WASHINGTON – Angola’s President Joao Lourenço visited the country’s premiere museum of African American history on Monday, calling his exhibit on slavery and the Middle Way “deeply emotional.”
“It is history that is part of our common history,” Lourenco said through an interpreter after the private tour. “As Africans and Africans in the diaspora, we have seen the pain our ancestors suffered at the time of slavery and it was very touching and deeply emotional.”
It was Lourenco’s first visit to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and his first visit to Washington, DC as President of the Republic of Angola. In addition to the tour, Lourenco met President Joe Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Monday, attended a trade roundtable at the US Chamber of Commerce and spoke at an event organized by the International Foundation for the Protection of the Environment.
The president is also scheduled to meet House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday. Later in the week, Lourenço will address the United Nations in New York.
Angolan and US officials have been trying to improve relations between the countries since Lourenço became president in 2017. There has been a push by the African nation to get more African Americans to travel.
Just before Monday’s tour, Lourenco met in the museum lobby with members of the Tucker family, who are believed to be the descendants of the first Africans to arrive in the British colonies on a ship that sailed from Angola in 1619.
William Tucker 1624 Society President Vincent A. Tucker greeted the president at the Heritage Hall, an open space in the center of the museum.
1619: Looking for Answers:Thousands of Africans were enslaved in America. Wanda Tucker believes her relatives were the first
Lourenço invited Tuckers to come to Angola to share his story and experiences in universities and other communities. He said that there are close relations between African countries and the diaspora.
“The idea is really to keep the relationship on both sides,” Lourenco said.
Tucker welcomed the invitation. Wanda Tucker, who has conducted extensive family research, said this is an opportunity to educate people on the two continents about the connected history.
It is “a joint effort to tell a more balanced story of history,” she said.
Tucker said he appreciated Lourenço’s invitation to share the story at the universities. He said that while museums are important, history should also be taught in schools. “To change people’s lives, it has to be in the classroom, in the curriculum,” she said.
The United States’ long history with Angola began in 1619 with the landing of the White Lion, a pirate ship whose cargo was carried by enslaved Africans, at Point Comfort in Hampton, Virginia. The slaves were taken from a Portuguese slave ship, the San Juan Bautista, which had originally sailed from Luanda, the capital of Angola, in 1619, and was attacked in the Gulf of Mexico.
Angolan officials have said they hope to encourage more African Americans to visit the country. Village leaders welcome Wanda Tucker during her 2019 visit with USA Today. The visit was part of a USA Today project: 1619: The Search for the Answer.
The Central African country located along the west coast of the continent is rich in natural resources such as diamonds and oil. But the country is still trying to recover from decades of civil war that destroyed its infrastructure and economy.
During the hour-long tour on Monday, Lourenço walked quietly with his hands behind his back as Mary Elliot, the curator of the museum’s Slavery and Freedom exhibit, guided him and his wife, Ana Dias Lourenço, through parts of the museum.
The tour included an exhibition exploring the history of the skills and trade of the peoples of the African continent and the hunger of Europeans for the resources there.
“We came empty-handed, but not empty-headed,” Elliot told Lourenço and his crew of mostly Angolan officers.
Elliot took the group through an exhibit on the Middle Passage, showing a wall with the names of the ships that brought millions of enslaved Africans to America. She mentioned how European countries, including Portugal, England, and France, and generations of Americans benefited from the slave trade.
She also showed the group the image of Queen Njinga Mbandi, who was revered for fighting to free the Angolan from slavery during her mid-1600’s reign. His depiction by the French painter Achille DeVeria is the first image visitors see at the beginning of the museum’s slavery exhibit, which centers on the situation in Angola at the beginning of that part of the American story.
People of African descent “changed the landscape and were changed by the landscape,” Elliot said.
‘We have to keep telling the story’
The tour came two years after communities in the United States celebrated 1619 and 400 years after the ship’s landing from Angola. The year was marked by celebrations and events, mostly in the Hampton area. Several news organizations wrote about the historical significance. Some people, including Granthshala, traveled to Angola to trace their way to Africans enslaved by the Portuguese and other Europeans.
Carolita Jones Cope, a member of the Tucker family, said it bothered her to think about what the Angolan president might have felt about the treatment of his ancestors in America.
“It was a frustrating moment, especially knowing that our Africans (leaders) are here to see what their ancestors did,” she said.
Vincent Tucker said that it is important not to forget. “We can’t reduce it,” he said. “We have to keep telling the story, educating the community.”
Contribution: Nickel Smith