THE LANDING: The drawing in the upper left , “Landing Negroes at Jamestown from Dutch man-ofwar, 1619,” chronicles the first 20 African slaves arriving in Virginia. (Library of Congress)The other images are suggestive that although the first 20 to arrive in Jamestown was in 1619, Africans were here long before that. While we acknowledge the significance of 1619, we must keep it in perspective.
Placing in perspective, the significance of the Year 2019 to African Americans This Year, 2019 is a significant one for African Americans; designated for marking 400 years since the first documented arrival of Africans in America by way of Point Comfort, Virginia. And while this point holds historical significance, we must be careful not to allow the focus on 1619 as the beginning of the enslavement of Africans in the U.S., to damage our understanding of American history, and to silence the memory of those African men, women and children who – before 1619 – had already crossed the Atlantic against their will, suffered and died but most importantly endured.
For many African Americans 1619 is a year to commemorate and pay homage to our African ancestors for enduring and ensuring an existence for us today. Although there are continued struggles and challenges we will recognize all of our accomplishments and celebrate those achievements.
The Department of the Interior and the National Park Service has appointed the 400 Years of African History Commission and charged it with planning, developing and carrying out programs and activities throughout our 50 United States. 2019 is a special year, one which many will mark by honoring our African ancestors.
-Before 1619 Arrival-
According to historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the Africans who arrived as slaves in Jamestown,Va., from what is now the country of Angola, in 1619 were not the first. As a matter of fact, writes Gates, “Africans arrived in North America more than a century before both the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock and before these Angolans arrived in Virginia. What’s more, we even know the identity of the first documented African to arrive. His name was Juan Garrido, and more astonishing, he wasn’t even a slave….In 1513, he joined de León’s well-known expedition to Florida in search of the Fountain of Youth, when he became the first known African to arrive in this country. That was over 500 years ago.
-And There’s More-
“As early as May 1616, Blacks from the West Indies were already at work in Bermuda providing expert knowledge about the cultivation of tobacco,” writes historian Michael Guasco. “There is also suggestive evidence that scores of Africans plundered from the Spanish were aboard a fleet under the command of Sir Francis Drake when he arrived at Roanoke Island in 1586. In 1526, enslaved Africans were part of a Spanish expedition to establish an outpost on the North American coast in present-day South Carolina. Those Africans launched a rebellion in November of that
year and effectively destroyed the Spanish settlers’ ability to sustain the settlement, which they abandoned a year later. Nearly 100 years before Jamestown, African actors enabled American colonies to survive, and they were equally able to destroy European colonial ventures.”
-The Importance of Perspective-
As we commemorate and acknowledge 1619 as the 400th anniversary of the arrival of those few African men and women in Virginia, we also need to keep in mind that America was not “America” yet and those White Christian Europeans – often referred to as settlers and colonists, were in fact invaders and occupiers. In 1619, notes Guasco, Virginia was still Tsenacommacah, the name given by the Powhatan, a powerful Chiefdom of Virginia Indian sto their native homeland, and the English were illegal aliens.
From the beginning Africans fought for their survival, and most of all fought for their humanity. Our survival through periods of Emancipation, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, Civil Rights, and post-Civil Rights continue to prove our resilience in the fight for humanity, justice, and equality.
This year we reflect upon our progress, the lessons learned and triumphs earned. As we remember our ancestors and celebrate what we have accomplished over a period of 400 years and more in the “wilderness of North America,” we must remember that perspective is important and bringing the truth 360-degrees is absolutely imperative in our continued quest for freedom, justice and equality.
“Our history did not begin in chains….it will not end in chains.” -Malcolm X