February 9, 2018 Kluge Center Convenes Symposium on 1619's Cultural Exchange

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Kluge Fellow Joanne Braxton (right) with chief of Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia Lynette Allston. Photo by Rebecca Ann Parker.

The John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress will convene a symposium, titled “1619 and The Making of America,” that will bring together respected scholars to explore the intricate encounters of Africans, Europeans and native people during this significant period in America’s history.

The symposium, held in collaboration with the Middle Passage Project of the College of William & Mary, the Virginia Commonwealth’s 2019 Commemoration and Norfolk State University, will take place at 2 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 23, in the Thomas Jefferson Building, room 119, located at 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C. Tickets are not required for this event, which is free and open to the public.

The Kluge Center’s David B. Larson Fellow in health and spirituality Joanne Braxton will moderate the discussion. The half-day event will also feature a display of treasures and historical items from the Library of Congress’ collections related to the early Americas.

In 1619, a Dutch ship with about 20 Africans on board entered a port at the English colony of Jamestown, Virginia. This event is known as the arrival of the first recorded Africans to English North America. Their historic arrival, however, marked the beginning of a trend in colonial America, in which the people of Africa were taken from their motherland and consigned to lifelong slavery.

During this time in Jamestown, the first elected legislative assembly in the New World – the House of Burgesses – convened in the choir of the town’s church. Laws passed during its first six-day session included prohibitions against gambling, drunkenness and idleness and a measure that made Sabbath observance mandatory.

From 1619 to 1650, during the life span of the first arriving Africans, racial discrimination emerged and chattel slavery would be codified into law. The symposium will ask questions related to the historical importance of these events in 1619. For example, who were the Africans who arrived in Virginia in 1619, where did they come from, what world did they bring with them? What emerged from Africans’ engagement with indigenous Native American populations and their spiritual and cultural life ways, and what is the enduring legacy of this encounter today?

This Kluge Center program will promote historical accessibility to the meaning of 1619 and renewed understanding of major events that began 400 years ago and shaped American history.

The speakers for the program are:

  • Joanne M. Braxton, 2015 David M. Larson Fellow in spirituality and health at the John W. Kluge Center and the director of the Middle Passage Project at the College of William & Mary. 
  • Robert Trent Vinson, Frances L. and Edwin L. Cummings professor at the College of William & Mary.  
  • Cassandra Newby-Alexander, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and director of the Joseph Jenkins Roberts Center for African Diaspora Studies at Norfolk State University and co-chair of Virginia’s 2019 Commemoration’s First Africans to English North America committee.
  • Lynette Lewis Allston, chief and tribal council chair of the Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia, one of 11 officially recognized by the Commonwealth.

The Library of Congress established the Kluge Center in 2000 through a generous endowment from John W. Kluge, an American entrepreneur and philanthropist. For more information about the center, visit loc.gov/kluge/.

The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States—and extensive materials from around the world—both on-site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at loc.gov; access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at congress.gov; and register creative works of authorship at copyright.gov.

Founded in 1995, the Middle Passage Project explores the history and memory surrounding the trans-Atlantic slave trade, its resounding effects on Africans in the Americas and its representation in literature and the humanities, art and history.

Virginia’s 2019 Commemoration, American Evolution, marks the 400th anniversary of key historical events that occurred in Virginia in 1619 that continue to influence American democracy, diversity and opportunity.


PR 18-011
ISSN 0731-3527