In the last week of September, the Joseph Jenkins Roberts Center at Norfolk State University (NSU) held a conference called “1619: The Making of America.” That year is historically significant because it was the first year Africans were brought to the colonies and it was the year America’s first legislative body was founded.
In an admirable gesture to honor all of the cultural relations happening in the America’s in 1619, NSU hosted several Native speakers and those familiar with Native history to address many issues not often covered in today’s classrooms. During these sessions, many little known facts about African Americans, Native Americans and slavery were addressed in the years following 1619.
The Term Negro May Have Been Meant For American Indians
During the session “Native Americans at 1619” Dr. Arica Coleman, an assistant professor at the University of Delaware who is of Rappahannock and African American descent, discussed how the term negro might actually be referring to an American Indian.
According to her latest book, That the Blood Stay Pure, the term's origins can be traced to medieval Italy where it was a classification of a skin color, not race. Additionally, Europeans often referred to indigenous populations of their communities as negroes. In the Portuguese colony of Brazil, Indians were called negros da terra meaning negroes of the land.
Coleman pointed out during the conference that the early Virginia legislature identified Moors and negroes separately. There is also documentation in which individuals were described as “Negro African.” Coleman questioned why the two words would be used to describe an African person and suggested the Native meaning as a strong possibility.
1619 Might Not Be the Right Year
Dr. Coleman also asserts the year 1619 isn’t entirely correct regarding the first arrival of blacks to America. She notes “negroes” accompanied Spanish North American expeditions a century before the English arrived in Virginia.
She also cites evidence of cohabitation with aborigines in the early 17th century. She says that in 1603, seven negroes escaped from St. Augustine, maintained their freedom and married Indian women. - ICTMN.com