Press Releases

Washington – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine, and Representative Bobby Scott applauded unanimous House passage of a bipartisan bill that would recognize the resilience and contributions of African Americans to the United States since 1619. Kaine and Warner introduced the Senate version and Scott the House version of the 400 Years of African American History Commission Act in February. The bill would establish a commission to plan programs and activities across the country in 2019 to highlight the arrival and influence of Africans in America.  

Today’s House-passed bill was introduced by Virginia Representative Bobby Scott, and cosponsored by Representatives Scott Rigell, Don Beyer, Gerry Connolly, Barbara Comstock, Rob Wittman, and Randy Forbes, as well as members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including Chairman G.K Butterfield and Congressman John Lewis.

The commission  would be charged with recognizing and the resilience and contribution of African Americans since 1619, as well as acknowledging the painful impact that slavery and laws that enforced racial discrimination have had on our nation’s history. Similar commissions have been established to recognize English & Hispanic heritage, including the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, Virginia and the 450th anniversary of the founding of St. Augustine, Florida. Kaine testified in support of this bill in front of the a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee this month.

“This bill is so connected to our country’s history and heritage, and we are excited that it is one step closer to final passage,” Sen. Kaine said. “Every dimension of American life, across generations, has been influenced by African Americans. We need to tell that story – in its tragedy and triumph- as we approach the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first Africans at Point Comfort, Virginia. We will continue to work to advance this bill in the Senate in the coming months.”

“I applaud my colleagues in the House for passing this bill,” said Rep. Scott.  “The history of Virginia and our nation cannot be fully understood or appreciated without knowing about the first Africans who arrived at Point Comfort, Virginia in 1619.  The commission established by this bill will be charged with the important task of planning, developing and implementing a series of programs and activities throughout 2019 that fully tells the story of African Americans, their contributions to the fabric of our nation, and their resilience over the last 400 years.”

“We cannot move forward as a country unless we recognize the injustices that occurred in our past,” said Sen. Warner. “The creation of this commission is an opportunity to institutionalize the contributions made by African Americans in our country, and a monument to their resilience in the face of adversity. It is my hope that this legislation paves the way for future efforts to honor the important role African Americans have played in our history, and highlight ways we can work together to forge a path towards a better future.”

“Understanding our 400 years of African-American history is crucial to understanding our national story: what we got right, what we got horribly wrong, and what we still have to accomplish,” said Rep. Beyer. “This bill will help us grapple with that history, and I thank my friends Bobby Scott and Tim Kaine and my other Virginia colleagues for putting it forward.”

“As a student of history, I can’t help but look to the lessons of the past when contemplating the future. In addition to being reminded of the ramifications of slavery in our nation, I can recall state constitutional provisions that led to segregation policies which extended into my childhood, when I attended segregated schools in the first and second grades. Additionally, one of my favorite teachers, my sixth grade teacher Mrs. Spurlock, had previously taught in the segregated system. I appreciate this bill’s efforts to highlight the immeasurable influence of African Americans such as Mrs. Spurlock, and am honored to support the legislation,” said Rep. Griffith.

“I am pleased the House passed this bipartisan, bicameral bill,” said Rep. Rigell. “The ‘400 Years of African-American History Commission’ will help our nation to properly reflect upon the significant contributions African-Americans have made to our country, and the struggles they have endured during our history. I encourage my colleagues in the Senate to pass this important bill and send it to the President’s desk for signature immediately.”

“I am pleased the House passed this legislation to create a commission that will tell the important story of the significant contributions made by African-Americans to our Commonwealth and the country.  We cannot tell the whole story of America without including the first African-Americans who arrived to the shores of Virginia in 1619 to Point Comfort.  I look forward to the work this commission will do in educating our entire community and hope the U.S. Senate will pass this quickly,” said Rep. Comstock.

"This bipartisan legislation honors 400 years of African American contributions here in the U.S.,” said Rep. Wittman. “The men and women who first arrived in Point Comfort, Virginia in 1619 faced adversity of every kind and at every turn, and their perseverance carried them as they shaped our national heritage. Theirs are stories that deserve to be told, and the commission that this legislation will create provides necessary tools to make sure that future generations can benefit from learning about their vigilance. I want to thank my Virginia colleagues in both the House and Senate for their hard work on this bill, and I look forward to their continued support."

“2019 will mark 400 years since the first documented arrival of Africans by way of Point Comfort, Virginia. It’s time for our nation to commemorate the contributions and resilience African Americans have made throughout history. I am pleased to have been a part of the introduction of H.R. 4539, which, when passed, will establish a commission to highlight the influence and contributions African Americans have made in our country since 1619. It will also recognize the painful impact of slavery 400 years ago, as well as the racial discrimination and oppression that continues today. I congratulate Congressmen Bobby Scott and Don Beyer on House passage of H.R. 4539. I also thank U.S. Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner for sponsoring the Senate companion, and Hilary Shelton, Director of the NAACP Washington Bureau, for supporting this Act,” said Rep. Butterfield.

The bill is supported by the National NAACP, National Urban League and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. The full text of the Senate legislation can be found here.