Scott Delivers Remarks at Commemoration of First African Landing at Old Point Comfort, Virginia in 1619
HAMPTON, VA – On Saturday, August 24, 2019, Congressman Bobby Scott delivered remarks at the Commemoration of the First African Landing in recognition of the first enslaved Africans brought to English North America at Old Point Comfort, Virginia in 1619.
Remarks of Congressman Robert C. "Bobby" Scott
First African Landing Commemorative Ceremony
Fort Monroe – Continental Park
Saturday, August 24, 2019
Good morning. I am honored to join all of you here at Freedom’s Fortress on this historic and solemn day. I want to thank everyone who made this commemoration possible and who traveled to be with us today, especially my distinguished colleague from California, Karen Bass. The ones that come here 400 years ago could not imagine us speaking in recognition of this day, so I want to give Karen Bass another round of applause for being with us today.
I also want to welcome the Commissioners from the 400 Years of African American History Commission. Senator Kaine was very generous in giving everybody credit but himself. Of course, it was his vision and leadership that created this commission. Give Senator Kaine another round of applause.
Slavery first arrived on our shores 400 years ago. The forced labor of enslaved Africans and their descendants built this great nation, a part of our complicated history with which we continue to wrestle. Over the past 400 years, descendants and others who have followed the first “20 and odd Africans” have made significant contributions to all aspects of American history.
As we continue the work of addressing inequality and education, incarceration and criminal justice reform, income inequality and voting rights, we also pause to celebrate the incredible resiliency of those Africans and their descendants. It is in that spirit that I’ve been asked to discuss one individual whose fight for justice has much to teach us today.
When I am introduced at public gatherings, it is often mentioned that I am the first African American to represent Virginia in the House of Representatives since Reconstruction and only the second in the history of the Commonwealth. The first was John Mercer Langston, who, after successfully contesting the election of 1888, was seated as a representative in 1890 – 103 years before I began my first term in Congress. My service in Congress, and that of so many others, would not have been possible if not for those who fought to pave the way – the first black Senators and Representatives elected, like Langston, after the Civil War during Reconstruction, as well as the many who put their lives on the line to advance civil rights and defend voting rights for African Americans.
But even before becoming Virginia’s first black congressman, John Mercer Langston had already left a mark on our Commonwealth and our nation – as a student, abolitionist, patriot, lawyer, educator, diplomat, and public official. In 1829, Langston was born a free man in Louisa County, Virginia and later, following the death of his parents, moved to Ohio. Langston’s brother ensured he received a good education and he graduated from Oberlin College and became one of our nation’s first black attorneys and first black elected officials, as he was a town clerk in Ohio.
As an abolitionist, Langston risked his life to assist those escaping slavery along the Underground Railroad. And as a patriot, he joined Frederick Douglass and other abolitionists in recruiting Black men to fight for the Union and turn the tide of the Civil War. As an educator, he helped establish Howard University’s law school – the nation’s first Black law school and alma mater of two of American’s greatest civil rights attorneys, Thurgood Marshall and fellow Virginian, Oliver Hill, Sr., as well as Virginia’s first African American Governor, L. Douglas Wilder. Langston also served as the first president of what is today Virginia State University in Petersburg.
Langston was encouraged by both whites and blacks to run for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1888. It initially appeared that he lost but he contested the results due to obvious voter intimidation and fraud. The House of Representatives eventually declared him the winner and he took his seat on September 23, 1890 – and was only able to serve the few remaining months of the two-year term. Though he lost his re-election bid, Langston had already left an indelible mark on the cause of freedom.
A portrait of John Mercer Langston hangs in my office, a visible reminder of one of many visionary Black Virginians and Americans whose dogged pursuit of equality helped to shape a more perfect union.
We may never know all the names and stories of the men and women who were brought here to Point Comfort in 1619. But as we remember, mourn, and honor them, let us also remember the trailblazers, like John Mercer Langston, who believed in and fought for our nation to live up to its creed.
I hope that reflecting on our nation’s complicated history reminds us of our responsibility to one another and inspires each of us to work to achieve liberty and justice, for all. Thank you.
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