Amazing Grace

The hymn Amazing Grace, ironically a standard part of most funeral services for members of the police force, has its origin in global history – an African dirge heard from the bowels of a ship by a captain transporting human cargo during the Middle Passage. When this captain, John Newman, wrote the words, “Was blind but now I see,” he was referring to the fact that he realized that he had made a living in a horrific business – the trans-Atlantic trade of human beings. This awakening led him to later renounce slavery and fight for abolition.

Once or twice in a lifetime there are opportunities to make real change for the better, a second chance. MPCPMP believes that we are in one of these fortunate, historically perfect storms. The notion that we can go back to “normal” – before the coronavirus pandemic, before Black Lives Matter became an international movement, and before the massive economic downturn – is naive.

Even with a documented history of more than 490 years of racialized behavior in this country, instances of police brutality were considered isolated and were rationalized as a means to maintain law and order. The systemic racism that protects the police guilty of violent acts against the Black community also undergirds disparities in health care, employment, education, housing, employment, and the inequities of the justice system . . . too frequently viewed as the fault of those on the bottom and considered to be the result of their own failure and/or lack of initiative.

“I once was lost, but now am found”

As a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, the economic downturn, and the cellphone technology that allows everyone to see the prevalence of police brutality, large numbers of people, in particular the young, nationally and globally, are now personalizing their social responsibility and advocating for equality. Debt, lack of income, unemployment, inadequate health care, food shortage, and stereotyping based on color and class are a visible reality, and for the first time, many Americans are acknowledging what has been routine injustice and unfairness that targets the poor and people of color. Absence of common-sense leadership and responsibility have compounded the problem. Until now, many have chosen consciously or comfortably to be ignorant of the injustice, inequality and discrimination . . . that is, until today, when the evidence is unavoidable, in your face, and has touched the hearts and souls of multitudes in the nation and triggered them into action.

“Was blind but now I see”

On many levels this period in the evolution of the country is giving sight to the blind. People are critically assessing themselves, their institutions, their behaviors, and their personal responsibilities to deconstruct and reform the nation’s “normal,” which began with European empire building in the New World. On the U.S. mainland in 1513, with Ponce de Leon’s arrival and in 1526 in the short-lived Spanish colony of San Miguel de Gualdape, the seeds that became the American guiding principles of ethnic superiority, human exploitation, and the acquisition of material wealth were planted. We are living today with the fruit.

Yet, today, if this present momentum is sustained, there is the possibility that we could have amazing grace and achieve what, to date, has seemed to be wholly impossible. Using 2020 vision – past, present, and future – with a commitment to action can lead us to taking a step in the direction of creating fair and just societies at home and abroad. We can live with the power of amazing grace going forward, and the nation can collectively sing:

“T’was Grace that brought us safe thus far/ And Grace will lead us home.”

@blankkdiary

NY turned out for a violin vigil for ##ElijahMcClain at Washington Square Park last night. ##justiceforelijah ##blacklivesmatter ##blm ##fyp ##viral ##poc

♬ original sound – blankkdiary

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African Presence in New Hampshire

This post continues our Wednesday series that highlights historic Middle Passage/UNESCO Site of Memory markers that have been installed and those locations where a remembrance ceremony was held since MPCPMP incorporated 9 years ago. MPCPMP is/was involved in the planning for the installation of most of these markers (indicated by an * next to the state name), and other organizations are/were responsible for some.

New Hampshire

African presence in the colony of New Hampshire can be traced back to 1645, with the first documented captive person from the west coast of Africa; he was bought by a Mr. Williams of Piscataqua. Although the number of blacks in the colony was small in the 17th century, records of wills and inventories indicate that the enslaved were included in the estates of several prominent families. Because the colony of New Hampshire did not impose a tariff on the importation of captive Africans, many were transported to the state’s only port at Portsmouth or along the Piscataqua River and smuggled into Massachusetts and other colonies.

