Virginia Commemorates The 400th Anniversary Of First Enslaved Africans Landing In America

The three-day event at Fort Monroe in Virginia includes exhibits, heritage tours, musical performances and much more.

From a free concert with rapper/actor Common and Sounds of Blackness to Ghanian drumming and a gospel music festival, the 400th commemoration will feature a full roster of performances and events in the Virginia city where the early Africans landed. 

Virginia's 2019 Commemoration, American Evolution, in partnership with Fort Monroe Authority, Fort Monroe National Monument, and the City of Hampton, will host the 2019 Commemoration of the First African Landing on August 23-25, 2019 in Hampton, Virginia.

Rapper Common will perform as part of 400th Commemoration event in Hampton, VA. (Photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images)
Rapper Common will perform as part of 400th Commemoration event in Hampton, VA. (Photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images)

The multi-day event will feature a commemorative ceremony, a preview of the new Fort Monroe Visitor and Education Center, cultural tours, living history demonstrations, storytelling, drumming, youth activities, and special moments such as a butterfly release. Keynote speakers include Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, Van Jones, elected officials and more. 

“The weekend will be a pilgrimage for African-Americans, and all Americans, who are interested in learning about the heritage, struggles and triumphs of the first Africans who were brought to the shores of Point Comfort,” said Terry Brown, the first African-American superintendent at Fort Monroe National Monument. Its designation came from president Barack Obama under the Antiquities Act in 2011. 

“African-American history is complicated, but it’s important for us as Americans to examine the events of the past and understand the stories of slavery, resistance and emancipation, and the impact on our nation,” Brown added. 

Fort Monroe National Monument is a unit of the National Park System (NPS). Officials are inviting national parks around the country, community partners, and the public to come together in solidarity to ring bells simultaneously across the nation for four minutes -- one for each century -- to honor the first Africans who landed in 1619 and 400 years of African-American history. Officials are encouraging social media engagement using the hashtags #RingToRemember and #400Years. 

Muster with name of early African woman picked out. (Photo: Historical Document Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation)

Photo: Historical Document Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation

Muster with name of early African woman picked out. (Photo: Historical Document Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation)

To frame the commemoration, Hampton is offering visitors experiences and opportunities to learn about Virginia’s multicultural history, as interpreted through museums, attractions and historic sites. Mayor Donnie Tuck said the community is not only the arrival site of the first recorded Africans, but has other national significance. 

“On the same site [Fort Monroe], the first move toward emancipation occurred when Frank Baker, James Townsend and Shepard Mallory sought sanctuary during the Civil War. At Hampton University, the education of newly emancipated individuals began in 1868 and 150 years later is going strong,” he said. “It is the legacy of the human computers like Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughn who helped to set the national course to the stars through their work at NASA Langley, and that of so many more individuals who helped to shape our nation.”

Tuck noted, “While we do not celebrate the reason the first Africans arrived on our shores, we marvel at how far we have come during this 400-year journey, and maintain hope for a future of unity and equality.”

To learn about local, national and even international events to mark the 400th commemoration, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) has launched a website that will serve as a clearinghouse. 

Executive Council member Gloria J. Browne-Marshall, author of Race, Law, and American Society: 1607 to Present, said in a press release the public is invited to share all of their 400-related commemorative activities by placing them on the ASALH commemorative calendar.

Paying homage to the ancestors who came to America through forced migration is critical, she said. “Through their resilience and perseverance they made it possible for all of us to be here today,” said Browne-Marshall. 

ASALH, founded by the "Father of Black History," Dr. Carter G. Woodson, has information on its website to encourage the study of the 400-year journey from 1619 to 2019. The National Calendar of Events contains activities taking place across the country. There are also instructions for a family mentoring activity on the website under "Study the 400-Year Journey."

“It was our founder, Dr. Woodson, who emphasized that family research should take place in every household,” said Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, president of ASALH and the first African-American chair of the History Department at Harvard University. “We are continuing that legacy.”

Quilt square by Carolita Cope as part of National Quilting Challenge. (Photo: Hampton VA 2019 Commemorative Commission)

Photo: Hampton VA 2019 Commemorative Commission

Quilt square by Carolita Cope as part of National Quilting Challenge. (Photo: Hampton VA 2019 Commemorative Commission)

2019 Commemoration of the First African Landing Events

  • On Friday, August 23 at 12:00 p.m. at the Hampton Roads Convention Center, Byron Pitts of ABC Nightline, and formerly of CBS Evening News and 60 Minutes, will host the African-American Political Firsts Luncheon featuring such panelists as Kentucky Lt. Governor Jenean Hampton, Douglas Wilder, former governor of Virginia and U.S. Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA). 

Besides Scott, fellow members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including chair, Rep. Karen Bass (D-VA) are expected to attend. 

  • On Saturday, August 24 at 9:30 a.m. in Continental Park, Fort Monroe, the 2019 Commemoration of the First African Landing Ceremony will include remarks from CNN political contributor Van Jones and greetings from Virginia Governor Ralph Northam; U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kainee; Rp. Scott and Dr. Joseph Green, Jr., Chair of 400 Years of African American History Federal Commission. The ceremony will feature African drumming and the I.C. Norcom High School Choir from Portsmouth, Va.


African landing day 2018. (Photo: Hampton VA 2019 Commemorative Commission)

Hampton VA 2019 Commemorative Commission

African landing day 2018. (Photo: Hampton VA 2019 Commemorative Commission)

Following the ceremony from 11:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., there will be musical performances by Cheick Hamala Diabate, a Grammy-nominated World Music Artist; EMA Live, a Billboard chart-topping gospel group, RaJazz, and other musical acts. On the evening of August 24, the 2019 First African Landing Commemoration Concert will take place at the Hampton Coliseum from 6:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., featuring Grammy-award winning rapper and actor Common, with Sounds of Blackness.

  • The weekend commemoration will conclude on Sunday, August 25 with the Day of Healing and Gospel Music Festival from 1:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at Continental Park. The event will include a bell ringing across the United States, gospel choir performances, and a keynote speech by Reverend Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, academic, author, media personality. 

Additionally, the event will additionally feature a National Park Service Town Hall, libation ceremony, blessing of the land, a tribute to the ancestors with a release of 400 butterflies, and Ghanaian drumming. Dr. Michael Battle, Director of the Desmond Tutu Center at General Theological Seminary in New York (who gained global fame at the 2018 wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle), will also give a keynote  address. The Gospel Music Festival will feature performances that include: 4 Him Gospel Quartet, Recording artists Damien Sneed, and the First Baptist Church of Hampton Choir. For more information, visit

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