America’s diversity born of three cultures 400 years ago
|Dr. Rex Ellis in his office in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, with Scholastic Kid Reporters Chanta Johnson and Aubrey Hodges in November 2006. (Photo by Suzanne Freeman)|
I recently spent a day in Jamestown, Virginia reporting on the upcoming 400th anniversary celebration of America’s first settlement. Along with Yorktown and Williamsburg, Jamestown is part of the Historic Triangle of Virginia.
Settlers first came to Jamestown from Europe in 1607. Three different groups of people who converged there helped shape what this country is today. They are American Indian, European, and African. The mix of cultures helped make America one of the most diverse societies on earth.
I learned all this from Rex Ellis, who is an expert on the African influence. Ellis is co-chair of the Jamestown 2007 African-American Advisory Council and vice president of the historic area for Colonial Williamsburg.
Listening to him was an inspiration. As we spoke, he looked me straight in the eye. Many of the things he said touched my heart.
He told us about the 20 or so slaves who first came to America in 1619, eight years after the founding of Jamestown. They were brought here from Angola, Africa, as forced labor. It took almost 300 years for African-Americans to gain their freedom.
“I don’t know too many places in the world where you can begin as my community [African-Americans] began here and arrive where I happen to find myself now,” Ellis said. “That to me is the genius of America, that no matter who you are, the potential of your being more and greater than you are is hardwired into the culture.
“African history is American history,” he said.
Everyone in my group was impressed with how deep Dr. Ellis’s feelings were on the subject of Jamestown and the history of African-Americans. He was doing his job telling people how he felt about the topic. To me, he was a true inspiration.
In this video, Dr. Rex Ellis talks to Scholastic Kid Reporters Chanta Johnson and Aubrey Hodges about Africa's influence on the Jamestown settlement.
Aubrey Hodges is a member of the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.