400 years ago, in 1619, a Dutch frigate landed at Jamestown, Virginia, a place English settlers had discovered some 12 years earlier in 1607. This landing was significant, in that it was the first known advent of three new things in America. They were the first bringing of women to these shores, the introduction of tobacco in America, and the arrival of Africans.
Unlike the hopeful pilgrims, they had been brought to America unwillingly, captives of Dutchmen who had apparently seized them from a Spanish ship to sell them to the labor-short colonist. John Rolfe, Secretary and Recorder of the VA Capital Colony made the following entry toward the end of August 1619, “About the last of August, there came to VA a Dutchmen of warre that sold us 20 Negres”.
There were supposedly 20 Africans aboard. It is important to note that slavery was not legalized in VA until 1660.
I always wondered who these people were, whence did they spring, and the reason for them being brought here.
50 years ago, 1969, a group in Richmond, VA, formed to celebrate, along with the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, the bringing of Africans to these shores. My good friend, the late Oliver W. Hill, renowned and celebrated NAACP lawyer, was among the group. They spoke of the increased number of “Negros”, proclaiming, “we are 20 then, we are 20 million now.” I could not understand what they were celebrating. That year also happened to coincide with my first run for political office in the VA State Senate. I was not supported by the “black” leadership and the fact that I criticized the celebration was frowned upon. I became the first person of color to be elected to the VA State Senate since Reconstruction.
We are now set to celebrate the 400th year Anniversary. The events of recent years have shown that we must be ever vigilant in defense of our country. History records that the descendants of those 20 benighted souls aboard that frigate have given and made every sacrifice in every call for defense that this country has summoned: including the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the First World War, they have been there. My brother fought in the Pacific in World War II; I fought on the hilltops of Korea; my nephew waged battle in the jungles of Vietnam.
The author, Theodore White, wrote, serially, of America’s challenges. His book, “America in Search of Itself” struck a chord with me that continues threading. I happen to believe that the greatest enemy America faces is the enemy within. My namesake, Frederick Douglass, observed 167 years ago, in 1852, “The feeling of this nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.”
The question, today, is the same as before, some 50 years ago. What is it that we want the American people and the world to know about 1619? Do we want to start telling and teaching the true story? Is that story to be taught, and preached in our schools, our churches, mosques, and synagogues?
Are those who presume to represent the people, all of the people, sufficiently informed, to govern accordingly?
Let our greatest years be in ascendancy.