Portsmouth, with its history as a New England human trade hub, primarily transported the enslaved between Africa, Portsmouth, Virginia, and the West Indies. Africans who were victims of the trade usually arrived in the state through the port of Portsmouth, and according to Valerie Cunningham, “The town’s slave population grew from a reported 52 in 1727 to about 4% of the total population in 1767 when 187 slaves were reported . . .” with as many as 700 black people here by the American Revolution. By this time, the colony had become a major Atlantic seaport. Most of the enslaved worked in the shipyards, on the waterfront, in tradesmen’s workshops, and in family homes. As a result of a very active abolitionist group, the state became an Underground Railroad route of escape for enslaved people.

In 2015, Portsmouth installed a marker to honor the African ancestors who were brought to the state and their descendants who played key roles in its early history. Please follow these links to read more about New Hampshire and slavery and to find resources for additional information:

http://www.seacoastnh.com/first-blacks-of-portsmouth-part…/…
https://blackheritagetrailnh.org/nh-history/

The Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail identifies this as the city’s Middle Passage marker installed at Prescott Park.
Photo credit: Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff-Christian Science Monitor 
A child tosses a rose into the vault (before the lid is placed over the coffins) at the African Burying Ground Memorial Park. The vault contains the remains of 13 people found during a construction project.
Photo credit: Suzanne Laurent/Seacoastonline
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Newsletter: December 2019-February 2020

The last three months have been full of activity. Our network of affiliates has expanded and three additional Middle Passage markers were installed: Warren, RI (June 2019); Mobile, AL (December 7, 20019); and Algiers Point, New Orleans, LA (December 31, 2019). The Jacksonville Jaguars Foundation provided funding for the Amelia Island, FL, marker scheduled to be unveiled in a remembrance ceremony/program on March 25, 2020, in Old Town Fernandina. This event coincides with the UNESCO designation of the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

We have received notice that a ceremony/marker installation for both Boston, MA, and Pensacola, FL, will take place in 2020.  A marker installation for Africatown, Al, is scheduled for August 23, 2020.

On February 9, 2020, MPCPMP participated in a panel discussion, “Wade in the Water: Healing, Reconciling, Revitalizing Africatown,” at the GulfQuest Museum, Mobile, AL.

Based on construction plans of the L’Aurore, a French Middle Passage ship, Professor David Eltis (developer of the Voyages: Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database and MPCPMP Honorary Board member) with a team of experts produced an informative graphic 3D video that is now available for viewing – https://slavevoyages.org/voyages/ship#slave-

During this last quarter we introduced a fund-raising process with the Network for Good that has proven to be effective. Please follow us on Facebook or the website as we launch various campaigns throughout 2020 with targeted goals.

Future publications by MPCPMP will include a QR code for easy access to the website by smart phones and the logo of the 400 Years of African American History Commission.

Systematically, by state, we are entering Middle Passage marker information into the National Historic Marker Database. Florida will be the first state to be completed. The final goal is to have each documented site with a marker on record to include a brief historical narrative, GPS information, and marker image.   

State Updates

Georgia:

  • Darien is in the process of planning for a marker installation in 2020. 
  • Tybee Island is constructing an exhibit related to African American history that includes a  Middle Passage marker.

Maryland:

  • Annapolis will incorporate a Middle Passage marker in planning the city dock renovation.
  • Baltimore met to discuss the Douglass Meyers Museum for the Middle Passage marker location.

We appreciate your continued support, participation, and interest in the work of remembering ancestors. With this history, in this nation, truth takes time.   

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“In Memory of the Past, Present and Future”

To whom we say:
We must forget, we must move forward.
You must forget?
Is forgetting the keyword to face the Unreal, the Ugly…
A Pain alive in our collective brain… collective cells?
Is forgetting sufficient for the bloody reality of the color of my skin?
Is forgetting will forget the Un-Real, the Sur-Real of our Bloody wounds…

Alive in the Atlantic Ocean
Millions of voices
Millions of Tears
My tears, your tears, our tears
Millions of Ivory bones…

In the womb of Maman Dlo
The Story of my ancestry continues to haunt my memories
Memories of twelve million
Memories of voices
A legacy of resistance
A legacy called “Marronage.”

