June 20, 2019
Floor Statements

Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Chair, I rise in support of my amendment to H.R. 3055, which would provide funding for the 400 Years of African-American History Commission. I would like to thank my colleagues, Representatives JOHN LEWISBARBARA LEE, and RASHIDA TLAIB for cosponsoring this amendment which would provide an additional $500,000 to support the work of this important commission. I would also like to thank Chairwoman LOWEY, Chairwoman MCCOLLUM and the Appropriations Committee for working with me to include funding in the underlying bill and their support for this amendment.

   The 400 Years of African American History Commission is charged with planning programs and activities to commemorate the arrival of the ``twenty and odd'' enslaved Africans who arrived at Point Comfort, Virginia 400 years ago this August and to recognize the influence and contributions of Africans in America in the 400 years since.

   Unfortunately, that August day in 1619 was not the last time men, women, and children arrived to our country as slaves or were born into bondage here. The history of our nation cannot be fully understood or appreciated without knowing and acknowledging their stories and understanding the ramifications of slavery. We must not ever allow ourselves to forget that this country, including our nation's Capitol, was built through the forced labor of enslaved Africans and their descendents.

   More than a stain on our nation's past, racism in America did not end with emancipation nor the end of Jim Crow. We must recognize how it continues to impact our communities and our nation today as we address issues of environmental justice, voting rights, mass incarceration, police brutality, and inequity in education and housing. Only then can we begin to move forward together as a country.

   In the past 400 years, African Americans have struggled and triumphed, making important strides and innovations in science, medicine, business, politics, law, the arts, and more. As we remember, mourn, reflect, and study horrific parts of our nation's history and work to address systemic racism today, the Commission is also intended to celebrate the many accomplishments of African Americans.

   This body has a history of funding the work of similar commemorative commissions and I trust that our support for the work of this commission will be no different. I remember fondly the many celebrations surrounding the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown Settlement in 2007, just a few miles up the James River from historic Point Comfort. As we look forward to the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment next year, I am grateful for the Women's Suffrage Centennial Commission and the funding they have received to support their important work. I am also grateful for this body's generous support of the United States Semiquincentennial Commissioners as we prepare to celebrate the 250th anniversary of American independence in 2026.

   It was the successes of those previous commemorative commissions that Senator TIM KAINE had in mind when he initially developed the concept for this commission and asked me to introduce his bill in the House of Representatives. Each of these commissions received generous federal appropriations.

   While we were successful in getting our bill enacted and the commission established, Congress has yet to appropriate any federal funds to support the work of the 400 Years of African American History Commission. That changes with the Fiscal Year 2020 Interior bill, which already included $500,000 for the commission. The additional $500,000 of funding provided in my amendment will ensure that there are sufficient opportunities for the American people to gather, to study, to reflect, and to fully appreciate the story of African Americans, their contributions to the fabric of our nation, and their resilience over the last 400 years.

   Mr. Chair, while it is imperative that we observe this year, 2019, as the 400th year since the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in the English colonies with reverence, it is equally important that we celebrate all that our communities have achieved throughout those 400 years.

   I hope that my colleagues will join me in marking this occasion, as this body has so many other anniversaries, by fully supporting the Commission's ongoing work. Their efforts to preserve history and invite all Americans to reflect and remember is essential as we continue to work towards creating a more perfect union.