HAMPTON, Va. (October 31, 2019) –Governor Ralph Northam recently signed Executive Order Thirty-Nine, appointing Hampton University staff to serve on the newly established Commission on African American History. The Commission will review Virginia’s history standards, and the instructional practices, content and resources currently used to teach African American history in the Commonwealth. The Commission follows the 400-year anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans to English-occupied North America at Point Comfort in 1619.
“It is a great honor for Dr. Vanessa Thaxton-Ward and Mr. Robert Watson to be selected as part of this new Commission on African American History Education. It could not have gone to two better individuals. Mr. Watson is our resident expert on African American history and Dr. Thaxton-Ward is the director of the Hampton University Museum, the oldest African American museum in the United States. We know that they will bring a wealth of knowledge to this Commission and represent our ‘Home by the Sea’ with dignity and grace,” said Hampton University President, Dr. William R. Harvey.
“The full history of Virginia is complex, contradictory, and often untold—and we must do a better job of making sure that every Virginia graduate enters adult life with an accurate and thorough understanding of our past, and the pivotal role that African Americans have played in building and perfecting our Commonwealth,” said Governor Northam.The two Hampton members to join the Commission are Dr. Vanessa D. Thaxton-Ward, Director of the Hampton University Museum, and Robert C. Watson, Assistant Professor of History for Hampton University.
"I am very pleased to be appointed as a member of the Commission on African American History. I plan to use my knowledge and experience to help our educational institutions create a more holistic interpretation of Virginia's history as well as American history," said Watson.
“It is an honor to be asked to represent Hampton University on this Commission with my colleagues. As a product of Virginia schools, having children who have matriculated through the system and little nephews going through now, I notice progress but there is still more work to be done to inform and shape the correct narrative,” said Dr. Thaxton-Ward.
The Executive Order tasked the Commission with issuing a report by July 1, 2020, with recommendations for improving the student experience considering technical edits for enriched standards relating to African American history, broader considerations for the full history and much more. They will also look at professional development and supports for teachers to ensure culturally competent instruction.
The work of the Commission will help inform the next history and social science standards review the state will undertake. “The important work of this Commission will help ensure that Virginia’s standards of learning are inclusive of African American history and allow students to engage deeply, drawing connections between historical racial inequalities and their continuous influence on our communities today,” Governor Northam said.