The year 2019 marks 400 years since the first documented arrival of Africans in the United States. In alignment with a national agenda to recognize the significance of this anniversary, Washington University in St. Louis will host a series of three events throughout the year.
The first, “Black Struggle, Resiliency, and Hope for the Future,” takes places at 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 10, in Graham Chapel. The event will feature Wesley Bell, St. Louis County prosecutor, along with performances by the Missouri AME Conference Choir, Better Family Life’s K.Y.P.E. dance troupe and more.
The event leads off a campus commemoration trilogy titled “Blacks in America: 400 Years Plus,” organized by Jack Kirkland, associate professor at the Brown School, who consults and writes on the African-American family and social and economic development. Kirkland was an activist and strategist in the civil rights movement and has since held a number of roles as a public servant and elected official.
“The goal of the series is to explore the various aspects of the black experience from historical and current perspectives,” Kirkland said. “The ‘plus’ is a vital recognition that the 1619 documentation of some 20 or so Africans arriving off the coast of Virginia does not include the history of blacks in the Americas that dates much earlier.
“All three events will feature national speakers to garner interest and wide-spread appeal, as well as draw from local talent and leadership, for a robust and engaging program,” he said. “The purpose of the series is to acknowledge the incredible history of struggle, resiliency, and contributions of blacks, and to reflect on black identity and progress in the next century.
“The series will serve as a time and space for fellowship, celebration and inspiration,” he said.
Kirkland noted that the 400-year anniversary coincides with the fifth anniversary of the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black youth who was shot and killed by a white police officer, which launched a movement in St. Louis and around the nation.
“Following the death of Michael Brown in August 2014, the city of Ferguson drew international attention and became a symbol of racial strife and inequity in the United States,” Kirkland said. “The event catalyzed the region to get to the root of the wide-spread disparities facing St. Louis, particularly prevalent among African-Americans, and to map out a regional agenda for moving forward.
“Since then, St. Louis has served as an epicenter of the movement to advance black lives, and thus attention to the 400-year anniversary of blacks in America is most fitting for the region,” he said.
Each of the three programs in the trilogy have been scheduled to coincide with historically meaningful events:
- Sunday’s program will occur during Black History Month;
- “Civil Rights-Past and Present” is scheduled for June 2 and is aligned with Juneteenth, which commemorates the June 19, 1865, announcement of the abolition of slavery and the emancipation of African-American slaves throughout the former Confederate states; and
- “Four Hundred Years Forward: Freedom in the Next Century” is scheduled for Nov. 10, the month during which national elections are held.
All events are free and open to the public and will take place in Graham Chapel.
For more information and to RSVP, visit eventbrite.com/e/blacks-in-america-400-years-plus-tickets-54955336892. A Facebook event reminder is available at facebook.com/events/1192578780919172.