On January 1, 2019, Virginia governor, Ralph S. Northam released a proclamation declaring 2019 to be the Year of Reconciliation and Civility in Virginia. 2019 marks the 400th anniversary of the first African slaves being brought to the United States in Jamestown, Virginia in 1619.
Northam says he will promote reconciliation “by raising awareness and taking steps to promote a more equal, just, and civil society in America.”
Northam explains in his proclamation that it is rather significant for reconciliation to begin in Virginia. Virginia is not only the origin of Atlantic slavery in the United States, but it is also the epicenter of the slave trade, the home of Confederacy, and more recently the site of violent and racist protests held by white supremacists in 2017 in Charlottesville.
It’s time for Virginia to pay its dues and right its wrongs. But there have been many proclamations and acts towards reconciliation and protection for Black people and their civil liberties, most of which that don’t ever come to fruition. They are instead followed by a painful reality of continued discrimination.
While Northam’s claims for reconciliation are warranted, is he the right person to champion this motion for healing? Shortly after the proclamation, a racist photograph was discovered in Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook. He is depicted as either a Klansman or in Blackface, but the governor has yet to identify which nor confirm his involvement.
The governor has since apologized but that did not stop the responsive outcry demanding that he step down.
The Washington Post reports that Northam will continue on a “reconciliation tour” and focus on discussions of race amidst the calls for his resignation.
Black History Month just wrapped up and the third month of 2019 begins, but the clock for reconciliation keeps ticking. Will this be another empty proclamation? Can we ever reconcile 400 years of false starts and broken promises in less than 365 days?