On August 25, 1619, the ship the White Lion arrived at Point Comfort, now known as Fort Monroe National Monument in Hampton, Virginia. The ship contained enslaved Africans. This is the first recorded arrival of Africans in America. This year, this anniversary will be commemorated at Fort Monroe as a day of healing and reconciliation.
The park and its partners are inviting all 419 national parks, National Parks Service programs, community partners, and the public to come together in solidarity to ring bells simultaneously across the nation for four minutes--one for each century--to honor the first Africans who landed in 1619 at Point Comfort and to commemorate 400 years of American history.
As recorded by English colonist John Rolfe, the arrival of "20 and odd" African men and women at Point Comfort in late August 1619, was a pivotal moment in the nation's history. Stolen by English privateers from a Spanish slave ship and brought to Point Comfort on a ship called the White Lion, these natives of west central Africa are believed to have been traded for food and supplies. They were the first Africans to be brought to “English” North America. The site of the ship's arrival is the present location of Fort Monroe National Monument in Hampton, VA.
"The landing of the first recorded Africans at Point Comfort in 1619 marked the moment African culture became an integral part of American culture and an indelible influence on the development of our nation," said Dr. Cassandra L. Newby-Alexander, Professor of History, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Norfolk State University and co-chair of the 2019 Commemoration First Africans Committee. "The early relationship between the unfree Africans and English in the Virginia colony is complicated, yet their forced arrival set into motion an important African imprint on every aspect of American society and culture. Moreover, Africans' fight for freedom, equality, and inclusion was transformative because it began our nation on its journey toward racial equality – something we are still working toward today."
As Unitarian Universalists we have made a commitment to actively strive for racial justice and to dismantle white supremacy. We recognize that this anniversary is a significant historical event—not only for African-Americans—but for all Americans. It played a major role in the development of white supremacy culture in this country. This commemoration represents an opportunity to focus on another aspect of our work towards building the Beloved Community.
To learn more about the history of Fort Monroe and the activities planned in Hampton, VA in honor of this anniversary you can visit one of these websites:
- National Park Service News Release on the Commemoration of the First African Landing
- Hampton VA Commemoration of the First African Landing Page
- Day of Healing Nationwide Bell Ringing Ceremony National Park Service Page
- National Park Service 400 Years of African American History Page
And please, ring those bells for 4 minutes, on August 25, at 3:00 pm!