election anxiety countdown

75 Days: Comfort

On or about August 20, 1619, Africans — kidnapped from their homelands and brought to British North America — were brought by force to Point Comfort, part of today’s Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia… The Point Comfort name derived from the first English settlers finding “comfort” on this point of land in 1607. But in 1619, the “20 and odd” Africans were inhumanely traded like chattel by the captain of the ship The White Lion to Virginia’s colonial Governor George Yeardley and merchant Abraham Peirsey, and dispersed to several other locations.

Zinn Education Project

Point Comfort is a scarce three hours from my apartment by car. I’ve not been there. I first heard its name last year when The 1619 Project debuted. But it didn’t register as a concrete place. I was more fixated on the 400-year time span. This website’s name — Future Cartographic — began as a project looking 200 years in to the future. Events 200 years (and 300, and 400 years) in our past continue to shape our neighborhoods and lives today, so why not use the distant future to ask whether what we’re doing today is putting our great-grandchildren on a track we want for them?

This is one of the points of The 1619 Project, that many of the social and economic issues we are dealing with today — from the structure of police departments to the sorry state of health care access in the U.S. and the segregation of schools and cities — are direct outgrowths from the legal and social constructs invented to sustain slavery.

A few weeks ago, the August 20th date popped out for me as I researched and drafted some writing on culture and racial justice for one of my clients. A date is concrete. A date ties memory to season. August in coastal Virginia. I can picture it, feel it. I know what unrelenting warm August air in this region feels like (my air conditioner has been broken since mid-June). And I can imagine the smell of salt air. Friends in my writers’ group have logged in to Zoom this summer from beach towns both north and south of Comfort Point. Their hair flutters in the sea breeze. A few shimmering pixels of the same ocean crossed by slave ships over their shoulders.

There was nothing familiar or comforting at Comfort Point for the “twenty and odd” Africans who were sold to the remote outpost of Virginia. They had been kidnapped from the thriving kingdom of Ndongo in West Central Africa, (present day Angola). Their Portuguese captors’ ship was raided by an English vessel who seized them and at Comfort Point traded them for supplies.

Virginia had only that year formed a legislative body. The laws governing slavery were yet to be written. How might this continent’s history have been different if a single voice in that body had spoken up? “Hey guys, I feel kind of uncomfortable with this whole indefinite lifetime servitude thing that we’re starting to see over at Comfort Point. Can we put the brakes on that?”

Who would we be in 2020?

What should we be speaking out about in 2020 for the benefit of the people of 2220 and 2420?

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