As President Donald Trump addresses one crowd at Jamestown Settlement, about 50 miles away, more than 100 people withstand the blazing mid-morning sun for a separate event at Lumpkin’s Slave Jail in Shockoe Bottom. While the Jamestown event is intended to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the first representative legislative assembly in America, the ceremony in Richmond, organized by the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus in boycott of Trump’s presence in Jamestown, honors another piece of American history: the first documented arrival of African slaves in Virginia.
“While we exercise our conscience to be here today instead of Jamestown, we are blamed for not being a gracious host. We are called petty and childish,” says Delegate Charniele Herring of the 46th District. “Well I’ll tell you, my brothers and sisters, I don’t feel like being gracious today. I cannot be gracious in the face of racism and xenophobia. I cannot be gracious when people who are seeking asylum are caged at our borders and sitting in unsanitary conditions.”
Other elected officials on stage include Delegate Delores McQuinn, who leads the city’s Slave Trail Commission and organized the event, along with Congressman Donald McEachin, Richmond Councilwoman Cynthia Newbille and Mayor Levar Stoney. Attorney General Mark Herring is also in attendance, sitting quietly in the audience.
Stoney, one of the first to speak, says that those who chose the Lumpkin’s event over Jamestown aren’t just “doing the right thing at the right time, but we at the right place at the right time.”
“Today, sons and daughters of enslaved Africans stand united,” he says. “Not bound by shackles, but bound by a common cause, to ensure that the hopes and dreams and desires of our ancestors come to fruition.”
Stoney goes on to say that there is “nothing more American” than raising a voice to authority and injustice.
Most speakers avoid using the president’s name, and McQuinn refers to him as the “tenant of the White House” during her speech. She has to pause and regain composure when discussing Trump’s recent tweet telling three Congresswomen of color to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
“He wasn’t just speaking to those four women of color,” she says. “He was speaking to every person of color in the United States of America.”
Monica Hutchinson, a 38-year-old who lives in Henrico with her husband and three boys, braves the heat at Lumpkin’s with one of her sons. After the ceremony, she solemnly reflects on her own connection to the history of slavery and racism in the U.S.
“Unfortunately, being black in America also means that part of my heritage and my ancestry, I will never know,” she says. “So what I can tell you about my ancestry and heritage is that every single one of us who are black in America rae brothers and sisters and we are all one. At the end of the day, my true ancestry is stolen by white supremacy in the United States.”
Hutchinson, who’s been in Richmond for about four years, left a career as a pharmacist to become an organizer for New Virginia Majority. She says she felt like putting her energy into today’s event would be better and more productive than protesting Trump, and until November, local and state politics are her priorities.
“I have got to focus on this year,” she says. “If we don’t get Virginia straight and protected, no matter who wins next year, we are screwed. We need federal, state and local to be as strong as possible.”
Hutchinson hasn’t ruled out the possibility of running for office herself — and neither has her 13-year-old son Terrell.
“I wanted to help out, and the help the United States become better,” says the middle schooler, who served as student council president when he was in fifth grade and is already thinking about a career in politics.
On Sunday, August 4, the Richmond Slave Trail Commission will launch the second installment of its year-long exhibition called Unbound 2019: Truth and Reconciliation at the Gallery at Main Street Station.