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US state of Virginia marks 400th anniversary of slave ship arrival

World News | Published:

The event was held on Chesapeake Bay, where ships traded men and women from what is now Angola for supplies from English colonists.

Officials in the US state of Virginia have marked the anniversary of the first arrival there of enslaved Africans 400 years ago.

The governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, announced on Saturday a new state commission to review educational standards for teaching black history.

Mr Northam, who noted “we are a state that for too long has told a false story of ourselves”, spoke at the 2019 African Landing Commemorative Ceremony in Hampton.

The event was part of a weekend of ceremonies that are unfolding against a backdrop of rising white nationalism across the country and a lingering scandal surrounding Mr Northam and a blackface photo.

Mr Northam said he signed a directive to create the commission to review instructional practices, content, and resources currently used to teach African American history in the state.

“We often fail to draw the connecting lines from those past events to our present day, but to move forward, that is what we must do,” Mr Northam said.

Andre Bradshaw, left, and Eric Jackson at an unmarked grave at the Tucker Family Cemetery in Hampton. They are part of a larger family that traces its roots back to the first enslaved Africans to arrive in what is now Virginia in 1619
Andre Bradshaw, left, and Eric Jackson at an unmarked grave at the Tucker Family Cemetery in Hampton. They are part of a larger family that traces its roots back to the first enslaved Africans to arrive in what is now Virginia in 1619 (Ben Finley/AP)

“We know that racism and discrimination aren’t locked in the past. They weren’t solved with the Civil Rights Act. They didn’t disappear. They merely evolved.”

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In February he faced intense pressure to resign after a racist picture surfaced from his 1984 medical school yearbook page.

He denied being in the picture but admitted to wearing blackface as a young man while portraying Michael Jackson at a dance party in the 1980s.

The event was held on Chesapeake Bay, where ships traded men and women from what is now Angola for supplies from English colonists.

The landing in August 1619 is considered a pivotal moment that presaged a system of race-based slavery.

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“The legacy of racism continues not just in isolated incidents, but as part of a system that touches every person and every aspect of our lives, whether we know it or not, and if we’re serious about righting the wrong that began here at this place we need to do more than talk,” Mr Northam said.

“We need to take action.”

Saturday’s event is one of several commemorating the arrival.

A family that traces its roots to the Africans gathered at a cemetery on Friday.

A bell will ring at the landing spot during Sunday’s “Healing Day”.

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