Enslaved People Who Arrived In Georgetown Could Be Honored With A Memorial Just before the Juneteenth holiday, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton introduced the bill to commemorate them.
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Enslaved People Who Arrived In Georgetown Could Be Honored With A Memorial

Potomac River, Georgetown waterfront, Washington, DC. Leeann Cafferata/Flickr / https://www.flickr.com/photos/leeanncafferata/26817589602/ hide caption

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Leeann Cafferata/Flickr / https://www.flickr.com/photos/leeanncafferata/26817589602/

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton introduced a bill Thursday that would establish a memorial on federal land in D.C. honoring the enslaved individuals who arrived at the Georgetown waterfront, a major slave trading port, in the 18th century.

Georgetown, founded decades before the District of Columbia was formed, existed at a prime location on the northern section of the Potomac River that made it a busy commercial port — as well as a stop along the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Norton's Waterfront Enslaved Voyages Memorial Act aims to commemorate that painful history.

Norton's announcement doesn't specify where exactly it would be located, but this map of federal land in D.C. shows some viable options.

She introduced the bill just before Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the day in 1865 when Union troops freed enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. (The bill making it a national holiday got Congressional approval this week and is now headed to Biden's desk to become official.)

"Juneteenth celebrates the culmination of the long struggle for freedom from bondage in the United States," Norton said in a statement. "This monumental event prompts us to reflect on the past and look to the future. This bill provides for the creation of a powerful marker of truth-telling and remembrance."

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If the bill passes, the organizers behind the Georgetown African American Historic Landmark Project would be tasked with planning and establishing the memorial. The group writes on its website about the first enslaved Africans to disembark at Georgetown's waterfront in 1732, and explains that by the 1800s, a diverse population of free and enslaved African Americans, Native Americans, and rich and poor whites comprised Georgetown's thriving community:

"The African American community became self-sustaining within the city boundaries.  There were doctors, skilled artisans, tradesmen and entrepreneurs. There were churches built to serve as spiritual, social and educational support systems. There were the enslaved tending to the needs of the enslaver, providing the free labor without recognition or pay, which enabled them to prosper and become wealthy ... The project corrects and adds to the accuracy of Georgetown's historical records and commemorates African Americans' presence in an attempt to learn from their collective experiences."

In Norton's statement introducing the bill to the House, she says that by 1761, an estimated 1,475 enslaved people had been brought to Georgetown's port. Those who survived the horrific conditions of the Middle Passage were marched from the C&O Canal through tunnels to an auction block on M Street, where they were sold.

"We must not hide from this history. The enslaved individuals, known and unknown, who disembarked at the Georgetown waterfront after forced migration, rest at the core of our nation's shared history," Norton said. "Let us honor the personhood of these individuals, who were repeatedly assumed to have none, so that they will never be forgotten."

This story is from DCist.com, the local news website of WAMU.

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