RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Richmond City leaders declared Oct. 1 the day for commemorating the “African Holocaust."
The commemoration is a day for reflection and healing, in recognition of 400 years since the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, which began in 1619.
The ceremony was held at the 17th Street market square in downtown Richmond.
Mayor Levar Stony was joined by city leaders and dozens of residents who gathered at the center of the market square, which was the site of an slave auctioning block.
“This day of remembrance urges us to be intentional in honoring those enslaved Africans who toiled, suffered, struggled and persevered throughout this painful history and in publicly telling the truth and complete narrative of history, so that we may learn acknowledge and do better,” said Mayor Stoney.
The public convocation was celebrated with song and dance provided by the Ezibu Muntu dance company in Richmond.
“There would be no America without 400 years of free labor,” said Tanya Dennis.
Dennis is the founder of Ezibu Muntu and helped to organize the ceremony. She says the event was not just as a reminder of the 400th commemoration of slavery, but to remember those who were sold right here in Richmond.
“We can’t move forward unless we recognize our past,” said Dennis. “You see these buildings around here.. these were pubs, these were hotels, they had their whores, they had their cigars, they had their drinks and revelry and they had their slaves.”
City leaders say they owe it to the millions of slaves whose lives were erased to speak their history for the benefit of the next generation.
“We have an obligation to make sure that this history is told,” said Virginia State Representative Delores McQuinn.
The 70th District delegate spoke during the event urging those in attendance to get in touch with the history of slavery in the city in order grasp its significance and find new ways to honor and redeem the sacrifices of African slaves.
“The issue of reparations must be discussed. I’m not sure what that looks like, but it must be discussed,” said McQuinn. “We are making people who were considered nobodies, we are making them and their lives worthy and relevant.”
The commemoration concluded with a candle light vigil where participants could pay a tribute to the millions of nameless lives lost to slavery.
“We continue to tell their story by the work that we are doing now,” said McQuinn.
There is no official marker to commemorate the 17th Street market square as the site of a slave auction block, but organizers say they are working to have one put in place in the future.
“While we’re giving recognition to ancestors in the past, we have to recognize their descendants and what we can do for their future," said Dennis.
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