I can’t remember ever distinctly learning when the first Africans arrived in America. I learned about Columbus (if you can even call it that), then colonialism and the Thirteen Colonies, then the American Revolution and then the Civil War. The specific details of when and how slavery came to what would become the United States was never directly taught, or at least not at my tiny K-8 school.
Thanks to Smith’s article “Point Comfort: where slavery in America began 400 years ago,” I can now say that I know when slavery started in the Americas. Twenty captives (not willing participants) arrived on the shores of Virginia in late August of 1619. As the title of this article points out, that is (now more than) 400 years ago. That is roughly 127 years after Columbus landed in the Bahamas, about twelve years after the founding of the Thirteen Colonies, 156 years before the American Revolution and 246 years before slavery would be abolished in the United States.
In school, you learn about these major events, but you don’t learn about every group of people they affected. You don’t get the full story. It was a dark and violent world back then, and it still is today, it just presents itself differently. Smith’s article shows how understanding the beginning of this especially dark time in our history has helped people connect better with their ancestors, and has inspired people to dig deeper into the foundations our country was built on. Knowing all the details one possibly can does not justify what happened in the past, but it helps garner respect and a willingness to not let the woes of the past repeat themselves.