Endlessly we must Not submit
Endlessly we must stand
Endlessly we must heal
Endlessly we must tell
Endlessly we must act
We must say
We must put words on the words
We must put words on the wounds
Loudly, fiercely like the sound of the waves running aground on the shore
We must Be!
We must sing eternal freedom, eternal victory!

To whom we say:
We must forget
Is revealing the ugly a devil sin for you?
Is revealing La Grande Histoire the phantom of your glorious existence?
Is the devil of your glorious legacy the repentance of your sins?
Is the devil haunting your universal voice?
Is the devil revealing the ugly of your humanity?
Is the devil uncovering your religious protection?
Is the devil the truth of your sins?
Sins? We were!
Devils? We were!
Ugly? We were!
A devil illusion of a racial masquerade!
A devil illusion of an egotistical position!
For light always uncovering the unseen
For light enlightening the truth of my dark skin!
For light uplifting the supreme of my humanity!

Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.”
Enlightening dignity
Enlightening memory
Enlightening my invaluable humanity
Restoring my unspeakable dignity
Reviving the unthinkable truth of my beauty!
Reviving the glory of my dark skin
In the foolishness of your illusion
In the cultural bias of your dominion.

To whom I say:
Freedom is my truth
My brown skin is my light
Creole is my strength
The Ocean my guide
My land, my roots

To whom I say:
Descent of voices
Descent of Stories
Descent of Memories
Descent of duties
Descent of resistance
Descent of transcendence

To whom I say:
Emancipation for us!
A call from the blood!
A call from revival!
A call from Nature
A call of Power!
A call of culture
A call of the tongue

For,
Universalism is not my name
Universalism was a number, bleeding beneath my name
Universalism is an iron bruise beneath my name
Universalism erases my name with his name
Universalism blemishes my name
Universalism forgets my name
Universalism is disgrace to my name

For,
Once they said:
France is your name!
At the cost of our blood,
At the cost of the stench of our holds.
At the cost of our words,
At the cost of our tongues
At the cost of our silences
At the cost of our breath
At the cost of our skin
At the cost of our body
At the cost of our life
At the cost of twelve million

And now, I say:
Creole is my name!
Creole is our tongue!
The World is my tongue!
The World is our tongue!

In the womb of the Ocean
In the womb of the Sugar Cane
In the womb of the Sun!
In the womb of the Past
In the womb of the Present
In the womb of the Future!
The bruise of my wounds resonates in memory of my past, present, and future.

Lucy Jane. A
June 4th, 2019
Up in the Air, flying to Peru.

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Newsletter: August-November 2019

Much of our activity during this quarter was connected to the 400th anniversary observances for the 1619 arrival of Africans in English Virginia. MPCPMP emphasized that the history of African arrival to America (1526 to 1860) is shared with 52 documented U.S. Middle Passage locations, and the Project encouraged each arrival site to conduct an event in 2019 to honor ancestors.  From August 23-25, 2019, MPCPMP Executive Board members participated in ancestral commemorations in Hampton, Point Comfort, and West Point, VA; Historic Sotterley, Hollywood, MD; Houston, TX; and Africatown, AL.

MPCPMP participated in the following conferences: Houston, TX (August 24); “The African Presence in America Before 1619,” Bethune-Cookman University, Daytona, FL (October 24); “’Till Victory is Won,” Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn, NY (October 26); and “1619 Collective Memory(ies) Symposium,” University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC. (November 11).

Alabama – The installation of the second U.S. Middle Passage marker associated with the UNESCO Slave Route Project as a “Site of Memory” and a remembrance ceremony are scheduled in Mobile on December 7.  Africatown is planning to install its marker in August 2020 as part of a national conversation on freedom, liberty, and justice.

Connecticut – The first U.S. Middle Passage marker to include the designation of “Site of Memory” associated with the UNESCO Slave Route Project was installed in Middletown, CT, on September 28th.  New London continues planning for its ceremony and marker.

Port of Georgetown, District of Columbia – A remembrance ceremony was held on August 25th.

