FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
As America Commemorates Arrival of First Africans, Afro-American Historical and Genealogy Society Condemns Racially Insensitive Comment as Jamestown Leaders Double Down
Several Afro-America Historical and Genealogy Society (AAHGS) members recently saw and heard a presentation at the Jamestown Discovery project where they were told that the first Africans to arrive in Virginia were slaves because their skin color was black and therefore “dark, dirty, and ugly.”
As stated by Ric Murphy, AAHGS National Vice President for History, I’ve had several pleasant visits at Jamestown in the past. However on May 31, I accommodated a colleague’s request to get a historical context of Jamestown, I was shocked to hear racially charged comments from a staff member of Jamestown Rediscovery. The presentation was with approximately 30 persons in attendance, including Dr. Evelyn McDowell, National President of the Sons and Daughters of the United States Passage. That staff member, a Jamestown Rediscovery Manager of Public Relations, said “they” – meaning Jamestown Rediscovery – knew that the first Africans were slaves because “their skin was black in color and black represented dark, dirty, and ugly.” In the same breath, he said that the English were not slaves because “their skin represented white purity and beauty.” The Jamestown Rediscovery Manager, in an attempt to prove his point, then gave an example of how “five African Princesses noticed how the skin of the English was white, so they wanted to become beautiful and pure and wanted to move north to become white and beautiful.” In disbelief Murphy asked the Jamestown Rediscovery Manager how he had come to this understanding, and said manager responded that what he had learned in school in Virginia, which was that the first Africans were indentured, but that he was simply sharing what he later learned – once he began working at Jamestown Rediscovery – that the first Africans “were slaves because their skin was black, dark, dirty and ugly.”
Upon hearing about this, AAHGS National President Gene Stephenson wrote to several Virginia state dignitaries, including Jamestown Rediscovery’s Board Chair Elizabeth S. Kostelny of Preservation Virginia.
Believing that Preservation Virginia and its staff would follow their Crisis Management Plan, Stephenson commented, “I thought they would reply with an innocuous letter stating that it was a misunderstanding, that they would do better in the future, and that they would take steps to work with us and others to make this a better world. Instead, I was shocked when they doubled down on the initial comment and attempted to justify it with a fictitious 1605 play, The Masque of Blackness, as purported rationale for present day highly charged and racially insensitive comments.
AAHGS respectfully requests a public apology since there were those in attendance and others who were personally offended. The immediate ceasing and desisting of such racially charged and misleading presentations, and the immediate creation and implementation of a historical accurate presentation.
The Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, Inc. is a non-profit membership organization that strives to preserve African ancestral family history, genealogy, and cultural diversity by teaching research techniques and disseminating information throughout the community. Our primary goals are to promote scholarly research, provide resources for historical and genealogical studies, create a network of persons with similar interests, and assist members in documenting their family histories.