1619: A week of acknowledging the past

Freedom Riders, Black Panthers and Black Entertainment Television come on campus in recognition of 1619

Jacob WaringOnline Editor

Social Justice Advocate and Black Entertainment Television news host, Marc Lamont Hill engaged with audience members on the meaning, history and significance of the year 1619.

The Oct. 21 event was the first of a week-long recognition of 400 years since the first enslaved people arrived in America.

According to President Joe Bertolino, Southern is the only university within New England hosting commemorative events recognizing the historical significance of the anniversary.

New Haven Mayor Toni Harp shared some words at the event and spoke of her personal connection to 1619, since she is a descendant of enslaved Africans. A short film presented by Professor Frank Harris III, was screened. Titled, “They Came Across the Water: Precious Black Cargo.” The film showed
imagery of enslaved Africans’ journey to America with poetic prose by Harris superimposed on the images.

“We had a wonderful film,” he said. “Powerful, powerful film. Really gave vision and image and voice [to 1619].”

Before the keynote presentation by Hill, Civil Rights Veterans were honored. Lula Mae White, who rode buses as a Freedom Rider in protest of the segregation policy of that era.

Alfred Marder, Amisted and Connecticut Freedom Trail Coordinator and George Edwards, cofounder of Connecticut Black Panther Party were all honored. Hill recognized each of their contributions towards making the world a better place.

“We have honored our freedom fighters,” said Hill. “Who have given every bit of themselves in their quest to leave the world better than they found it.” Hill threaded a connection between 1619 and 2019. He said despite 400 years of separation between the two years; history still echoes throughout the centuries into modern America.

According to Hill, the election of former President Obama and the wave of optimism felt by America, especially the black community.

Hill said those hopes of the country having a optimistic future were dashed after the 2016 presidental election which granted Donald Trump President of the United States, to the dismay of many.

“Believing that we were on a straight and even linear trajectory toward a more expansive and ambitious freedom for the idea that America is getting bigger and bigger and better. Brighter,” he said. “Those hopes were dashed.”

He continued by saying that President Obama’s election was a kind of coalition of the American possibility of democracy.

He said that this idea of a nation of enslaved Africans to have one of its own children become the leader of the empire, was to signify how much has changed for the better.

“Now we understand the complexity of the contradiction of that narrative itself. This is an empire,” Hill said. “The election of a singular black man to public housing in D.C. doesn’t negate the reality is the contradictions of American empire.”

According to Hill the election of 2016 reminded people of the work that remains undone, the ugliest parts of black people’s citizenry.

Hill said that the lingering scent of white supremacy remained.

Hill said one cannot untangle the modern struggles, one cannot wrestle with the present and before a solution can be provided for today’s plights; 1619 much be reckoned with first.

“1619, that takes us to Jamestown, That takes us to space where the American democratic experiment is inaugurated,” Hill said,“That would affect the kidnapping, the exploitation, the abuse, the destruction, African violence, the birth of American racial capitalism through America’s original sin of slavery.”

He ended by saying that the battles, the hard-fought victories for Civil rights and the challenges faced by African American’s ancestors and their allies similar in nature in the challenges that face’s today’s generation.

Hill said that Americans are facing the challenges of unregulated capitalism, facing the fathers of white supremacy.

According to Hill, we are facing the problems of antiSemitism, transphobia, homophobia and ableism.

“We are at a moment where some people are afraid of a new beginning, something more afraid of new possibilities. Just like some slaves on a plantation are people who believe that the world can be any better than it is right now that we could leave,” he said. “We need courageous leaders like Harriet Tubman who took people that organized people and said [that] no matter how bad things are, about how afraid to walk, we can beat this.”

Hill’s keynote speech left an impact on many in attendance. One person who felt the impact of his words was history major, Irving Inahuazo, a junior said that the entire event was impactful but felt the most inspired by how Hill illustrated the enslaved people were not just slaved but had an entire identity, culture and life behind them.

“Yes, they were slaves. But we got to go before that. They were human beings,” Inahuazo said. “These people were either kings or princess.”

Many, like Yi-Chun Tricia Lin director of the Women’s and Gender Studies, appreciated the fact that Hill make his keynote inclusive and intersectional at points in his speech.

“The world is completely intersectional,” she said, “It includes trans folks, immigrants, women. There’s just not one single group that’s not been included.”
Lin said every historical reference that was made is not just history or America or the black community, but the two go hand in hand with each other.

“Black history is American history; Lin said. “[it is] our history.”

Photo credit: Izzy Manzo

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