Kaine makes case for African American history study

tim kaineDuring a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee hearing today, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine testified in support of the 400 Years of African American History Commission Act, bipartisan legislation introduced last February that would establish a commission to plan programs and activities across the country in 2019 to recognize the arrival and influence of Africans in America.

Stephanie Toothman, Associate Director for Cultural Resources, Partnerships and Science at the Department of Interior, also testified in support of the commission. Her testimony can be found here.

“Every dimension of American life—business, academics, law, military, spirituality, culture, diplomacy, government, medicine, social justice, innovation—has been profoundly influenced by countless generations of African Americans,” Kaine testified.  “And it is important that we tell that story – in all its pain and triumph—as we approach 2019. Congress saw fit through the creation of a federal commission to affirm that our English roots matter.  Congress saw fit through the creation of a federal commission to affirm that our Hispanic roots matter.  I have introduced this bill in the belief that Congress should also affirm through the creation of a federal commission that our African roots matter.”

This commission would be charged with recognizing and highlighting the resilience and contribution of 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. 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.

The bill is supported by Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Chris Coons (D-DE), Bob Casey (D-PA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and Virginia Congressmen Bobby Scott (D-VA), Scott Rigell (R-VA), Randy Forbes (R-VA), as well as members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including Chairman G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) and Congressman John Lewis (D-GA). It has also been endorsed by the NAACP and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

 

Kaine’s full testimony, as prepared for delivery:

I appreciate the opportunity to be here today. The year 2019 will mark 400 years since the arrival of twenty Africans at Point Comfort, Virginia (current day Hampton, Virginia).  These Africans were forcibly sold into slavery, captured by the English from a Portuguese slave ship and brought to Virginia.  Their arrival was the beginning of the slave trade in America, which led to a total slave population of nearly 4 million by the Civil War.

The history is a tragic and painful one, but also a history of triumph over adversity.  For nearly 250 years after Point Comfort, most African Americans were held in slavery and even free blacks were not accorded basic legal rights of citizenship.  For the next 100 years, from the end of the Civil War to the passage of major civil rights legislation in the 1960s, free African Americans were burdened by second-class citizenship in voting, housing, employment, education, access to public accommodations and other basic areas of life.  It has only been in the last 50 years that African Americans have enjoyed full legal equality as American citizens, though huge social disparities exist to this day.

Despite this tragic history, the contributions of Africans and African Americans to who we are as a nation are remarkable.  Every dimension of American life—business, academics, law, military, spirituality, culture, diplomacy, government, medicine, social justice, innovation—has been profoundly influenced by countless generations of African Americans.  And it is important that we tell that story – in all its pain and triumph—as we approach 2019.

When I served as Governor of Virginia, we held a major commemoration of 400 years of the English roots of America, recognizing the founding of the Jamestown Colony in 1607.   Congress passed a resolution establishing a federal commission to assist in events and educational materials appropriate to that important anniversary.  And last year, as Honorary Chair of the U.S./Spain Council, I participated in events commemorating 450 years of the Hispanic roots of America, recognizing the foundation of St. Augustine, Florida in 1565.  Again, Congress passed a resolution to establish a federal commission to assist in events and educational materials appropriate to that important anniversary.

In February, I introduced the 400 Years of African American History Commission Act, S. 2548.  This legislation would establish a commission to plan programs and activities across the country in 2019 to recognize this historic moment.  A companion measure was introduced in the House by Congressman Bobby Scott.  The bill has bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.  The House measure is supported overwhelmingly by members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including Rep. G. K. Butterfield and civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis.  The bill also received support from the National NAACP, the Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights and the National Urban League.

Congress saw fit through the creation of a federal commission to affirm that our English roots matter.  Congress saw fit through the creation of a federal commission to affirm that our Hispanic roots matter.  I have introduced this bill in the belief that Congress should also affirm through the creation of a federal commission that our African roots matter.

I urge the committee to consider this legislation swiftly so it can be brought before the full Senate.  The year 2019 is fast approaching, and this legislation needs to be enacted into law this year.

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