Florida – The Jaguars Foundation (Jacksonville) will provide funding and a matching grant for the Fernandina/Amelia Island Middle Passage marker. Pensacola, which held a remembranceceremony on November 17th, has agreed on an installation site and is in the final stages of marker planning.

Georgia – During the Darien Fall Festival, the city announced plans for a Sapelo Bay Middle Passage marker in 2020. Work will begin for a marker installation and ceremony Tybee Island in 2020. 

Louisiana – Plans continue for a Middle Passage marker installation for Algiers (New Orleans).

Maryland –In October, MPCPMP met with Chris Rowson, Executive Director, Historic Ships in Baltimore, Frederick Douglass/Isaac Myers Maritime Park and Jerome Gray, Baltimore City Historical Society, to begin discussions related to a Middle Passage marker in Baltimore.   In December, the Project will participate in a scheduled meeting with Mayor Gavin Buckley’s office to begin planning for a 2020 marker at the Annapolis City Dock.

New Jersey – All the Camden Middle Passage markers have been installed. Discussions related to Perth Amboy were renewed in September.

VirginiaWest Point is the remaining arrival port in the state with no marker.

In December, MPCPMP will launch a fund-raising campaign as our annual end-of-year request for your financial support.  We wish you peace and joy during this winter season and look forward to your on-going interest and support in 2020.

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The Tribe of the Middle Passage: A Shared History and One Drop Rule

My roots are tangled….
A blend of black, white and red,
I am labeled Creole, mulatto, mixed, colored in every sense.
Enslaved by the ‘one-drop-rule’
But liberated by the truth
That all blood is red.                        Betty Saar

In her recently published book, Lose Your Mother, Saidiya Hartman narrates her experiences and thoughts related to finding one’s ethnic roots in Africa. It is a thought-provoking work. The term “tribe of the Middle Passage” is taken from that book, and it aptly describes who we are – not Africans but a people in America of African descent who share a unique history. This is especially relevant as the nation observed last month the 400th anniversary of documented Africans’ arrival at the English colony of Virginia. It was not the place of first arrival of Africans to the North American continent, but it is probably the best known.
The Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project continues to emphasize that this arrival history of at least 500,000 African captives is documented in 52 U.S. locations – from New Hampshire to Texas. There are points of time, social and legal constructs, and history that unite those of African descent in the United States of America. Slavery is not the exclusive or sole determining factor in our lives, but it is the practice from which we must begin to heal – ourselves and the nation. When our ancestors who came from all parts of Africa were put on Middle Passage ships, their identity as specific ethnic groups began to alter. They were viewed as Africans; for those of us in the Diaspora they were from “Mother Africa.” Even though we carry in our DNA ethnic and genetic traces from the Continent, we have over the last five hundred years in America transformed from specific ethnic groups to Africans to Americans. Recognizing and acknowledging that is a first step in our healing. For most Americans, there is no other group of people – those of us with “one drop” – whose DNA most clearly substantiates what America is: African, Asian, European, Native America. We are what the people of the United States of America will eventually be. Accepting the reality of diversity can be a path to healing.
For those of us of African descent, the “one drop” interpretation has been more of a unifier than divider, although even that is not universal or constant. It is what signifies a common history that started with the Middle Passage. Even though we may appear different and even act based upon those variations in skin color, hair texture, physical features, ethnic mixture, and class, the “one drop” rule accentuates our specific American racial heritage. For centuries, that has enabled us, who were enslaved, oppressed, and deemed unequal based upon race, to support advocates, leaders, and contributors from a larger community for our benefit.
As we ring bells for healing, engage in respectful discussions, define components of reparation and reconciliation, and mark our places in this nation’s history, we can no longer view ourselves as the outsiders. We are Americans. We must act to make the nation what we want it to be – a more perfect union. Lives and power matter – let’s get to work to change for the better. Each of us has that responsibility.

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A Haunting Responsibility and Connection: A Tribute to Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison is being praised this week for her life’s work as an iconic Black American Woman author. At her passing, many have noted how the Nobel Prize winner chose to view the lives of Black people clearly beyond the “White gaze.” For those in the Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project (MPCPMP), however, she directly inspired us to address the history of captive African ancestors who died in the transatlantic crossing.

