July 13, 2016

Warner, Kaine Applaud Senate Committee Passage Of Bills To Recognize 400 Years Of African American History & Preserve Petersburg Battlefield Sites

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources unanimously passed two bipartisan bills introduced by U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine - one that would recognize the resilience and contributions of African Americans to the United States since 1619 and another that would add additional historically significant areas around the City of Petersburg to Petersburg National Battlefield. These bills will now advance to the floor for a full Senate vote.

“I’m pleased that the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has passed these bills to pay tribute to the history of Virginia and the United States as a whole. The Petersburg National Battlefield bore witness to the longest sustained siege in our nation’s military history, and it is only appropriate that Congress act to expand and preserve this important piece of our nation’s heritage, which will also promote tourism and economic activity in Petersburg,” Warner said. “In this spirit of reflection, I also applaud the Committee for approving legislation to establish a Commission marking 400 years of African American history, which will encourage us all to renew our resolve to build a strong, inclusive future together. I am hopeful that the full Senate can soon take up these two important bills and pass them into law.”

“I applaud Chairman Murkowski and Ranking Member Cantwell for bringing these bills one step closer to final Senate passage,” Kaine said. “Despite a tragic history, the contributions of Africans and African Americans to who we are as a nation is remarkable. As we quickly approach the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first Africans at Point Comfort, Virginia, we must highlight this history of triumph over adversity and the invaluable contributions African Americans have made in our lives for centuries. With House passage last week, I’m confident my colleagues will see the bipartisan consensus to move this bill forward to a full Senate vote soon. I’m also pleased the Committee sent to the Senate floor our bill adding additional historic areas to Petersburg National Battlefield, which will allow for a closer look at the Siege of Petersburg, including the contributions of African American troops in the Union’s victory, while bolstering regional tourism and the jobs that rely on it.”

The 400 Years of African American History Commission Act, which passed the House last week, would establish a commission to plan programs and activities across the country in 2019 to highlight the arrival and influence of Africans in America. The commission  would be charged with recognizing and 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. Kaine testified in support of this bill in front of the a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee this month.

The Petersburg National Battlefield Boundary Modification Act would authorize the National Park Service to acquire some 7,000 acres over 12 parcels of land to add to Petersburg National Battlefield, helping to tell the story of the 108 battles over 292 days comprising the Siege of Petersburg. The Union’s eventual capture of Petersburg – brought about in part by members of the U.S. Colored Troops, including a Medal of Honor winner – was decisive in bringing about the final surrender of Lee to Grant one week later, some 90 miles west at Appomattox Courthouse. A study by the Civil War Trust found that battlefield tourists stay twice as long and spend twice as much money in the community as average tourists, and the National Parks Conservation Association found that nearly 200,000 people visit Petersburg Battlefield annually, supporting some 150 local non-NPS jobs. The bipartisan House-passed version of the bill, sponsored by Reps. Randy Forbes and Bobby Scott, was included in the National Defense Authorization Act.

In addition, the Committee passed Kaine’s bipartisan legislation with U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (S. 1329/H.R. 2288) to address an issue preventing the Plains Area Day Care in the Town of Broadway, Rockingham County, from making routine building repairs.

###