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400th Anniversary of Birth of U.S. Slavery to be Commemorated in VA

Fort Monroe in Hampton, Va., is the site where the first ship bearing enslaved Africans landed in the English colonies in August 1619. (National Park Service)
Fort Monroe in Hampton, Va., is the site where the first ship bearing enslaved Africans landed in the English colonies in August 1619. (National Park Service)
August 21, 2019

HAMPTON, Va. – Events marking the 400th anniversary of the birth of slavery in the United States will take place in Hampton this weekend.

On August 23, 1619, the first ship bearing enslaved Africans arrived at Point Comfort, now Fort Monroe, in Virginia. Many consider the moment a dark part of history that's shaped this country forever.

Kathy Spangler, executive director of the First African Landing Commemorative Weekend says the events are designed to help us confront the role slavery has had in our country.

"We forged a great democracy and we also forged a scourge on the earth in slavery,” says Spangler. “And to be able to be open about that and have a conversation around it and not be separated by it is what we hope for this event and the ongoing conversation it will forge."

Ceremonies honoring African-Americans who lost their lives to slavery will kick off Friday morning at Fort Monroe. All activities are free and open to the public.

The commemoration will include exhibits, heritage tours, keynote speakers and musical performances. Exhibits will document the voyage of the first enslaved Africans, who came across the Atlantic from Angola on a Spanish slave ship.

Spangler says storytelling will be a key feature of the weekend.

"The stains of slavery cannot be blotted out,” says Spangler. “And we must understand and tell the full authentic, allowing people to tell and share the stories of their ancestors, the challenges that they faced, and the endurance and contributions that they've made."

Saturday morning will feature speeches by CNN's Van Jones and Virginia's Democratic U.S. Senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. The events will end on Sunday with a Day of Healing and a gospel music festival.

Diane Bernard/Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA