The National Park Service
does its part to
preserve the history of
our country's systemic racism,
and to encourage healing and
Steven and I found ourselves within driving distance of Fort Monroe, Virginia last week and decided to join the National Park Service's 400th Commemoration of the First African Landing at what used to be known as Point Comfort, Virginia, in 1619. The first persons to greet us were, remarkably, fellow Episcopalians Tom and Joy Cassidy of St. Andrew's - Arlington, VA. Tom works for the National Trust for Historic Preservation (www.savingplaces.org), so we could had done worse for early event companionship. It was a holy, hope-filled day.
The afternoon began with the portrait posted at the top of this blog, "First Family," being unveiled. The artist, J Griffin Anderson, told us that some years ago, when she had moved to Hampton, VA, she was out for a walk when an older white gentleman approached her and introduced himself. He asked for her name, and asked what she did, and when she told him she was an artist, he said that he had been having a recurring dream -- that a young black woman walked into a totally white room and there painted a white lion. He proclaimed that she was the artist who would do that very thing.
The National Park Service had a weekend full of events, and Sunday was designated "healing day." After the unveiling of "First Family", four NPS superintendents took turns identifying each of the National Parks and Monuments which are dedicated to preserving the history of African Americans from slavery, through the Civil War, through reconstruction and the Jim Crow era, to the Civil Rights era. The program brilliantly demonstrated how our Park Service contributes to the common good by giving us thoughtfully curated sacred spaces where we can learn our shared history.
Just to mention a few of our NPS Parks and Monuments which were highlighted:
Fort Monroe National Monument, VA (site of first slave ship landing)
New York African Burial Ground National Monument
Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument, OH
National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom
Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument, MD
Reconstruction Era National Monument, SC
Tuskegee Airman National Historic Site, AL
Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial, Washington DC
Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, AL
Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail, AL
If one were interested in delving deeper into learning from the rich experience of this country, the many ways which African Americans have struggled with, overcome bias and discrimination, and advanced themselves and all the rest of humanity, one could do a lot worse than visiting one of our National Parks as a starting place. Proximity creates connection.
After the NPS Town Hall events, we all went out to Continental Park for the Nationwide Bell Ringing Ceremony. I am grateful to know that many of you were part of similar experiences at churches and in parks around the country. Four minutes -- one minute for each century since the White Lion made land -- of sombre bell ringing began at 3:00 pm Eastern time, followed by shouts of joy, a sky full of paper butterflies, dance, music and celebration. Chief "Red Hawk" Brown of the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) tribe blessed the land and offered an Iroqois prayer. The United States Colored Troop Ensemble sang, and "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" was beautifully played on violin by Gina Payne. Guest remarks from state and local elected officials and NPS staff, students and other dignitaries, with a focus on healing and repairing the breach, followed, and the evening was concluded with a gospel concert.
From the bulletin for the event:
"It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have."