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Hampton history shouldn't be forgotten
David Squires Urban Affairs
10:00 p.m. EDT, June 8, 2011
As my wife was driving me to the airport recently, my 14-year-old daughter let loose with her latest travel suggestion. "We should plan a trip to the Holocaust Museum," she said.
"OK," I said. "But first we have to plan a trip to Washington, D.C. "
She cut me off. "I'm talking about the one in Germany."
Right there, travel suggestion becomes grandiose idea.
One of my strengths — as an empty-pockets father of two — is that I don't over-react. I try to snatch inspiration when faced with desperation. It's an African-American tradition.
So it makes me proud that my daughter has an understanding of Jewish history and why it is important that we, as a family, should make the visit.
It also again verifies the great job that Jewish people have done in reminding the world that what happened to them should "Never Again" happen to any group of people. I also remember from my history lessons that many Jewish people have been the most loyal partners and mentors for African-Americans in our struggles for equal rights.
But, for the most part, African-Americans have failed to follow the blueprint for one of the most fundamental lessons from Jewish people: Never forget who you are. Never forget your history.
But that is changing in Hampton, one of the most historic locales in the New World. You would hardly know this unless you have read it in the right book or attended a lecture by a visiting professor.
You might know if you were tuned in to one or more of the vocal local groups trying to keep Hampton's history and heritage on the front pages. These groups include Project 1619, the Contraband Historical Society and Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park.
The timing could not be better. Take that Hampton is 400 years old, the Civil War anniversary is at 150 years, and the first African child, Samuel Tucker, was born in 1623 in Hampton, where he is buried, and you have the makings of a thriving tourist attraction right here.
Did I mention that the federal government is soon handing control of Fort Monroe to local leaders in Virginia, and some of the plans for it include a national park? In all discussions, plans include museums that would highlight and bring new light on the role that African-Americans played in Fort Monroe and Hampton's history.
Hampton Mayor Molly Ward, who sits on the board that will decide the future of Fort Monroe, is also part of the effort to get the city its due recognition. In fact, Ward and the Hampton leadership have asked President Barack Obama to declare Fort Monroe a National Monument.
When they do finally tell the Hampton story, let's make sure they tell the story correctly.
A big piece of Fort Monroe's history is the role three African-Americans played in the Freedom's Fortress story — how their choosing to exercise their own freedoms, and not just some general's goodwill — led to the eventual settlement of some 900,000 African-Americans seeking refuge during the Civil War era.
Calvin Pearson, of Project 1619, says the various groups who care about Hampton's history are working together, and luck has been on their side. For instance, an ESPN documentary about Allen Iverson last year was one of the first mentions nationally that the first African-Americans landed in Hampton.
"I've been trying to get that word out for 20 years," Pearson said. "I think everything is coming together in perfect harmony. All of the groups are working together to support each other's causes. We all have the same goal, and we understand that."
Pearson said efforts are underway to construct a monument in 2019 to celebrate the arrival of the first Africans in Hampton.
But closer on the calendar, on July 9, the city of Hampton is capping off its 400th anniversary observances by dedicating a 21-foot statue of an African, an Indian and a settler – the three founding groups in Hampton – at Carousel Park. Hampton is also trying to take possession of the National Slavery Museum, a near defunct project that had been planned for Fredericksburg.
All this is inspiring me to get started on making plans for a family trip to the Holocaust museum in Washington, D.C., maybe even this summer. And one day, God willing and if we are able, our family might even travel to Germany and visit a former concentration camp.
But it would be real good to one day take a short Sunday drive and visit a world-class national park or national monument right in Hampton.
David Squires can be reached at 247-4639, by e-mail at email@example.com
Continue the discussion with Squires online at dailypress.com/urbanblog