Sometimes, it’s the simple but positive gestures that leave a lasting mark.
A ceremony at the edge of the Potomac River at Georgetown Waterfront Park’s Meditation Labyrinth at 33rd and Water Streets NW marked the 1619 landing of enslaved Africans in colonial Virginia. It also marked the 1732 arrival of the first slaves — 65 — in what become Georgetown, Maryland, later part of Washington, D.C.
Presented by the National Park Service, the Georgetown African American Landmark Project and the District government, the Aug. 25 gathering involved the ringing of bells, the pouring of libations, the retelling of slavery’s history, praying, singing and the laying of a wreath that read: “Remember, Heal and Reconcile. 400th Year Commemoration 2019.”
Rock Creek Park Superintendent Julia Washburn of the National Park Service welcomed the crowd of more than 100 under the brightest of Sunday summer afternoons for the solemn occasion — as walkers, bikers and boaters went about their leisurely comings and goings around them.
To begin, the drum roll and pouring of libations for the ancestors were coordinated by Joseph Ngwa of KanKouran West African Drum Company. He spoke movingly of Mother Earth, the healing power of love and “respect for the feminine.”
Andrena Crockett of the Georgetown African American Landmark Project described how slaves were marched from the docks up to what would become M Street and the market house, which most recently housed the grocery store Dean & DeLuca. Meg Hardon of Georgetown Waterfront Park said the story of slavery’s arrival in Virginia — a once neglected part of American history — needed to be told and how she was always learning more about Georgetown past and present. D.C. Shadow Sen. Michael Brown stressed the importance of protecting and expanding democracy, as well as the rights once denied to African Americans.
A musical interlude was provided by Megan Barnes of Howard University, who belted out “Precious Lord,” a song in the gospel tradition of black America. Lamin Saidykkhan of the Embassy of Gambia recounted the hardships and heartbreak of slavery, but stressed the freedoms gained and how Africans, too, are “part of the American melting pot.” Miss Africa USA Gboae Flumo emphasized the power of the spoken word.
Soon enough, 3 p.m. was at hand: time for the ringing of the bells in the ceremony on the river bank — and around America. Small bells were rung, as the Rev. Thomas Bowen, director of religious affairs in the Office of the Mayor, asked all to meditate upon this gesture according “to your own traditions.”
Then, Secretary of the District of Columbia Kimberly Bassett and Frank Young of the National Park Service carried the commemorative wreath to the park’s railing against the river, at the spot where enslaved Africans disembarked 287 years ago.