H.R. 4009

Georgetown Waterfront Enslaved Voyages

STATEMENT OF MICHAEL A. CALDWELL, ACTING ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, PARK PLANNING, FACILITIES, AND LANDS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE HOUSE NATURAL RESOURCES SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, FORESTS, AND PUBLIC LANDS CONCERNING H.R. 4009, TO AUTHORIZE THE GEORGETOWN AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORIC LANDMARK PROJECT AND TOUR TO ESTABLISH A COMMEMORATIVE WORK IN THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA AND ITS ENVIRONS, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.

OCTOBER 14, 2021
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Chairman Neguse, Ranking Member Fulcher, and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to provide the Department of the Interior’s views on H.R. 4009, the Georgetown African American Historic Landmark Project and Tour to establish a commemorative work in the District of Columbia and its environs, and for other purposes. 

The Department supports this legislation with amendments. 

H.R. 4009 authorizes the Georgetown African American Historic Landmark Project and Tour to establish a commemorative work on Federal land in the District of Columbia and its environs to commemorate the enslaved individuals, whose identities may be known or unknown, who disembarked at Georgetown Waterfront after enduring the Middle Passage.  H.R. 4009 requires compliance with the Commemorative Works Act (40 U.S.C. Chapter 89) (CWA) and prohibits Federal funds from being used to establish the memorial. 

The impetus for the proposed commemorative work rises from a long and shameful chapter in history during which 12.5 million Africans were kidnapped, transported to the Americas on ships, and enslaved for labor in the Americas. Two National Park Service (NPS) studies are currently underway that include efforts to uncover documentation on the arrival, between 1732 and 1761, of seven ships carrying enslaved and traumatized people far from their homeland across the Atlantic to the port of Georgetown to be sold into slavery.  One study examining historic African American communities along the C&O Canal in Georgetown includes an investigation of the African American experience on the Georgetown waterfront.  A second study focuses on the "African American Experience Before Emancipation – An Historic Context Narrative."  Both studies will be finalized and available to the public by Spring 2022. 

The National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission (Commission) reviewed H.R. 4009 during its October 5, 2021, meeting.  The Commission’s review was conducted in accordance with the CWA, which states that Congress shall solicit the views of the Commission in considering legislation authorizing commemorative works within the District of Columbia and its environs. 

During its review, the Commission concluded that, regardless of the outcome of the NPS studies, the bill’s broader theme of addressing the suffering and trauma endured by individuals who were enslaved and brought against their will to this country rises to the level of lasting historical significance to the Nation.  The Commission agreed that the bill would be improved by a broader perspective that addressed the suffering and trauma that resulted from the trans-Atlantic voyage and ensuing servitude, rather than an exclusive focus on the smaller, specific group of people who disembarked on the Georgetown waterfront.  The Department supports the Commission’s conclusions and would be happy to work with the Subcommittee on amendments to accomplish this goal. 

Chairman Neguse, this concludes my statement.  I would be pleased to answer any questions you or other members of the Subcommittee may have.

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