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1619: 400 Years of History: Introduction

This guide begins with the date in 1619 that brought a ship carrying enslaved Africans to Point Comfort, near present-day Jamestown, Virginia, and continues through 400 years of African American history.

1619: 400 Years of History

In August of 1619 a ship carrying a group of enslaved Africans landed in Point Comfort, which is present-day Hampton, Virginia. This ship and another that landed several days later carried 50-60 captive Africans, several of whom were purchased by the colony. Thus began what some historians trace as the genesis of American slavery.

This date can be controversial. Not all historians agree that 1619 marks the beginning of American slavery, noting historical records that suggest Africans had been present on the continent before this date, and that the transatlantic slave trade as an institution long predates this year. In fact, since 1501 European powers--most notably Portugal and Spain in the early years--had been enslaving Africans and transporting them to the Americas. This practice lasted more than three centuries, resulting in millions of people being forced into the brutality of slavery systems.

Regardless of the particular details, 1619 provides a concrete marker from which to examine the long history of African Americans in the colonies and the country, ranging from enslavement and resistance to emancipation and triumph. Many cultural institutions in the US have chosen to highlight various aspects of African American history and contemporary scholarship, social issues, life, and artistic production. This guide highlights exhibitions, podcasts, video productions, primary sources, books, and more. Some of these resources relate directly to the events of 1619 while others treat the last 400 years of history more broadly. None of the attempts to mark this historical moment claim to be exhaustive, and like these other resources this guide merely brings together pieces of the long thread of history that builds upon, departs, and recombines to create a richer understanding and engagement with the past.