What to expect during Fort Monroe’s 400th anniversary fete honoring Virginia’s first Africans

Cue the drummers and the ancestral bells, and let the music and dancing begin, all in tribute to Virginia’s first Africans.

The Fort Monroe Authority will host “First African Landing,” a commemoration event Aug. 22-25 to mark the 400th anniversary of the first Africans to arrive in English North America.

Those Africans, about 20, were brought to Old Point Comfort in 1619 by a Dutch privateer on a ship called the “White Lion” in late August and early colonist John Rolfe documented their arrival.

The commemoration weekend honors that milestone, among several key milestones that happened in the colony in 1619.

Those include the first representative legislature, the first mass recruitment of women to the New World, the passing of new laws that laid the groundwork for the American free enterprise system and the precedent for the American Thanksgiving celebration.

Joining Fort Monroe and the city of Hampton to present a multi-day program are the 2019 Commemorative American Evolution, the National Park Service and Project 1619 Inc, which collectively released details of what Hampton Roads can expect during the four-day fete.

Susan Lineberry, the authority’s director of special events, also delivered a primer to the Board of Trustees during its June meeting on some of the logistics at Fort Monroe.

The primary ceremony area will stretch from the bandstand at Ingalls Road and head north along Fenwick Road toward Outlook Beach. Most programming will be held on three stages.

The former military post will begin its transformation Aug. 19 to prep, Lineberry said. Residents and visitors will start seeing tents and tables, chairs, bleachers, stages and portable restrooms, signs and decorations sprout up, mostly along Fenwick Road.

The main commemoration ceremony at Fort Monroe is slated for Aug. 24 at Continental Park.

It will feature a sunrise activity presented by Project 1619 followed by an afternoon of programming — historical tours, cultural activities, music, dance, moments of reflections, storytelling, drumming and child-friendly activities.

Two showpieces during the commemoration weekend are a “preview showing” of Fort Monroe’s new Visitor and Education Center and the National Park Service’s Healing Day on Aug. 25.

The park service’s commemoration includes a solemn bell ringing in honor of the thousands of slaves who arrived or sought refuge at Fort Monroe, followed by a release of doves and butterflies, Lineberry said.

The bell is being donated by Ora McCoy, a resident of Appomattox.

A plan for crowd control has not been completely fleshed out, but there will be a command center and security would be handled with assistance from Hampton police, Virginia State Police, EMS and other law enforcement, Lineberry said.

The expected crowd draw and who the keynote speaker is will determine how many law enforcement officials will be needed.

Because of the event impact, there have been meetings with residents and commercial tenants, she said. More information is coming for residents, including site plans, road closure information and parking passes.

In the event of inclement weather, location changes would be announced 36 hours in advance, Lineberry said. Most programming would be relocated to the Hampton Coliseum. The Healing Day ceremony would be moved to the Fort Monroe Theatre.

On Aug. 22, there is a special session with the federal 400 Years of African American History Commission. On Aug. 23, the city will present a slew of afternoon programming.

Most events at Fort Monroe and Hampton are free and open, including a concert with the “Sounds of Blackness” at the Hampton Coliseum, Lineberry said.

A special luncheon for “Cities United,” hosted by Hampton, is at the Hampton Roads Convention Center featuring African American political pioneers, and panel discussion is a ticketed event, organizers said.

While some events are solidified, others, such as the keynote speaker for Fort Monroe’s ceremonies, still is fluid.

“There is a lot more to come,” Lineberry said. “We keep filling in the blanks.”

There is a 400 Years of African American History Commission meeting, location and time TBA.

9-11 a.m.: Tucker Family Cemetery reflection and commemoration.

Noon to 3 p.m.: African American Political Pioneers luncheon and panel discussion at the Hampton Roads Convention Center. The event will require a ticket and feature panelists former Gov. Douglas Wilder, Congressman Bobby Scott and former mayor and state Sen. Howard Lee. It will be hosted by Byron Pitts of ABC Nightline, CBS Evening News and 60 Minutes.

6-7 p.m.: Preview tour of the Fort Monroe Visitor and Education Center.

7-8:30 p.m.: Invited guests will tour the building’s first floor during a reception at the Commanding General’s residence and garden.

6-8 p.m.: “Evolution of a Black Girl: From the Slave House to the Main House” at the Fort Monroe Community Center.

6-9 p.m.: “The 400th Commemoration Panel at Hampton: Four Centuries of Perseverance, 1619-2019.” At Hampton University.

6:30-8 a.m.: Project 1619 sunrise program at Buckroe Beach.

More preview tours at the Visitors and Education Center. Also at Fort Monroe:

9:30-11 a.m.: 2019 African Landing Commemorative Ceremony.

Noon to 3:30 p.m.: African Landing Day program presented by Project 1619.

Noon to 4 p.m.: Continuous Black Heritage tours with Fort Monroe park rangers and volunteers.

Noon to 9 p.m.: Various programming presented by Hampton’s 2019 Commemorative Commission.

6:30-10 p.m.: Free African Landing Day concert at Hampton Coliseum featuring Sounds of Blackness.

3-5:30 p.m.: National Park Service Day of Healing and Gospel Music Festival at Continental Park at Fort Monroe.

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