Senate approves commission to recognize 400 years of African American history

congressU.S. Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA), Mark Warner (D-VA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA) applauded final Senate passage of their bipartisan 400 Years of African American History Commission Act – legislation establishing a National Park Service commission to commemorate the 400th anniversary in 2019 of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans into English Colonial America, marking the beginning of a new African American culture.

The bill now heads to the President’s desk for signature. Scott, Congressmen Don Beyer and Congressmen G. K. Butterfield, former Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, led the introduction of similar legislation that passed the House of Representatives this Congress.

This commission will be charged with recognizing and highlighting the resilience and cultural contributions of Africans and African Americans over 400 years. In August 1619, some twenty enslaved Africans were brought ashore in an English-built, Dutch flag privateer at Point Comfort, Virginia, on the site of what is now Fort Monroe National Monument in the City of Hampton. Similar commissions have been established to commemorate America’s English roots through the 400thanniversary of the founding of Jamestown, Virginia, as well as its Hispanic roots through the 450th anniversary of the founding of St. Augustine, Florida.

“This commission will be tasked with telling 400 years of the African American story. It is a story of achievement and beauty, poets and presidents, pain and degradation, triumph over adversity, and sometimes adversity following triumph. This story must be told in full to enrich our understanding of who we are as a country. I look forward to working with everyone involved commemorate the uniqueness and resilience of African American culture from 1619 to 2019 and beyond,” Kaine said.

“The commission members will have a huge responsibility in faithfully documenting the African American experience – the journey, the arrival, and the individual strength and resilience as African Americans shaped our nation’s heritage,” Warner said. “This work can serve as a testimonial to the lessons in racial diversity and inclusion we have learned as a country, and help to shine a bright light on lessons we still need to learn.”

“The history of Virginia and our nation cannot be fully understood or appreciated without learning about the first Africans who arrived at Point Comfort, Virginia in 1619.  The commission established by the 400 Years of African-American History Commission Act will be charged with the important task of planning, developing and implementing a series of programs and activities throughout 2019 that fully tells the story of African Americans, their contributions to the fabric of our nation, and their resilience over the last 400 years.  I applaud Senator Kaine for his vision, leadership and hard work on this legislation, and I look forward to President Trump signing this bill,” Scott said.

“We would not be the nation we are today without the innumerable contributions African Americans have made over the past 400 years. America is a stronger, better nation when all of our citizens learn, understand, and appreciate our history. The creation of the 400 Years of African American History Commission provides us the opportunity to honor African American culture and educate current and future generations about the impact it has had on our nation,” Blunt said.

“Black history is American history, and this commission will honor, reveal and pay respect to the rich experiences, lives, accomplishments and discoveries as well as the atrocities, the struggle and the terror that have shaped the past 400 years of our history as Americans,” said Booker. “The story of Black history in America is a story of profound struggle matched with profound purpose and of extraordinary hardship matched with extraordinary courage. As we learn more about this story, we will learn more about the ongoing struggle to fulfill the promise of justice and equality for all Americans.”

The bill is supported by the National NAACP, National Urban League and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.


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