Christine Hughes: on Vermont First African Landing Day Proclamation Anniversary

Vermont First African Landing Day

Christine Hughes,
Director, Richard Kemp Center

“This is our national truth: America would not be America without the wealth from Black labor, without Black striving, Black ingenuity, Black resistance.” 

― Nikole Hannah-Jones, The 1619 Project: Born on the Water

There are many well known events in the summer and throughout the year that we as Americans look forward to celebrating. Most of them have historical roots that quite often are lost on us. Instead, Vermont has taken the unique approach of unearthing something that was previously lost. The fourth Saturday of August has been proclaimed Vermont First African Landing Day.  Inspired by the passage of the 400 Years of African American History Commission (H.R. 1242) and the 1619 Project the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance initiated this Commemoration three years ago today,  August 24th 2019.

Vermont First African Landing Day marks the historical beginnings of African Americans in what would become the United States. Vermont First African Landing Day reminds us of the day that ‘20 and odd’ enslaved Africans who had been stolen from a Portuguese slave ship placed their feet on the the ground in what was then Port Comfort, Virginia.  They were immediately traded for supplies.  Shortly before this, Virginia held its first meeting of their general assembly. This historical event is considered to be the beginning of the system of government we proudly call democracy. While many historians are quick to point out the prior existence of Spanish slavery and forms of indentured servitude in the world, 1619 marks the early English-colonial beginnings of the massive institution of slavery in what would become the United States.

This nation can not un-know the unearthed history and contributions of American Descendants of Slavery in the development of all facets of life in the United States. We can however now hope to build a better future as we embrace and fully understand our past. The worldwide racial reckoning in response to the televised police murder of George Floyd served as one of the components that sparked a desire for a deeper understanding of who we are as a nation. Consistent with our history as a nation, that step forward sparked massive white backlash of hate through white christian nationalism, replacement theories, “culture wars”, politically fueled racial gaslighting and a January 6th failed insurrection.

The 2022 theme of Vermont First African Landing Day is “We’ve Come this far by Faith”. Through hundreds of years of slavery, breeding plantations, an economy fed by stolen land and forced, free labor, emancipation proclamation, exception clauses in federal and state constitutions, segregation, Jim crow era, the criminalization of blackness and poverty, to August 24, 2022, our faith has carried us through. In keeping with the spirit of this theme, many local and nationally known Gospel artists will be part of this year’s planned activities that include; food, music, history exhibits, wellness activities, spoken word presentations, and youth activities.  The 1619 Traveling Exhibit will be on display and remain in the Richard Kemp Center thereafter through mid-September.

The Vermont Racial Justice Alliance has given us something tangible with which to do the work. The 4th Annual First African Landing Day on August 27th at the Intervale Center in Burlington is at the heart of this work. All that is left is for folks to have the courage and commitment to show up, embrace this opportunity and be a part of the messy work of addressing the legacy of slavery – eradicating systemic racism. This means coming together, standing with and acknowledging the contribution, resilience and power of Black folks in Vermont and commemorating with us in the spirit of the fact that we have come this far by faith.

Blessings to all on this anniversary of Governor Phil Scott’s signing of The Proclamation of First African Landing Day in Vermont.

Sign up to attend First African Landing Day here and find out how you can help here.


Christine Hughes has resided in Burlington, Vermont for the past nearly 50 years. She established a statewide model Workforce Development program serving people returning from VT Prisons for 12 years a statewide model Workforce Development program in Burlington and now serves as the Director of the Richard Kemp Center, named in honor of her late father.

About the Richard Kemp Center

The Richard Kemp Center expands programs and services that support Black Vermonters’ wellness, preserve their culture, support their youth and advance racial equity and justice.


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