'Another View' Commemorates 1619 First Landing With Live Broadcast
- Written by Belinda Elliott
- Category: Featured - Radio
- Published: 28 August 2023
Another View was back on the road last week before a sold-out crowd for a live broadcast from the Fort Monroe Visitor and Education Center in Hampton. The show commemorated the 404th landing of the first Africans to English North America. As the program opened, host Barbara Hamm-Lee explained that history records "20 and ought" Africans arrived aboard the "White Lion," an English privateer ship that landed at Point Comfort, now known as Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia.
As she introduced the program’s panel of guests Hamm-Lee said the purpose of the broadcast was to “ensure future generations remember 1619 and the place of this event in our national narrative.” Panelists included renowned historian Dr. Cassandra Newby-Alexander, sculptor Brian Owens, and Calvin Pearson, founder of Project 1619 in Hampton.
Two different ships arrived at Point Comfort, explained Pearson, bringing a total of 32 Africans who were eventually sold for food. He believes this is the point where some historians have inaccurately portrayed historical events — claiming that the first Africans arrived at Jamestown instead of Point Comfort.
“One of the key stories we've tried to tell is that of those 32 Africans, only one went to Jamestown, only one went to Kings Mill, but for the past 300-400 years, Jamestown has dominated the story of the first landing and trying to convince people that all of the Africans went to Jamestown,” he explained. “So, we're trying to correct the narrative because history is based on facts. It's not based on folklore, it is not based on tourism. And that's what we've been facing for a number of years.”
The first Africans are also discounted by many historians as most of their names were either not recorded or have been lost, but they made significant contributions to the community.
“Many of these Africans who were forcefully brought here, had an entire culture,” explained Newby-Alexander. They brought skills that the English needed including agricultural skills and how to navigate fast-moving rivers. They would have been familiar with the maritime industry in West Central Africa, she said, and they knew how to build ships. Additionally, Africans had been producing tobacco in West Central Africa for generations — a crop that would become a significant economic driver for Virginia.
“These were fully grown people who were living free in a society, in a kingdom that was very advanced, very prosperous,” Newby-Alexander said.
Yet, she explained, their knowledge and skills are often overlooked in historical accounts.
“Americans, in general, have created this false narrative that somehow civilization did not begin until white people walked on this continent,” Newby-Alexander said, “and that's why history often will not begin until their arrival as if nothing was there before.”
Also joining the program was sculptor Brian Owens who was selected through a nationwide search as the artist to design and sculpt the memorial to mark the 1619 historical event. The sculpture will be a highlight of The African Landing Memorial which is being created to commemorate the 1619 landing. Soon after being chosen as the featured artist, Owens went on a listening tour to hear what people wanted in a commemorative sculpture.
Overall, he explained, people said the sculpture should both communicate the truth of historical events but also convey hope and optimism. Once completed, the memorial will be opened to the public. Learn more about it and see what the sculpture will look like at 1619landing.org.
As the program wrapped up, Hamm-Lee took questions from audience members.
If you missed the broadcast, you can hear the entire program online.