By Hannah Rose Williams
Church bells echoed over the Morristown Green on Sunday for four minutes– a minute for each century since the first slave ship came to America.
Several dozen people gathered on the Green for this national Day of Healing, to honor the first slaves who arrived at Point Comfort in Hampton, VA, now part of Fort Monroe National Monument.
“A special day to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the enslaved Africans to North America, it’s a day of reconciliation and healing,” said Thomas Ross, superintendent of the Morristown National Historical Park.
“It’s a day for us to remember a painful time, but also the contributions of the African American community over the last four centuries,” he added.
Fort Monroe invited all 419 national parks, and the public, to ring bells simultaneously on Sunday.
A Day of Healing in Morristown. Video by Lee Goldberg:
Morristown’s event occurred in front of the Civil War monument on the Green, where community members sang Amazing Grace.
State Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco (R-25th Dist.) was among officials who attended the ceremony.
“I’m honored to be at the service today,” Bucco said. “These types of services are very important. The fact that everyone is here represents that people are thinking about this issue and we want people to go out and share and spread what they learned here today.”
“I think it is very important for people to be able to freely communicate about these things amongst each other, and this service on the Green is the first step in that direction,” said Bucco, who is running for re-election.
Vern Verhoef of the Presbyterian Church described the Day of Healing as “part of my continuing education. For me, it is history 101.
“The date 1619 was not taught to me in school, I had no idea of its significance. (The year) 1619 is the beginning of North Americans’ original sin, and we need to acknowledge that, live with that, and not run or hide from that. it’s part of our history, it’s a part of my history,” Verhoef said.
T-shirts were sold with the inscription “Still Breaking Every Chain,” to represent ongoing oppression of the African American community.
“Bringing something to life is the first step in honoring the people that went through it, and using the past to make the present and future better,” said Leslie Fulmar.
“Today is an exciting day … as we remember the founders of our church, who were sons and daughters of slaves here in Morris County. We are just happy to be a part of this moment,” said Bethel AME Pastor Sidney Williams Jr.
Disclosure: The Rev. Williams is the author’s father.
Correspondent Hannah Rose Williams is a rising sophomore at the Morristown-Beard School.