Hidden History

How reflecting on the history of Fort Monroe can help our country move forward

HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) -- 10 On Your Side is continuing to honor Black History Month through our Hidden History Special.

Last week, we told you about Fort Monroe and the 400th commemoration of the first Africans brought to Virginia.

The ship the White Lion brought around 20 Africans from Angola to Point Comfort in 1619, according to historians at the fort.

Point Comfort is where the fort would be eventually built.

"If you're going to mention the Statue of Liberty or the Grand Canyon, you should mention Fort Monroe," said park superintendent Terry Brown.

More Hidden History

Brown says there is a lot more to the history of the land where the fort stands, such as the start of slavery, the beginning to the end of slavery, and the creation of the national park by the first African American president in United States history.

"I like to refer to Fort Monroe as America. All these narratives running in and out of this space but we also have complications and controversies as well," Brown said. 

The fort was built with the help of  slaves in the early 19th century and would eventually go on to serve as a refugee for hundreds of slaves during the Civil War.

But, it's the first introduction of Africans, brought here against their will, that can help us understand how our country got to the place it's at today.

"There's no great time in history to wake up and pay attention to what happened 400 years ago," Brown said. 

Robin Reed, who is the director of Fort Monroe's Casemate museum, says they continually try to tell these stories to visitors.

"We're still debating some of the issues that were debated in the Civil War and it's now 2019. We need to remind people of these origins. If not, it will get lost," he said.

Reed believes that learning about Point Comfort/Fort Monroe's many stories lines can help the racial wounds our country still struggles with.

"As we sit here in this world of polarization, the telling of these stories become more and more important. Until we start to understand one another and walk a mile in someone else's shoes, we can't understand how your heritage impacts you on a day to day basis," he said.

While Fort Monroe continues to get ready to commemorate 400 years since the arrival later this summer, those there say we can get ready too by taking a look within to see what we can do to make sure that parts of this history doesn't happen again.

"James Baldwin once said 'If I love you, I have to make you conscious of things you don't see.' That quote is so relevant here. I love my nation. This is a great country, but if we don't talk about these difficult topics, we're going to be repeating them," Brown said. 


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