Bells will toll to honor 1st slaves

St. Luke’s to mark 1619 landing of enslaved Africans

Bells across the country will toll Sunday afternoon as the National Park Service marks the 400th anniversary of the 1619 landing of the first enslaved Africans in the English-occupied colonies.

Locally, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 806 13th St., will host a service of repentance and reconciliation to remember those enslaved and to pray for a new future for everyone. Bells at the church will join churches nationwide in tolling at 3 p.m.

“Everyone across the country is encouraged to come together in solidarity to ring bells simultaneously for four minutes — one minute for each century — and mark the occasion on social media with #RingToRemember or #400Years,” the park service said in a news release.

Jane Gable, senior warden at St. Luke’s, said the commemoration is important, especially with some of the current problems the nation is seeing with racism.

And while “there is nothing you can do about the past, you can learn from it and understand so that you can move forward with more compassion and more understanding,” she said.

Marking the occasion is even more special because St. Luke’s was part of the Underground Railroad, Gable said.

Added to that, Gable said an African-American congregation — St. Barnabas Parish — had existed in Altoona in years past. It closed in the late 1940s, she said, and many of those parishioners were folded into St. Luke’s.

“We have all the records” related to St. Barnabas and the closing of the church, she said.

And last but not least, ringing the bells on Sunday is something the congregation can be thankful for because the bell tower was struck by lightning during last week’s storms.

“Someone climbed up there (Tuesday)” to check on the bells, and they do work, she added.

Lay Pastor Kevin Barron will lead the service at St. Luke’s and the community is invited to take part.

“The whole point is that nationwide the churches are to be ringing bells at 3 p.m. to commemorate the anniversary of the first slaves being brought to Virginia,” Gable said. It’s part of the nation’s history and should be remembered, she said.

National parks will offer special programs on Sunday to commemorate the first landing of enslaved Africans 400 years ago in English-occupied North America at Virginia’s Point Comfort, now part of Fort Monroe National Monument, the park service said.

“The National Park Service protects and preserves the sites of some of the most significant events in American history,” said National Park Service Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith. “To commemorate the anniversary of the 1619 landing, we are highlighting the places and stories in the National Park system that recognize the impact and legacy of 400 years of African-American history and culture.”

While Spanish explorers had previously brought enslaved people to what became the southern and southwestern United States, it was the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in English-occupied North America that led to African-American bondage in the United States, the park service said.

The 13th Amendment ended slavery in the U.S., but the pursuit of equality and civil rights for all endures, Smith said.

“Sunday will be a day of remembrance, healing and reconciliation throughout the country,” stated the park service.

The 400th anniversary is a yearlong commemoration and conversation to recognize and highlight 400 years of African-American history and accomplishments. The work of the 400 Years of African American History Commission, established by Congress and President Donald Trump last year and administered by the National Park Service, extends to July 2020.

Civic, historical, educational, artistic, religious and other organizations are invited to coordinate and participate in activities designed to expand the collective understanding and appreciation of African-American contributions to the American experience.

Sunday also marks the 103rd anniversary of the legislation that established the National Park Service. All national parks will offer free admission for the day. The parks and programs of the National Park Service connect Americans and visitors from around the world with the nation’s notable landscapes, history and outdoor opportunities, the park service said. Each of the 419 national parks tells an important part of the collective story of America.

In addition to Sunday, the remaining entrance fee free days for 2019 are National Public Lands Day on Sept. 28 and Veterans Day on Nov. 11.