February 11, 2016

Kaine, Warner, Scott, Butterfield, Beyer, NAACP Introduce Commission To Recognize 400 Years Of African American History

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, Congressmen Bobby Scott, Don Beyer, G. K. Butterfield, Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Hilary Shelton, Director of the NAACP Washington Bureau introduced the 400 Years of African American History Act – legislation that would establish a commission to plan programs and activities in 2019 across the country to recognize the arrival and influence of Africans in America.

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. 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.

“I’ve been lucky to be a part of federal commissions that have been formed to study and celebrate English and Hispanic history. Well, if English lives matter, if Latino lives matter, then African American lives matter and they’ve mattered every day since the landing of those ’20 and odd’ African Americans at Point Comfort, Virginia,” Kaine said. “The story has a lot of pain to it, but it’s a story that has to be told to commemorate that we as a nation – had it not been for 400 years of African American history – would be absolutely unrecognizable. What we hope to do with this bill is engage in something we should do to tell the story in a different way than it may have been told 50 to 100 years ago.”

“Confronting the sins of our nation’s past is the only sure way to move towards a brighter future. We have to be committed to telling our entire history – the good and the bad,” said Warner. “This commission will recognize the immeasurable contributions African Americans have made to our country. But it will also recognize the phenomenal resilience of African Americans, not only in the face of slavery 400 years ago but in the face of racial discrimination in the years that followed.”

“The history of Virginia and our nation cannot be fully understood or appreciated without knowing about the first Africans who arrived at Point Comfort, Virginia in 1619,” said Scott.  “The commission established by this bill 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.”

“2019 will mark 400 years since the first documented arrival of Africans arrived in America by way of Point Comfort, Virginia, in an event that would change the course of our country forever,” said Butterfield, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. “It was a defining moment in what would become one of the darkest points in the history of our country. We take note of this moment in time, which left a permanent mark on an entire race, by introducing the 400 Years of African American History Act – to establish a commission to plan programs and activities in 2019 across the country to recognize the arrival and influence of Africans in America and highlight the resilience and contributions African Americans have had on our country since 1619. It’s an opportunity to further acknowledge the painful impact that slavery had in America, and further address the racial discrimination and oppression that continues today.”

“Virginia has made remarkable progress in the 400 years since giving birth to the slave trade’s atrocities in the United States.  I am proud to join a bipartisan group from the Commonwealth of Virginia to introduce this commission honoring African American contributions to our history,” said Beyer. “In celebrating their achievements, I hope this gives us moments to reflect on where we still must find ways to march toward racial equality.”

“The commission established by this legislation will play a key role in recognizing, understanding, and celebrating the resilience and contributions of African Americans in the history of our nation,” said Hilary Shelton, Director, NAACP Washington Bureau & Senior Vice President for Policy and Advocacy. “It will also offer an important opportunity for discussion on a number of issues, including the ever-growing influence of people of African descent in the daily lives of all Americans. The NAACP would like to thank Senator Kaine and Congressman Scott, as well as all of the co-sponsors of this important legislation, for their efforts, vision, and their foresight.”

This legislation is also co-sponsored by Virginia Congressmen Randy Forbes and Scott Rigell, as well as members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including Congressman John Lewis, and supported by the NAACP and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

The full text of the legislation can be found here.