MANSFIELD: 400 Years … Should We Celebrate or Not?

Next year is the 400th anniversary of the arrival of 20 shackled Africans in North America at Jamestown, Virginia, on August 20th, 1619. This is generally the accepted date of the beginning of the pernicious institution of slavery in North America. But like much of history, this date — and its meaning in the grand scheme of things about slavery — are clouded by other recorded occurrences.

According to a 2017 article posted on, written by Michael Guasco, “In 1526, enslaved Africans were part of a Spanish expedition to establish an outpost on the North American coast in present-day South Carolina. Those Africans launched a rebellion in November of that year and effectively destroyed the Spanish settlers’ ability to sustain the settlement, which they abandoned a year later. Nearly 100 years before Jamestown, African actors enabled American colonies to survive, and they were equally able to destroy European colonial ventures.” So were they the first?

Do we wait eight years until 2026 to mark the 500th anniversary of the arrival of those Africans, or do we stick with the 1619 date and memorialize it next year? Or do we observe both dates?

The question I want to pose is this: How do we as a people mark the accepted 400th anniversary of our ancestor’s arrival on these shores? It’s a widely accepted fact that we black folk really know how to throw a party, a celebration — but that’s not what’s called for in this circumstance. After all, this date marks the beginning of a horrible institution, slavery, American style. And who wants to “celebrate” the beginning of our ancestors being kidnapped, held prisoners, raped and often tortured?

So, should we hold a somber memorial service, something resembling a funeral, or should we do something else entirely? How do we recall our ancestor’s struggles, while still celebrating our great successes in future generations, often under trying conditions and against great odds?

Personally, I feel a need to somehow mark the occasion, if for no other reason than to remind ourselves — as well as others — of our important history in this country, one that our ancestors contributed so much labor in the building of what is now the United States.

Now you don’t have to be black to have an opinion on this since no one really is an expert; after all, this has never happened before in 400 years. So please share your thoughts on what we should — or maybe shouldn’t — do, and perhaps even be a part of whatever it is that takes place.


From CoolCleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author at http://NeighborhoodSolutionsInc.

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