HAMPTON, Va. — Over the weekend, Hampton commemorated the forced landing of the first enslaved Africans to English North America in 1619. 404 years later, hundreds gathered where the first ship, The White Lion, landed at Point Comfort (present-day Fort Monroe).
The commemoration ceremonies were a joint effort between the Fort Monroe Authority, the National Park Service, Project 1619, and the City of Hampton.
This year's theme was "Reconciliation and Healing from the Legacy of Slavery."
"When we look at the overall event that we had this weekend, we want to uplift people and to make them proud of their heritage and this is why this is so important to us... we want people to remember that this all began right here in Fort Monroe in 1619. This is the beginning of African American history in English North America," said Calvin Pearson, Project 1619 president.
The events featured traditional African culture, including libation and drum call, and a flower petal ceremony to remember the lives lost during the middle passage. Historian and author Ric Murphy was the guest lecturer who can trace his roots to two slaves on the White Lion.
"My soul and my DNA is in the soil of this rich land. The red soil of Virginia reflects the blood and DNA of my ancestors," Murphy told the crowd.
Sunday morning at sunrise at Fort Monroe's Outlook Beach, a crowd donning white gathered for a program of spiritual healing. Each participant was led into the water by Priestess Amani Tori Nefer Atum Re for a cleansing.
"The water has always been an important part of the African culture. They thought that water cleanses the soul," Pearson said.
The festivities began Friday morning at the Tucker Cemetery located in the Aberdeen Gardens in Hampton. Hundreds honored two documented slaves on the White Lion, Antoney and Isabella Tucker and their descendants.
Among the crowd: Richmond's John Marshall High School's girls' and boys' basketball teams, their coaches and principal. The group is traveling with the Tucker family to Angola, Africa, from where the first Africans were shipped. The trip is sponsored by former Lt. Governor, Justin Fairfax.