward.
JUMAA: Tucker says his family's organization hopes to carry the conversation forward about a painful but honest history of Africans and African Americans over the last 400 years.
For NPR News, I'm Yasmine Jumaa.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.