Elaine Luria Speaks at Fort Monroe commemoration
This event included cultural demonstrations, tours, and activities highlighting the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in British North America.
Congresswoman Luria gave remarks focused on the history of Fort Monroe and the bravery shown there.
Other congressional officials who gave remarks included Senator Mark Warner, Senator Tim Kaine, Congressman Bobby Scott (VA-03), Congresswoman Karen Bass (CA-37), and Congressman William Lacy Clay (MO-01).
Congresswoman Luria’s remarks
Four hundred years ago, our Commonwealth was the site of some pivotal historical “firsts.” For example, we recently celebrated the 400th anniversary of the first legislative session in Jamestown. This event led to representative democracy in America and continues to influence our society for the better.
But American history isn’t all uplifting and convenient. In fact, it’s messy and it’s complicated. Our past contains difficult truths that we must learn from so that we can be empowered and equipped to correct today’s injustices.
One of those difficult truths is that our Commonwealth, specifically Fort Monroe – the land we’re standing on now – is the site where the first enslaved Africans in British North America arrived 400 years ago.
Today, we remember this history that continues to shape our nation. We also honor the bravery of those who escaped slavery here – Frank Baker, Shepard Mallory, and James Townsend, all of whom paved the way for thousands more.
As one of several representatives of Hampton Roads, I’m proud that Fort Monroe serves as a symbol of the courage and heroism that emerged from America’s original sin of slavery.
And from a military community perspective, we know the fight for freedom is one that has been waged with great cost, including many thousands of African Americans from Virginia who have contributed to the safety, security, and freedom of this nation. Many came from or fought in our Hampton Roads community.
We are reminded of men like William Harvey Carney. Born into slavery in Norfolk, Mr. Carney joined the Union Army during the Civil War and made his mark during the 1863 assault on Fort Wagner in Charleston, South Carolina.
As the soldier holding the Union flag was killed, Mr. Carney ran to catch the falling flag, raised it high, and kept marching despite his own multiple wounds. He made his way back to the Union side, never once dropping the flag. His actions were an inspiration to his fellow soldiers.
Unfortunately, Mr. Carney had to wait until 1900 – 37 years – to receive recognition for his efforts. By then, other African Americans had received Medals of Honor, but because his actions had occurred the earliest, Mr. Carney is considered to be the first African American Medal of Honor recipient.
African Americans who fought for American freedom must be remembered, in part, because they themselves were not free, nor did they benefit from the liberties given to other Americans. Clearly their sacrifice went above and beyond.
As President Obama once said, Fort Monroe played an important role in “some of the darkest and some of the most heroic moments in American history.”
We have the power to transform symbols of injustice into bastions of hope and knowledge. That’s why Fort Monroe is so important.
As we listen to today’s speakers and reflect on the complex history of our community, let’s remember the past so that we can pave the way to a brighter future. Above all, let’s recommit, together, toward a better America.