More than 30 years ago, the great author expressed to her friend Rudy Lombard, a former MPCPMP Advisory Board member, that little or nothing had been done to pay homage to those lost in the trauma of the Middle Passage. She expressed the great need for commemoration and healing to confront this violent history. In 2011, the Project was established as a non-profit organization. MPCPMP encourages communities to hold remembrance ceremonies and install historic markers to honor the lives of the estimated two million children, women, and men who perished and the ten million who survived the transatlantic trade.

Using data primarily provided by Emory University’s Voyages: The Transatlantic Slave Trade Database, 52 U.S. Middle Passage documented arrival locations for 500,000 Africans have been identified along the North American Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Although not complete, this information helps local communities incorporate the presence and contributions of Africans alongside European invasion, conquest, and the nation’s development since 1513.

After the Project formally began, Ms. Morrison sent a letter on July 28, 2011, in which she wrote:

It was a pleasure reading the proposal for your Middle Passage Project. I can see why Rudy Lombard is so impressed with it. I am as well.

Its impact, if successful, will resonate internally and re-cast conventional history with the narrative too frequently absent from it.

Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help.

In her novel, Song of Solomon, Morrison describes the character Pilate as a person born without a navel who carries a treasure – her father’s bones – in a sack wherever she goes.  Not only do we, as descendants of Middle Passage Africans, have a navel that connects us with previous generations, but we carry within our bodies the physical and spiritual evidence of our ancestral history.          

It’s in our blood.

Honor and remember.

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Newsletter: April to July 2019

Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Project (MPCPMP) 

Newsletter: April – July 2019

So much has happened since the last MPCPMP newsletter. Our focus now is tying up loose ends and organizing data, photos, and archival materials related to the Project’s eight-year history. We are projecting a completion date of 2020 or 2021 when documented U.S. Middle Passage arrival locations will have conducted at least one ancestral remembrance ceremony and installed a public marker that reflects this history.

UNESCO Slave Route Project: As of July 2019, 42 of the 52 documented U.S. Middle Passage sites are  designated “Site of Memory” associated with the UNESCO Slave Route Project. This raises awareness and strengthens the international connection. A listing of the approved sites is included in the July 24, 2019, Facebook post.

Healing Day, August 25, 2019, Point Comfort/Fort Monroe, VA: Many activities in the Hampton-Point Comfort area are planned to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Africans’ arrival in English colonial North America. Our involvement principally is to link that commemoration to all of the U.S. Middle Passage locations as shared history. National bell ringing on August 25, 2019, 3:00-3:04 pm EST is the demonstrated act acknowledging an African American historical narrative of resistance, freedom-seeking, and critical influence that extends from 1526 to the present.

We encourage you to visit our Facebook calendar to obtain information related to scheduled events at various Middle Passage locations.

MPCPMP participated in the UNESCO Slave Route Project Global Publication Launch, Legacies of Slavery: A Resource Book for Managers of Sites and Itineraries of Memory, Houston, TX, May 21, 2019;  Second Tuesday Race Forum, Denver, CO, June 11, 2019; and IGNITE NC Alumni Reunion, Whitakers, NC, July 20, 2019. We are also represented on the Advisory Board of the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission to assist with installing public history markers in five documented locations.

Camden, NJ placed a second ferry point marker of African arrival and sale on its waterfront on June 17, 2019. Middle Passage marker installations are scheduled in 2019 for – Algiers Point/New Orleans, LA; Pensacola, FL; Middletown, CT; West Point, VA; Africatown and Mobile, AL

Executive Board members and others continue to work with community members in Annapolis and Baltimore, MD; Fernandina/Amelia Island, FL; Sapelo Bay/Darien and Tybee Island, GA; Boston, MA; Biloxi, MS; Perth Amboy, NJ; Bristol and Newport, RI; Beaufort and Charleston, SC, to facilitate the process for text, placement, and installation of Middle Passage markers.

