One of the early setbacks (1622) for the British Jamestown settlers was a fierce Indian attack that killed 400 men, women and children. And though the exhibit does mention this elsewhere, it is worth remembering what should be too obvious to require restatement -- that precolonial America was no idyll. Indian tribes were in more or less constant warfare with one another -- just like humans in the rest of the world.
Some black leaders have objected to celebrating Jamestown's founding because it led to black slavery. It is perhaps worth recalling that Captain John Smith, a figure who gets less attention at the new Jamestown observance than Powhatan rulers Wahunsonacock and Opechancanough and African Queen Njinga, was once a slave himself. Fighting in Transylvania in 1602, he was captured by the Turks and enslaved. Through scheming and murder, Smith was able to escape back to England in 1605 and departed for Virginia soon after. His firm hand permitted the tiny outpost to survive. He memorably explained to the settlers that "He who does not work will not eat." And, as every schoolchild used to know, he believed that Pocahontas saved his life when her father captured him.
Black slavery was actually still several decades in the future when Jamestown was founded. And while neither Virginia's nor America's history can be unchained from the taint of slavery, can't we be mature about this? Keith Richburg, foreign correspondent for The Washington Post, was stationed in Africa in the early 1990s. What he saw there -- rampant corruption, casual cruelty on the streets of Nairobi, civil war in Somalia and genocide in Rwanda -- made him express gratitude that his ancestors had been dragged to the New World, the horrors of slavery notwithstanding.
There is every reason to celebrate the 400th birthday of America -- for warts and all -- there never has been a better country for all its citizens.
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