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Church bells toll to mark the 400th anniversary of the first enslaved Africans brought to land in America

Church bells toll to mark the 400th anniversary of the first enslaved Africans brought to land in America

From the Public Affairs Office:

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry invites Episcopal churches to join a nationwide bell-ringing to remember and honor those Africans first brought to the country as enslaved people 400 years ago this August.

Watch Bishop Curry’s video message here.

Commemorating 400 years of African American History and Culture: An invitation to participate in Healing Day National Bell Ringing | Episcopal Church


The bell-ringing is part of a Healing Day at Fort Monroe National Monument, commemorating the landing of the first slave ship at that site in August 1619.

“The National Park Service is commissioning, and asking, churches and people from around this country to commemorate and remember that landing and the bringing of those first enslaved Africans to this country by ringing bells. And if possible, by tolling the bells of churches and to do so on August 25 at 3:00 in the afternoon,” said Curry. “I’m inviting us as The Episcopal Church to join in this commemoration as part of our continued work of racial healing and reconciliation. At 3:00 pm we can join together with people of other Christian faiths and people of all faiths to remember those who came as enslaved, who came to a country that one day would proclaim liberty. And so we remember them and pray for a new future for us all.”

“Let’s unite as one on this day and show our appreciation for 400 years of African American history,” said Terry E. Brown, Fort Monroe National Monument superintendent. “We must embrace the West African concept of Sankofa, which teaches us we must go back to our roots in order to move forward.”

The site of the ship’s arrival is the present site of Fort Monroe National Monument in Hampton, Virginia.

“The first African people were brought to this continent in harrowing and dehumanizing circumstances. As we remember the 400th anniversary of their arrival, I pray that we will do the hard work of reconciliation that God longs for us to do,” said Susan Goff, bishop suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. “God forgive us. God give us courage and resolve. And God bless us.”

As recorded by English colonist John Rolfe, the arrival of “20 and odd” African men and women at Point Comfort in late August 1619, was a pivotal moment in the nation’s history. Stolen by English privateers from a Spanish slave ship and brought to Point Comfort on a ship called the White Lion, these natives of west central Africa are believed to have been traded for food and supplies. They were the first Africans to be brought to English North America.

“With bells tolling across America, we pause to lament the centuries of suffering and wrenching grief of slavery and racism in our land,” said Mariann Edgar Budde, bishop diocesan of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington. “The first slave trade ship to land 400 years ago planted the seed of sin that spread through the active participation and complicit passivity of nearly every American institution. As we grieve, may we dedicate ourselves to addressing systemic racism and the multi-generational impact of enslavement and discrimination faced by all of the African diaspora.”

Read more about the invitation to toll church bells at 3pm on August 25th via the Public Affairs Office.


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Jesse Snider

The ringing of bells it’s significant as a sign of contrition it doesn’t make up for the harm that was done but it’s an acknowledgement of the harm that was done and our collective responsibility for the sin of slavery a sin that we continue to perpetuate in more insidious and hidden ways by our thoughts, speech and our actions. I’m personally acquainted with a person who feels it’s his right not to live next to a black family. I know people who think they smell funny. So this act of contrition this bell ringing is simply an acknowledgement that this sin existed and we continue it perpetuate it. Significantly so in our public life where the president can refer to Nazis as “really fine people” and Hispanic persons as “rapists, murderers, drug traffickers..” a country where we have separate parents from children and lock children in cages. As a nation we still have much to be contrite for.
And I’m proud to be part of a church that isn’t afraid to acknowledge our personal and National sin

Fred Loving

Research tells me my family was in the Virginia Colony by 1619. I accept my family was a part of this. I also accept that my family was a part of what happened to Native Americans starting around the same time. Is anybody tolling any bells for them ?

Kurt Hill

I have no problem with such a commemoration. However, my understanding is that these Africans of 1619 were regarded as indentured servants and that skin color did not denote enslaved status until the 1660s.

David Murray

Indeed, and it was a case taken to the colonial govenment by a African (former indentured servant/now land owner) seeking to make his indentured African a slave for life. However, our enlighten aren’t going to be interested in any of those details. It kinda puts a twist on all that white privilege stuff.

It’s hard to say who is worse – the leftist Episcopalians or the rightist Anglicans. Each bring something nasty to the table. (It is like putting another nail in the cross.)

Kurt Hill

Hmm. I consider myself a Christian Anarchist, so I guess I’m one of those “leftist Episcopalians.” I don’t have much use, however, for “Political Correctness” or “Identity Politics” though. Historical truth is historical truth, even though it might not always match our worldview. I try to read my history in socio-temporal context…

Wayne Kamm

There is a difference between ringing a church bell and tolling a church bell. Which is it to be?

David Murray

Time shall best provide the answer. I have been away from the church for sometime. And from looking at both the state of the Episcopal and Anglican options, I am choosing neither, and instead will give my full consideration to returning the Roman Catholic faith of my birth. While knowing full well the problems there, I still feel there remains an organic wholesome in spirit that allows space in faith. None of us may escape the terrors of our age of political outrage – I feel the catholic (universal) is not to seen the this. So – in the longer tern – ‘do not ask for whom the bell tolls’ to polite, but I believe there is no real future for the creature of Henry VIII making… Too much mind for control – as the old king ended ugly and corrupt.

Kurt Hill

Yeah, sure dude. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out…

David Murray

Not to worry – comrade guy. Persons like you help the southern baptist (at least) look good. KMA -If clean enough.

Kurt Hill

Oh, c’mon David! To Southern Baptists you are a supporter of the Scarlet Whore of Babylon and are bound for hell with the rest of the papists. We Anglicans have theological disagreements with you but consider you a fellow Christian, and the Pope the Bishop of Rome…

David Murray

The Scarlet Whore of Babylon – how very Puritan! As for the either/or world-view, well enjoy. Nevertheless, an Christian Anarchist tradition has more mileage near Rome than any Scarlet Whore of Babylon talk. 🙂

Kurt Hill

Yes, many of the early Baptists were influenced greatly by Calvinism and its pessimistic world view. The Southern Baptists embody, IMO, the worst of the Baptist ethos in America. Unlike some of the early Baptist crusaders, the Southern Baptists would love to see an American state Church—them! I take it you haven’t “hung out” with many fundamentalist Evangelicals? The Scarlet Whore image is still invoked among them. (And to them, we Episcopalians have always been “Rome’s sister.” We are “church-papists” to them!

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