We appreciate the support that so many have provided, and we urgently request that you maintain your commitment to honor and remember ancestors. We have two publications that we are using as fund-raisers and are now available upon request:                                                                                                                          

Coming to America: Remembering and Honoring Ancestors 1526-1860 – $15.00, includes shipping            

Documented U.S. Middle Passage Locations – $25.00, includes shipping

Thank you.

Executive Board Members – Ann Chinn, Ann Cobb, William Hamilton, Jr., Edith Heard, Joseph Jenkins

Download this newsletter as a pdf here.

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Reflecting on 2019

This year, as the nation attempts to address the history and experiences of Americans of African descent, the focus has been primarily on healing and commemoration. On June 19th, there was a call for a national day of healing and drumming, a scheduled Congressional hearing on reparations, and a rally to declare Juneteenth a national holiday.  Later this summer, in August, activities are centered on marking the 400th anniversary of the arrival of captive Africans to the English colony of Virginia.

These are all necessary, yet we also must promote an acknowledgement of the shared experience of the Middle Passage throughout the Americas and all that occurred during the thousands of trans-Atlantic ocean voyages filled with terror and violence that delivered millions of people into a world of forced servitude, brutality, and exploitation.  As a nation and as human beings, we need to demand that the complete story of enslavement be included in all schools’ curricula. There would be no Juneteenth, no need for reparations, no effort to encourage healing from the trauma of bondage if enslavement and all the social, cultural, economic, and legal buttresses had not been established throughout centuries in this country to prevent the truth of this history from being known. 

We should take steps along a path that commemorates our ancestors’ ability to survive and endure. There must not be a reticence or shying away from truth. We have lived so long with historical lies and half-truths. When speaking about the Middle Passage, some people call it the Maafa, a deliberate and systematic genocide. It continues to this day. While celebrating and commemorating our ancestors and all the related events scheduled to observe this history this season and beyond, we cannot cherry pick. The complete time line, from beginning to end, has to be incorporated for context and understanding.  Beginning with the Middle Passage and slavery to the Civil War, to abolition and emancipation, to Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era, to the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Lives Matter Movement there are ongoing challenges related to people of African descent: humanity, equality, and justice.

As we drum and ring bells for healing, as we advocate for reparations and reconciliation, as we commemorate ancestors, as we celebrate and observe accomplished milestones, we also must remember that there is a beginning  – the Middle Passage – and so long after, almost five centuries, the light of truth in the tunnel at times is still so hard to see.

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Making America

Recently someone wrote that the impact of struggles, challenges, and accomplishments associated with people of African descent over centuries in this land is what has defined and made America great. This idea goes far beyond the “Canary in the Mine” concept published in a previous blog post (December 18, 2011). The attribution is far greater than simply a measure of the national status quo.

As a people deliberately and consistently eliminated from consideration as eligible for any of the nation’s ideals – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – their every effort, successful or not, to attain these rights strengthened and broadened the application for all.  Issues ranging from citizenship, equal rights, political representation, voting, shelter, education, property, health care, and education, for example, are rooted in the national history of African-descended people’s enslavement, resistance, and pursuit of freedom. Using words, ballots, arms, determination, and strategy through almost 500 years, they have led, influenced, and participated in social and political movements that are now celebrated as American accomplishments.

In 2019, many Americans will commemorate the 400th anniversary of the first recorded arrival of captive Africans in the English colony of Virginia. In addition to honoring these specific ancestors in this specific place, the Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project encourages each citizen, regardless of his or her ancestry, to remember that those ideals associated with making America unique and great are a direct result of the arrival of approximately 500,000 captive Africans on our Atlantic and Gulf Coasts from 1526 to 1860. They and their descendants spanned this continent. They contributed physically, spiritually, culturally, and intellectually to its distinct character. During this year, and especially on August 25, 2019, plan and take part in an initiative to commemorate these ancestors. We recommend a national moment of prayer and bell-ringing on that day. And more importantly, we as a nation should commit to continuing to work to make America a place of life, of liberty, and of opportunity to pursue happiness for all. 

We owe them that much.

To keep abreast of associated activities planned for the 2019 400th anniversary commemoration visit:

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