Fort Monroe’s 1619 commemoration challenges attendees to look at Black history with different perspective

Fort Monroe was full of music, dancing and reflection Saturday as a crowd gathered to commemorate the 402 years since the first Africans were brought to the shores of Point Comfort in what would become Hampton.

Along with honoring those “20 and odd” Africans brought to America against their will and the generations that followed, about 200 people filling Continental Park were challenged to rethink Black history.

In the event’s keynote speech, musician, activist and author KRS-One said the history taught in schools and presented in media is through a colonizer’s lens. That history covers up the crimes of colonial powers and brings down Black and Indigenous people.

Black history overemphasizes slavery, affecting young Black people’s perception of their background and ancestors. KRS-One reminded the crowd that the first humans were in Africa. He said those people became the first thinkers and builders.

Language filters through a colonial lens as well, he said. Saying early Africans were “primitive savages” may come off as belittling — KRS-One argued that there’s nobility in that designation. Primitive simply means first and savages are people connected to nature.

He called the colonial lens a form of mental enslavement and charged the crowd to think not only of slavery, but the bravery of their Black ancestors.

Marsha Watford enjoyed hearing a different perspective on her culture.

“He reminded me to broaden my thinking,” she said of KRS-One, adding she felt motivated to continue learning. She attended with her young son and said she was glad he had the opportunity to hear a historical understanding different than what’s taught in school.

Rochelle Pleasant of Hampton attended the first commemoration in 2019 that marked 400 years since the first Africans were brought here. She’s pleased to see the commemorations continue, providing a chance to join with others and reflect on their ancestors. Lately, she’s wanted to travel with her husband to Ghana and “see where it all started.”

Jackie Withers said attending events like the commemoration helps give context to the history she knows, helping her develop deeper knowledge and understanding. It also helps her feel connected to her ancestors. When she thinks of their hardship and survival, it helps her to know that she can endure as well.

At the commemoration, officials participated in a bell ringing ceremony that acknowledged the 402 years since the Africans’ arrival, and attendees processed to a pier to toss flower petals into the water, honoring those who died while enslaved.

The event included dance and drum performances, a concert by Delfayo Marsalis and the Uptown Jazz Orchestra. KRS-One and Marsalis also participated in a discussion with attendees.

Josh Reyes, 757-247-4692,