Va. officials propose commission on 400th anniversary of Africans in U.S.
2/26/2016, 7:43 a.m.
By James Wright
Special to the Trice Edney News Wire
U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine and Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott want to set up a federal panel to study the contributions and accomplishments of black people in America.
U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, Rep. Don Beyer of Northern Virginia, Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Rep. G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina and Hilary Shelton, director of the national NAACP Washington Bureau, joined Sen. Kaine and Rep. Scott on Feb. 11 in announcing the introduction of the “400 Years of African-American History Act.”
The bill would establish a commission to plan nationwide programs and activities in 2019 to recognize the arrival and influence of Africans in America.
Sen. Kaine noted that other racial and ethnic groups have had similar commissions.
“I’ve been lucky to be a part of federal commissions that have been formed to study and celebrate English and Hispanic history,” Sen. Kaine said. “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, Va. 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 have been absolutely unrecognizable.”
Sen. Kaine, in referencing other commissions, was pointing out the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown that took place in 2007 by the English, and the 450th anniversary in 2005 of the founding of St. Augustine, Fla., by the Spanish.
The first Africans to come to American shores permanently arrived in 1619 on a Dutch ship. They were believed by historians to be indentured servants. Black people could become full citizens in the Virginia colony a few years after their arrival, but restrictions starting in 1639 eventually led to the establishment of slavery based on skin color in 1662.
The legislation calls for the appointment of a 15-member commission. The commissioners will be uncompensated, but will have travel expenses covered. The legislation states that grants will be available for work related to the commission and a final report on the project will be issued on July 1, 2020, the date the commission is scheduled to close down.
“The commission established by this bill will be charged with the important task of planning, developing and implementing a series of programs and activities through 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,” said Rep. Scott, the first African-American to represent Virginia in Congress since 1890.
Sen. Warner said that “confronting the sins of our nation’s past is the only sure way to move toward a brighter future.”
Rep. Beyer said the commission could serve as a beacon in the country’s “march toward racial equality,” and noted the bipartisan support for the bill that includes Reps. Randy Forbes and Scott Rigell, both of whom are Republican. The elected officials at the announcement were all Democrats.
The bill “will 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,” Mr. Shelton said. “The NAACP would like to thank Sen. Kaine and Rep. Scott, as well as the co-sponsors of this important legislation, for their efforts, vision and foresight.”