Four hundred years ago this week, the first enslaved Africans were brought to the British colony of Virginia.
Those roughly two dozen Africans were the start of a centuries-long tide of black people sold into bondage and brought to toil in what would become the United States.
On Sunday, Episcopal churches in metro Atlanta will commemorate the August 1619 arrival of those first Africans by tolling church bells in their memory at 3 p.m. The bell ringing is part of a national initiative to get Americans to recognize the historical importance of the arrival of the Africans. It's also to honor the role that they, and those who came after them, played in building the nation.
The National Park Service is also encouraging all 419 parks in its system to ring bells for four minutes beginning at 3 p.m. on Sunday. Each minute is meant to represent each century.
While 12 million Africans were brought to the Caribbean and South and Central America, only 389,000 of them were brought to mainland North America. The nation is still wrestling with the impact of slavery's legacy on contemporary U.S. life. The bell ringing is meant to symbolize the beginning of a healing, if not a reckoning.
In recent years, the Episcopal Church has tried to confront its role in perpetuating and profiting from slavery. In 2008, it issued an extraordinary public statement apology for its links to slavery, segregation and discrimination.
And for those who don’t live near a participating church or national park, both the Episcopal Church and the Park Service are encouraging people to find a bell and ring it wherever they are.
Participating metro Atlanta churches include:
• St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 435 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta
• St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, 3098 Saint Anne’s Lane NW, Atlanta
• Cathedral of St. Philip, 2744 Peachtree Road NW, Atlanta
• St. Bartholomew Episcopal Church, 1790 LaVista Road NE, Atlanta
• St. John’s Episcopal Church, 3480 Main St., College Park
• Church of the Good Shepherd Episcopal, 4140 Clark St. SW, Covington
• The Episcopal Church of St. Peter & St. Paul, 1795 Johnson Ferry Road, Marietta
• St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 207 N. Greenwood St., LaGrange
• St. Benedict’s Episcopal Church, 2160 Cooper Lake Road, Smyrna