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Senators introduce African American history bill

U.S. Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA), Mark Warner (D-VA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Roy Blunt (R-MO) reintroduced the bipartisan 400 Years of African American History Act – legislation that would establish a commission to plan programs and activities in 2019 across the country to recognize the arrival and influence of Africans in America.

Kaine and Warner were the lead sponsors in the Senate when a version of this bill was introduced last Congress.

Similar commissions have been established to recognize English & Hispanic heritage, including the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, Virginia and the 450th anniversary of the founding of St. Augustine, Florida. This commission would be charged with recognizing and highlighting the resilience and contribution of Africans and African Americans since 1619, as well as acknowledging the painful impact that slavery and laws that enforced racial discrimination have had on our nation’s history.

“I’ve been lucky to be a part of federal commissions that were established to study and celebrate English and Hispanic history, and there is no reason a similar one shouldn’t exist to celebrate the contributions of Africans and African Americans to our history,” said Kaine. “We need to share the stories that explain who we are as a nation.  This commission will help do that and hopefully further enrich our understanding of the journey and history of our country.”

“This commission will mark 400 years of rich African American history, including both the immeasurable contributions of African Americans to our diverse culture and their resilience in the face of injustice during slavery and in the decades of racial discrimination that have ensued,” said Warner.“It is my hope that it will serve as a testament to the lessons in racial diversity that we have learned as a country and bring to light those that we may still need to overcome.”

“The story of our great nation cannot be fully told without the rich history of African Americans,” said Blunt. “I am proud to support the creation of a commission to celebrate 400 years of African American culture. America is a better nation when all our citizens learn more about our history.”

“African American history is American history; the black experience is the American experience. The commission established by this bill would shed light on the lives, events, atrocities, discoveries, and accomplishments that have shaped that experience and, in doing so, promote a deeper understanding of the beauty and fullness of our nation’s heritage” said Booker. “The commission will also be tasked with highlighting the ongoing struggle to fulfill the promise of liberty and equality on which this nation was founded—a struggle that began four hundred years ago, when the first slaves were brought to Point Comfort, VA.”

Virginia Representatives Bobby Scott and Don Beyer, along with G. K. Butterfield, Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, led the introduction of similar legislation that passed the House of Representatives last Congress. The Senate version of the bill was unanimously approved by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources last year, but was not voted on by the full Senate before the end of the 114th Congress.

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