WASHINGTON – Angolan President Joao Loreno visited the nation’s premier museum of African American history on Monday, calling the exhibition on slavery and the Middle Ages “deeply emotional.”
“This is history that is part of our general history,” Lureno said through an interpreter after a personal visit. “As Africans and Africans among the expatriates, we saw that our ancestors spent time in slavery and it was very touching and deeply emotional.”
Lorenio’s first visit to the Smithsonian 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 visit, Lorenno met Monday with President Joe Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, attended a business roundtable meeting at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and spoke at an event hosted by the International Foundation for the Conservation of the Environment.
The president is also scheduled to meet with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday. Over the weekend, Lureno will address the United Nations in New York.
Angolan and U.S. officials have been working to improve relations between the two countries since Lorenio became president in 2011.
Just before Monday’s visit, Lureno met with members of Tucker’s family in the museum’s lobby, who are believed to be descendants of the first Africans who arrived in the British colony on a ship that left Angola in 1619.
William Tucker Vincent A., president of the 1624 Society.
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Lorenio invited the Tuckers to visit Angola to share stories and experiences from the university and other communities. He said there is close contact between African countries and African expatriates.
“The idea is to actually maintain a relationship with both parties,” Lurenio said.
The Tuckers welcome the invitation. Wanda Tucker, who has done extensive family research, says it is an opportunity to educate people on both continents about connected history.
“There’s a collective effort to tell more … balanced narratives of history,” he said.
Tucker said he appreciated Lorenzo’s invitation to share the story at universities. Although museums are important, that history should also be taught in schools, he said. “If you want to change people’s lives, they have to be in the classroom, in the curriculum,” he said.
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The long history of the United States began with Angola in 1919 when the White Lion, a cargo ship enslaved by Africans, was taken from the Portuguese slave ship, the Sun, at Port Comfort, Hampton. Juan Batista, who originally sailed from Luanda, the capital of Angola, in mid-1919 and invaded the Gulf of Mexico.
Angolan officials say they hope to encourage more African Americans to visit the country. Vanda Tucker was welcomed by village leaders during his visit to USA Today in 2001. This trip was part of USA TODAY’s project: 1919 :: Finding Answers.
Located on the west coast of the continent, Central African countries are rich in natural resources such as diamonds and oil. But the country is still struggling to recover from decades of civil war that has destroyed much of its infrastructure and economy.
During the hour-long tour on Monday, Lorenio walks silently with his hands behind his back as Mary Elliott, the curator of the museum’s exhibition of slavery and freedom, instructing him and his wife, Anna Dias Lorenno, through some parts of the museum.
The visit included an exhibition exploring the skills and business of the people of the African continent and the history of the Europeans’ hunger for wealth there.
“We came empty-handed, but not empty-headed,” Elliott told Lorenio and most of his Angolan officials.
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Elliott led the group through an exhibition in the Middle Passage, showing a wall named after the ship that brought millions of enslaved Africans to America. He mentioned how nations, including Portugal, England and France, and generations of Americans benefited from the slave trade.
He also showed a picture of Queen Nzinga Mbandi, revered for fighting to free Angolans from slavery in the mid-1990s. The French painter Achilles Deveria’s painting is the first painting that viewers have seen at the beginning of the museum’s slavery exhibition, centering on Angola’s location at the beginning of that part of the American story.
People of African descent have “changed the landscape and been changed by the landscape,” Elliott said.
‘We must continue to tell stories’
The visit comes two years after the community in the United States commemorated 1619 and 400 years after the ship landed from Angola. The year was marked by formalities and events, mostly in the Hampton area. Many news organizations have written about the historical significance. Several people, including USA Today, traveled to Angola to find their way to the enslaved Africans of the Portuguese and other Europeans.
Carolita Jones Cope, a member of Takar’s family, said she was disturbed by what the Angolan president must have felt about his treatment of his ancestors in the United States.
“It was a frustrating moment, especially knowing that our African ancestors are now observing what their ancestors were going through,” he said.
Vincent Tucker said forgetting is not important. “We can’t ignore it,” he said. “We need to continue telling stories, educating the community.”
Contributed by: Nickel Smith