Pelosi Remarks at Congressional Ceremony to Commemorate the 400th Anniversary of the First-Recorded Forced Arrival of Enslaved African People
Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi joined the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) at a congressional ceremony in observance of the 400th anniversary of the first-recorded forced arrival of enslaved African people in Jamestown, VA and to mark the “Year of Return.” Below are the Speaker’s remarks:
Speaker Pelosi. Good morning, everyone! And a good morning it is. Thanks to the Congressional Black Caucus, Chairwoman Karen Bass, our colleague, Congresswoman Watson Coleman. Where are you? Right in front. Thank you, Bonnie for your leadership in making this wonderful occasion possible for all of us.
We thank the Congressional Black Caucus, the conscience of the Congress, for bringing together leaders of the Congress and the country for this solemn observance of 400 years since the first recorded arrival of enslaved Africans to America. It’s my honor to be here with leadership, Senator Thune, Leader McCarthy, Leader Schumer and with Annette Gordon-Reed, Alfre Woodard, Dr. Johnnetta Cole: this is really a special occasion for us to have you in the Capitol.
On this day, we reflect on the horrors that denied the humanity of so many millions of God’s children and we welcome the unquestionable, unquenchable spirit of dignity, resilience and strength of a people whose freedom heralded ‘a new birth of freedom’ for our entire nation.
Here in Emancipation Hall, named in honor of the enslaved people who built this temple of democracy, we have gathered over the years to mark the triumphs and tragedies in the journey toward freedom, seeking to finally, finally tell the full story, the unvarnished truth.
In these halls, we’ve dedicated the statues of Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass, right over there, who have finally taken their rightful place in the U.S. Capitol and in our history books.
In these halls, we have a stone marker, please visit if you haven’t already. Many of you were here when it was dedicated as an enduring tribute to the masons, carpenters, painters and other enslaved people who built the U.S. Capitol, giving the world this beacon of hope. Imagine.
And not here, but in Statuary Hall, there’s Rosa Parks. And I’m proud to say many of us here were instrumental in getting that statue into the Capitol of the United States and now it is one of the most visited statues in the Congress, of the Capitol of the United States.
They’ll rub the statue, as she wanted, and she gave us instruction, she is seated. Right, Steny? She is seated.
And in these halls, we joined in prayer on the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the 13th Amendment, when our nation broke the shackles that debased the American dream of justice and equality.
As our Majority – Democratic Leader in the Senate indicated, our founding documents left much to be desired, in terms of freedom. But thank God they were amendable, and we celebrated the 13th Amendment. 150th anniversary.
The commemoration of the 400 years since the first of arrival of enslaved Africans to America is one of the most solemn steps in this journey of national remembrance and reflection. This is an important day. This is an important day.
The beginning of the slave trade is a part of American history. How humbling it was to travel with the Congressional Black Caucus to Ghana for the Year of Return to see that history, firsthand. How humbling it was to be there with the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, whose idea it was to make this pilgrimage there, under her leadership.
To be there with Congresswoman Barbara Lee, a Member of the House Democratic Leadership, to be there with John Lewis. Can you just imagine? I wish you could have heard the response – his mention of his name received in the Parliament of Ghana. John Lewis, what an honor it was to travel with you.
And Mr. Clyburn, the highest-ranking African American in the history of the House of Representatives. Unfortunately, a family illness prevents him from being with us today, but he has been so much a part of our remembering the unvarnished truth.
Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but when we were in Ghana, my colleagues will attest – and we had large number of Members of the Congressional Black Caucus – and I say this for the Howard University choral group, who sang so beautifully, he wants to make – I hope it is okay with him that I say this – he wants to make the Black National Anthem America’s national hymn. America’s national hymn.
He may have had a more formal announcement, but – so, don’t tell anybody I told you that.
That’s just between us here today.
We saw the tragic sites where men committed inhumanity against his fellow person – man. We saw where kidnappings were perpetuated, where human dignity was denied and where the hope was lost, as so many caught their last glimpse of home before being sentenced to a life of slavery.
Imagine it all. And, right above the horrible places where they kept people in inhumane conditions was a church, was a chapel. Imagine that they could go to the chapel and not see the inconsistency of their treatment of all of God’s children. That they could go to chapel and not understand the spark of divinity existed in every person that was in those dungeons, and how they treated them before they put them through the Door of No Return.
Solemnly, we walked through the Door of No Return, now called the Door of Return – The Door of Return – as we re-entered with a renewed sense of purpose to confront injustice and oppression. It was a very special honor to see the emotion of our colleagues going through that Door of Return, the Door of Return.
I said as I was addressing the Ghanaian Parliament: ‘Being here has been a transformative experience for all of us. Our souls have been touched, [by what] we saw here, transforming how we go forward.’
If we are going to go forward to improve the future, we must acknowledge the past, we must tell the unvarnished truth, as I said earlier and as is in the beautiful hand-outs that we have.
So much more work needs to be done, but I know one thing that we could do and I know that Mr. Hoyer is prepared to put it on the Floor whenever it is ready – is to pass the Voting Rights Act, as soon as we can.
So that we can, shall we say, take advantage of all the beautiful words that are being said, whether it is about Selma or about our history and how we have to go forward and do this, as we have done before, in a bipartisan way.
Here in America, we rededicate ourselves as a nation and as a people, to our ongoing pursuit of a more perfect union, with liberty and justice, justice, justice for all.
And we pray for mercy, Mr. Cleaver, for guidance and courage, as we seek to right the injustices of the past and forge a more hopeful future for us all.
And was so beautifully sung by the Howard University singers, as they sang, we take our lead from them, ‘Facing the rising sun of our new day begun, let us march on till victory is done.’
Thank you very much.