Landing Negroes at Jamestown (Courtesy photo/Library of Congress)

Last weekend on Aug. 21, the Jamestown Settlement commemorated the arrival of the first recorded Africans to the U.S., which occurred in Jamestown, Virginia. The program included performances that featured spoken word artists, specially-choreographed dance works and a panel discussion. 

Some Americans view the entire 1619 event as little more than a minor historical listing – a footnote on the pages of life. That in itself counts as a tragedy and an offense to humanity. 

Fortunately, more conversations about and analyses of this heinous event which signaled America’s entrance into the slave trade – often referred to by Black scholars as the “invisible institution” – have increased after the award-winning text created by Nikole Hannah-Jones, “The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story,” was published in 2021. 

In the author’s opening pages, she dedicates her work “to the more than 30 million descendants of American slavery.” 

I participated in last weekend’s events as an observer, not as a journalist, because Jamestown and its neighboring city, Williamsburg, are an integral part of my family’s history. As a little boy, I spent my summers in Williamsburg, staying with my grandparents on the main avenue in the city, Scotland Street. 

My grandmother, Fannie Adkins, who worked for many years as the maid for the mayor of Williamsburg, Dr. Stryker, while she only had a sixth-grade education, was wise enough to ensure that her three children (one being my mother) and her two grandchildren, were afforded every opportunity for higher education and job skills training that would benefit all of us in our adult lives. 

As for my grandfather, James Adkins Sr., who was a mulatto of sorts, half Native American and half African American, he became the first person of color hired by the city to work in Colonial Williamsburg. 

I have always been proud of my heritage and loved those summers. We worshipped at First Baptist Church, one of the oldest Black churches in America, which was located at the end of the block – just a stone’s throw away from my grandparents’ home. Some may recall that when the Smithsonian dedicated the museum featuring the history of African Americans, the bell that was rung was “our bell” from First Baptist Church. 

I continue to engage people about 1619 and the real story behind Black life in that region because of joyful moments from my childhood and because I am determined to share the truth as opposed to works that are founded on inaccurate history and selective, biased memories. 

Back in the ’60s, we could walk one block away to a section that featured an entire two city blocks of Black-owned businesses. And we shopped with those store owners often – from the grocery store and pharmacy to the dentist, barber shop, tailor, beauty salon and doctor’s office. We knew one another and I never had to take money because my grandmother had an account – one which she faithfully paid every month. 

I was an inquisitive, academically-gifted little Black boy and the community supported me, embraced me, loved and protected me. And because of their arms which stretched around me, I was allowed to develop my God-given talents and to pursue my interests. There were no drive-by shootings. There were no members of the Ku Klux Klan spreading fear and causing hurt and harm on our community. And children could play outside well after the street lights came on. But my grandmother was on her enclosed porch with her eyes and ears open – just in case.  

If the disease of racism had not been allowed to take root in America, just imagine how far we may have come by now. Perhaps we would have a cure for cancer. Maybe we would have a free health care system and would not have millions of Americans living in poverty and in subpar housing. 

Perhaps we would not be forced to face daily mass shootings, frequent episodes of gang violence and escalating suicides by youth. 

If I could replicate my childhood experiences and all that they entailed from which I benefited in Williamsburg, Jamestown, Charles City and other cities in that region, I would do so without hesitation. 

Sometimes, we often refer to the past as the “good old days.” 

But, in truth, those days were for me, really golden.

D. Kevin McNeir – Senior Editor

Dominic Kevin McNeir is an award-winning journalist with more than 25 years of service for the Black Press (NNPA). Prior to moving East to assist his aging parents in their struggles with Alzheimer’s,...

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