Secretary Haaland Highlights Black History Month, President Biden’s Investing in America Agenda in Virginia

Last edited 02/20/2024

Date: Tuesday, February 20, 2024

RICHMOND, Va. — Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland traveled to Virginia today to commemorate Black History Month and reinforce the Interior Department's commitment to honoring the legacy and achievements of the Black community. During the trip, she also highlighted how investments from President Biden’s Investing in America agenda are strengthening Tribal communities. The visit is part of the Biden-Harris administration’s fourth Investing in America tour to highlight the impact of the President’s agenda in communities across the country. 

In Hampton, Secretary Haaland and U.S. Representatives Bobby Scott and Jennifer McClellan toured Hampton University to hear about the rich history of the college and its role within the Black community. In 2023, as part of the National Park Service’s Historic Preservation Fund’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities program, the university received a $750,000 grant to support the preservation of historic sites like Hampton University’s Mansion House and Selma University’s Pollard Hall. 

The group toured “Enduring Legacy,” an exhibit focused on Native peoples and arts at Hampton, in the University’s Art Museum, which is the oldest African American museum in the United States. Formerly the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, Hampton was once a federally run Indian boarding school. Indigenous youth were forcibly taken, starting in 1878, from as far as Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Florida, to live there. These represented the first Indigenous students at Hampton, initiating an Indian education program that lasted until 1923. Between 1878 and 1923, approximately 1,388 Indigenous students representing 65 Indian Tribes attended the school. 

In June 2021, Secretary Haaland announced the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative, a comprehensive effort to recognize the troubled legacy of federal Indian boarding school policies with the goal of addressing their intergenerational impact and to shed light on the traumas of the past. The announcement directed the Department, under the leadership of Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland, to prepare an investigative report detailing available historical records relating to federal Indian boarding schools and to develop the first official list of sites including an extensive and first-ever inventory of federally operated schools. A profile of Hampton can be found on page 150. 

The leaders also visited Fort Monroe National Monument, known as “Freedom’s Fortress.” The national monument was designated by President Barack Obama and has a diverse history, including as the site of the first arrival of enslaved Africans in English North America in 1619; a safe haven for freedom seekers during the American Civil War; and a bastion of defense for the Chesapeake Bay through the 21st Century. 

In Richmond, Secretary Haaland and Representative McClellan toured the Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site. Maggie Lena Walker devoted her life to civil rights advancement, economic empowerment, and educational opportunities for Jim Crow-era African Americans and women. As the first Black woman to serve as a bank president, newspaper editor and fraternal leader, Walker served as an inspiration of pride and progress. Today, Walker’s home in Richmond’s Jackson Ward National Historic Landmark District is preserved by the National Park Service as a tribute to her enduring legacy of vision, courage and determination. 

They also hosted a listening session with leaders from the Chickahominy Indian Tribe, Chickahominy Indian Tribe – Eastern Division, Monacan Indian Nation, Nansemond Indian Nation, Pamunkey Indian Tribe, Rappahannock Tribe, and Upper Mattaponi Tribe to discuss pressing issues for their communities. 

Secretary Haaland highlighted how President Biden’s Investing in America agenda has made historic investments in Indigenous communities in Virginia and across the country. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is investing more than $13 billion directly to Tribal communities across the country, including critical funding to repair roads, bridges and rails, expand access to clean drinking water, and advance environmental justice. The Department received $466 million for the Bureau of Indian Affairs for infrastructure projects and climate resiliency initiatives. 

The Rappahannock Tribe received a $1.7 million America the Beautiful Challenge grant to help them acquire 964 acres of their ancestral homelands on the Rappahannock River at Fones Cliffs in Richmond County. The Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe also received $3 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to acquire and conserve 866 acres of historic tribal lands along the Tribe’s namesake river, the Mattaponi, within the Chesapeake Bay watershed. This is the Tribe’s first opportunity to acquire ancestral lands for conservation, which will allow them to pursue future activities to enhance culturally significant fish, wildlife and plants through habitat restoration.  


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