In 2017, the United States Congress passed the 400 years of African-American History Commission Act establishing a commission and giving them a charge of developing activities throughout the country to commemorate the arrival of Africans in the English colonies in 1619, an event widely regarded as the commencement of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in North America.

The weekend of Aug. 22-25 has been identified as a national weekend of remembrance. Activities are planned across the country, the biggest of them in and around Fort Monroe and Hampton, VA. Point Comfort, near Hampton, is believed to have been the location of the first arrival, an arrival that would shape not only the future of that area, but also the subsequent development of the United States.

Some 20 and Odd Negroes’: The Beginning of Revolutionary Change

“Some 20 and odd Negroes,” was said to have been how it was duly noted by the colony’s secretary, John Rolfe (famous as the widower of Pocahontas), that the first African slaves had arrived in America.

The first 20 arrived in late August 1619 on the English pirate ship the White Lion. A few days later, more arrives on another pirate ship, The Treasurer.

The Africans had begun their trip in Angola on board the Portuguese ship the San Juan Bautista. By the time the ship arrived in Mexico, nearly half of the 350 who began the trip had died. On their way, the pirate ships intercepted and boarded the ship and captured between 50 and 60 of the enslaved Africans. The pirates sailed on to Port Comfort, where they exchanged their human cargo for food.

“Few ships, before or since, have unloaded a more momentous cargo,” historian and journalist Lerone Bennett wrote in his 1962 book, ”Before the Mayflower: A History of the Negro in America.” The book shocked America with the revelation that slaves arrived in America before the pilgrims, who arrived one year later, in 1620.

Reportedly, the first slaves were sold to Jamestown’s Gov. George Yeardley and head merchant Abraham Piersey. Of the initial 20 to 30, most were sent to work on tobacco plantations run by Yeardley and Piersey. Some worked for Jamestown’s more prosperous colonists.

It is also reported that Capt. William Tucker also took two into his household, Isabella and Antony, and allowed them to marry. When their child William became the first recorded Black birth in the future USA, he was baptized into the Anglican faith in 1624.

There remains a question of whether the first African arrivals were slaves or indentured servants. American colonists were accustomed to indentured servants. That was how many Whites came to the New World, providing labor for a set number of years. At the end of their contracts, they received “freedom dues” of food, clothing and maybe even a parcel of land.

Some of the early Africans like Anthony and Mary Johnson, who arrived in 1621 and 1622, amassed hundreds of acres of land and owned slaves themselves. Some won their freedom in court; others, like John Punch was sentenced to permanent servitude for daring to run away.

Certainly, the early colonists had no rules for handling the early Africans, but as their numbers increased, due to birth and the rapid growth of the slave trade, the colonists found a need to formalize their relationship with the Africans. By the end of the 17th century, records show that 6,000 African Americans lived in the colony of Virginia.

In 1705 Virginia’s General Assembly enacted a series of slave codes. This series of so-called racial integrity laws institutionalized White supremacy.

Between 1500 and 1900, slaving ships transported 10 million to 12 million captive Africans across the Atlantic Ocean on a route that became known as the Middle Passage. Approximately 400,000 enslaved Africans reached what would become America. In 1861, 4 million African Americans were enslaved in America.

They worked hard and toiled for no pay, while on the backs of their free labor, America grew and White Americans prospered.

AUG. 25: Celebration Includes Day of Healing – Nationwide Bell Ringing Ceremony

As part of the 400th anniversary of the first landing of enslaved Africans in English-occupied North America, Aug. 25 will be a day of healing. The national event will be held at Point Comfort in Hampton, VA, now part of Fort Monroe National Monument, a unit of the National Park System.

As part of the ceremony, the park and its partners are inviting all 419 national parks, community partners and the public to come together in solidarity to ring bells simultaneously across the nation for four minutes – one for each century – to honor the first Africans who landed in 1619 at Point Comfort and 400 years of African-American history.

Bells are symbols of freedom. They are rung for joy, sorrow, alarm, and celebration. This symbolic gesture will enable Americans from all walks of life to participate in this historic moment from wherever they are.

Find a Bell. Your bell could be big, small, old, or new. It could be lots of little bells, one church bell, or a carillon. Be creative as you create a moment that has personal meaning, power, and resonance for you and your group.

The nationwide bell ringing will take place at 3 p.m. EDT on Aug. 25.

Four Kansans Being Recognized With Distinguished Service Awards 

Activists is the best way to describe all four Kansas recipients of the Distinguished Service Award being presented by the 400 Years of African-American History Commission. The commissioners established the Distinguished 400 Awards to be presented during this historic recognition.

The honorees are being recognized for their outstanding service to the community through non-profit service, philanthropy, public service and volunteerism while implementing a positive influence benefitting those in an underserved population.

Being recognized are:

Marvin Robinson for decades worked to preserve the old Quindaro Ruins site and the history of the area. This year, after nearly a decade of effort by Robinson and others, the Quindaro site was designated a National Commemorative Site.

U.L. “Rip” Gooch is a former pilot, aviation entrepreneur, Kansas elected official, and author. Gooch’s community service includes a stint on the Kansas Commission on Civil Rights, the Wichita City Council, and in the Kansas Senate. Gooch was one of the first inductees to the Black Aviation Hall of Fame.

Katherine Carper Sawyer is one of the youngest heroes of the Civil Rights Movement. At age 10, she testified in the case of Brown v. Topeka Board of Education. She was the only student to testify. Her mother Lena Carper also was a plaintiff in the case.

Dr. Galyn Vesey, an author, professor and researcher was an early activist. As a teenager, and youth member of the NAACP Wichita Branch, he participated in the Dockum Lunch Counter Sit-In which is now documented as the first successful lunch counter sit-in in America.

As part of their recognition, a brief bio of each honoree will be recorded in the Congressional Record.