In August, Voice of America teamed up with Norfolk State University to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first Africans in North America with at a special town hall titled Africa to America: The Odyssey of Slavery. Academics, elected officials, foreign dignitaries, members of the NSU student body and VOA journalists were among the more than 300 attendees. This live televised town hall featured a panel discussion exploring the legacy of slavery and the impact it continues to have today in the U.S.
Professor Peniel E. Joseph of the University of Texas at Austin moderated the discussion and panel members included Dean Cassandra Newby-Alexander of Norfolk State University, Professor Robert Trent Vinson of the College of William & Mary, Professor Aimee Glocke of California State University, Northridge, Superintendent Terry Brown of the Fort Monroe National Monument and Professor Gloria J. Browne-Marshall of John Jay College (CUNY).
The panelists discussed the problems that still face the African-American community long after the arrival of the first slaves four centuries ago.
The theme of reparations was one that resonated among the audience and panelists. Prof. Browne-Marshall stated, “a truth and reconciliation commission is needed to first acknowledge the sins of the past…to better understand where were going,” and commented that she believed if this does not occur, there can never be any substantial healing in American society. Dean Newby-Alexander added, “Reparations doesn’t just mean give somebody money, reparations has to do with an overhaul to right a wrong. We talk about equality, but not equity.” Professor Vinson remarked that a closer look at history would provide a path forward and would provide insight in how to address disparities in “land, economics, housing education, [and] health care.”
The future of the African-American community was a major theme. Some panelists and audience members stressed the need to invest in black businesses and communities, as well as in property and education. Superintendent Brown, a veteran of the National Park Service, articulated the obligation to create “financial literacy” and talked about the “need to learn to create legacies for our communities.”
Adding to the complex discussion of slavery and its legacy, the town hall examined the complicated and at times strained relationship between African-Americans and those of the African diaspora who immigrated to the U.S. after the end of slavery. Some scholars called for the need for greater unity between these two groups and for a greater understanding of the sacrifices who came to America as slaves that paved the way for the diaspora.
The town hall concluded with questions from the audience, many of which focused on the need for all Americans to understand the impact of slavery in this country upon the ongoing struggles that continue to face the African-American community.