“Ahead of Juneteenth, Norton Introduces Georgetown Waterfront Enslaved Voyages Memorial Act”


Photo by laurabl

From the office of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton:

“Ahead of Juneteenth, on Saturday, the holiday commemorating the end of slavery two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, and a day after the House passed a bill establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today introduced a bill to authorize the establishment of a memorial on federal land in the District of Columbia to honor enslaved individuals who disembarked at the Georgetown waterfront. The commemorative work, to be established by the Georgetown African American Historic Landmark Project and Tour, would honor the enslaved individuals’ presence, celebrate their contributions to history and recognize their resilience and fortitude.

“This week, we recognize Juneteenth, which marks the arrival of the news of emancipation to enslaved African Americans in Confederate-controlled Texas–two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued–the final end of slavery in the United States,” Norton said. “Juneteenth celebrates the culmination of the long struggle for freedom from bondage in the United States. This monumental event prompts us to reflect on the past and look to the future. This bill provides for the creation of a powerful marker of truth-telling and remembrance. Let us honor the personhood of these individuals, who were repeatedly assumed to have none, so that they will never be forgotten.”

Norton’s introductory statement follows.

Statement of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton

On the Introduction of the Georgetown Waterfront Enslaved Voyages Memorial Act

June 17, 2021

Ms. Norton. Madam Speaker.

I rise to introduce the Georgetown Waterfront Enslaved Voyages Memorial Act. This bill would authorize the establishment of a memorial on federal land in the District of Columbia commemorating the enslaved individuals who disembarked at the Georgetown waterfront after forced migration to the United States by way of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The commemorative work, to be established by the Georgetown African American Historic Landmark Project and Tour, would honor the enslaved individuals’ presence, celebrate their contributions to history, recognize their resilience and fortitude and acknowledge their deeds and feats.

This week, we recognize Juneteenth (June 19), which marks the arrival of the news of emancipation to enslaved African Americans in Confederate-controlled Texas–two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued–the final end of slavery in the United States. Juneteenth celebrates the culmination of the long struggle for freedom from bondage in the United States. This monumental event prompts us to reflect on the past and look to the future.

For four centuries, enslavers packed 12.5 million captive Africans into their ships to sell as chattel in the Americas. The vestiges of this history are everywhere yet scarcely marked, including here in the District. The Georgetown waterfront had an extensive and long-neglected history of involvement in the slave trade. Due to its location at the northernmost navigable point on the Potomac River, North Potomac, as it was then known, the Georgetown waterfront was a busy commercial port that operated as a mid-Atlantic trading center of enslaved people.

The first Africans were brought as slaves through the Georgetown port in 1732. Though records are incomplete, scholars have determined that between that year and 1761, seven ships carrying an estimated 1,475 enslaved people arrived there. Those who survived the traumatic “Middle Passage” voyage were marched through tunnels that led from the C&O Canal, through the sewage system, to a slave auction block on M Street, now Georgetown’s main commercial thoroughfare.

Commodities to be sold for profit, these people were assigned no more value in America than that paid for them by enslavers. Slavery and the slave trade remained for generations an integral part of the United States. While the entire contribution of enslaved African Americans in the District and region cannot be determined, we know with certainty that white citizens and the federal government both relied heavily on enslaved labor to build the nation’s capital.

We must not hide from this history. The enslaved individuals, known and unknown, who disembarked at the Georgetown waterfront after forced migration, rest at the core of our nation’s shared history. The atrocities of the system of chattel slavery shed light on our nation’s central struggle between slavery and freedom–a freedom under which some could be owned, beaten, separated from their families, and denied any rights. This bill provides for the creation of a powerful marker of truth-telling and remembrance. Let us honor the personhood of these individuals, who were repeatedly assumed to have none, so that they will never be forgotten.

I urge my colleagues to support this bill.”

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