port of harlem magazine
Jamestown Rediscovery Staff Member Accused of Insulting the Ancestors
August 29 – September 11, 2019
african arrival in 1619

Afro-American Historical and Genealogy Society (AAHGS) members were touring Jamestown, VA in observance of the 400 years since the first known documented Africans arrived into English America when a presenter shared what they felt were ugly words. It was during the July 4 presentation that many members claim they witnessed the presenter saying the Africans were “enslaved” because “their skin was black in color and black represented dark, dirty, and ugly.”

The Jamestown Rediscovery Manager is also being accused of saying that the English were not enslaved because “their skin represented white, purity, and beauty.”  

In utter disbelief, Dr. Evelyn McDowell, National President of the Sons and Daughters of the United States Passage, asked how the presenter had come to this understanding. He reportedly replied that is what he had learned in school in Virginia.

In response, AAHGS President Gene Stephenson wrote a protest letter to Virginia Governor Ralph Northern and the Jamestown managers. However, the Jamestown site is owned by Preservation Virginia, a in-his-hands non-profit that receives no state funding; therefore, not subject to much political pressure.

Part of the discourse was over the status of the first Africans. Ric Murphy, AAHGS Vice President of History, asserts, “The colonial records don't support the false narrative that this particular group of Africans were enslaved. The institution didn't start until a half century later as evidenced by the colonial records.” 

However, Port Of Harlem contributor CR Gibbs wrote in Jamestown: The 400th Anniversary, Relevance, Reflections, Myths, & Truths, “For years, we were taught that the first Africans in what was to become the United States arrived as indentured servants, but no such indentures have been recorded. They were, instead, enslaved, kidnapped, captives stolen off a Spanish slave ship bound for Vera Cruz, Mexico and boarded by English pirates sailing in two vessels. The Africans were traded for food by the hungry pirates when they reached Virginia.”

While Preservation Virginia acknowledged that there are disagreements about their legal status, they and Gibbs are in agreement on their status as enslaved people. However, Preservation Virginia sidestepped the issue of why the presenter would contribute their having “dark, dirty, and ugly” skin as the reason for their captivity.

Instead, Preservation Virginia CEO Elizabeth Kostelny responded, “Our interpreters employ quotes from period documents and plays to graphically illustrate how the Europeans rationalized the transatlantic trafficking of human lives.”

One of the document and play references says Murphy was a derogatory white supremacist circa 1605 play “Mask of Blackness.” The plot of the play follows ladies arriving at the English Court to be "cleansed" of their blackness by King James.

Note:  AAHGS will host their at annual conference and exposition at the College Park Marriot Hotel and Conference Center, Thursday, October 10 – Saturday, October 12, outside Washington, D.C.
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