Recently someone wrote that the impact of struggles, challenges, and accomplishments associated with people of African descent over centuries in this land is what has defined and made America great. This idea goes far beyond the “Canary in the Mine” concept published in a previous blog post (December 18, 2011). The attribution is far greater than simply a measure of the national status quo.

As a people deliberately and consistently eliminated from consideration as eligible for any of the nation’s ideals – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – their every effort, successful or not, to attain these rights strengthened and broadened the application for all.  Issues ranging from citizenship, equal rights, political representation, voting, shelter, education, property, health care, and education, for example, are rooted in the national history of African-descended people’s enslavement, resistance, and pursuit of freedom. Using words, ballots, arms, determination, and strategy through almost 500 years, they have led, influenced, and participated in social and political movements that are now celebrated as American accomplishments.

In 2019, many Americans will commemorate the 400th anniversary of the first recorded arrival of captive Africans in the English colony of Virginia. In addition to honoring these specific ancestors in this specific place, the Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project encourages each citizen, regardless of his or her ancestry, to remember that those ideals associated with making America unique and great are a direct result of the arrival of approximately 500,000 captive Africans on our Atlantic and Gulf Coasts from 1526 to 1860. They and their descendants spanned this continent. They contributed physically, spiritually, culturally, and intellectually to its distinct character. During this year, and especially on August 25, 2019, plan and take part in an initiative to commemorate these ancestors. We recommend a national moment of prayer and bell-ringing on that day. And more importantly, we as a nation should commit to continuing to work to make America a place of life, of liberty, and of opportunity to pursue happiness for all. 

We owe them that much.

To keep abreast of associated activities planned for the 2019 400th anniversary commemoration visit: