Exactly 400 years ago on July 30, the first burgesses met in a small timber frame church at Jamestown, giving birth to democracy in the New World.
That birth — and evolution — of democracy in the New World was honored Tuesday at Jamestown, as today’s politicians returned to the grounds of Jamestown to honor the first burgesses and the first representative assembly.
Guests and speakers included many politicians, including President Donald J. Trump.
“We are not governed from afar — Americans govern ourselves,” Trump said. “And so help us God, we always will.”
The 20-minute speech covered the journey of the first settlers to Jamestown, how they erected a cross near Cape Henry as a representation of their Christianity, which they relied upon during difficult times such as the Starving Time.
“They came in search of opportunity, of fortune,” he said.
Trump added “our beloved republic is the envy of the entire world,” and the United States’ “culture of freedom” must be celebrated.
“That culture is the source of who we are,” Trump said.
Trump also acknowledged that 1619 is the anniversary of the arrival of the first recorded enslaved Africans in the New World.
“It was the beginning of a very barbaric trade in human lives,” Trump said. “We remember every sacred soul who suffered the horrors of slavery.
“Our declaration of independence recognized the immortal truth that all men are created equal,” Trump added, also quoting Martin Luther King Jr.
Trump’s speech was received with loud applause upon his entrance and exit.
It was also briefly interrupted by a protester inside the tent, Del. Ibraheem Samirah, D-86th District, who was escorted from the venue within about 10 seconds.
Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox, a Republican, released this statement:
“I am disappointed by Delegate Ibraheem Samirah’s disrespectful outburst during the President’s remarks. It was not only inconsistent with common decency, it was also a violation of the rules of the House.
“Members of the House of Delegates are part of a lineage that goes back 400 years. All Delegates must conduct themselves respectfully, regardless of political differences. It’s a custom and practice dating back to the first meeting, which we are celebrating today.”
July 30 marks the 400th anniversary of the meeting of the first representative legislative assembly in the New World. In 1619, Gov. Sir George Yeardley, his four councilors and 22 elected burgesses met to conduct business in what is known as the first practice of democracy in the New World.
Tuesday’s celebration is just one piece of a yearlong series of events, programs and exhibits meant to commemorate important events that occurred in 1619, including the arrival of the first recorded Africans in the New World, the creation of the first representative assembly, recruitment of women to join male settlers at Jamestown and the first official Thanksgiving in North America.
Before Trump arrived, the morning programming included several speakers who gave a recap of the early years at Jamestown, including interpreters as first Gov. Sir George Yeardley and first Speaker John Pory.
Jon Meacham, the presidential historian, received a standing ovation from the crowd inside the event tent around 10:30 a.m. as he drew meaning from the first assembly and related it to today’s United States.
I just disrupted the @realDonaldTrump speech in Jamestown because nobody's racism and bigotry should be excused for the sake of being polite. The man is unfit for office and unfit to partake in a celebration of democracy, representation, and our nation's history of immigrants. pic.twitter.com/0okD7eRVer
— Delegate Ibraheem Samirah (@IbraheemSamirah) July 30, 2019
“We tend to not build monuments to people who build walls. We build monuments to people who open doors,” Meacham said. “Jamestown is mirror of who we were and who we are.”
“Compromise is the oxygen of democracy,” Meacham added.
Word confirming Trump would make an appearance spread Friday when a White House official confirmed he would attend.
Trump was invited to attend the anniversary event in a letter dated Aug. 16, 2018. In the letter, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. “Tommy” Norment and House Speaker Kirkland Cox requested the president attend the event.
Then-British Prime Minister Theresa May and House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi were also invited.
For those of you who don't know, I was born in Chicago after my family of Palestinian refugees came to America to flee discrimination. In 2002, my family was forced to literally "go back" after my father was denied re-entry to the US, following a visit to sick relatives in Jordan
— Delegate Ibraheem Samirah (@IbraheemSamirah) July 30, 2019
According to a July 20 statement from the 2019 Commemoration organization, Pelosi’s office had recently declined the invitation.
Norment and Cox both attended the events Tuesday. Northam appeared earlier in the day, speaking inside the Memorial Church on Jamestown Island.
Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, a Democrat, also attended, releasing a statement in the preceding days saying he would attend regardless of actions of the president.
Great reception in Jamestown by both REPUBLICANS & DEMOCRATS. Respect for our Country’s incredible Heritage. Thank you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 30, 2019
Some Democrats said they would no longer attend the 400th anniversary events in the wake of news that Trump may attend.
“We will not be attending any part of the commemorative session where Donald Trump is in attendance,” said a statement by the leadership of the Virginia House and Senate Democratic Caucuses. “The current President does not represent the values that we would celebrate at the 400th anniversary of the oldest democratic body in the western world.”
Trump has recently been the subject of scrutiny after he made remarks against four freshmen lawmakers — all women of color.
The remarks later led to a chant at one of his rallies, where the crowd yelled “Send her back,” according to news reports.
On Monday, black Virginia lawmakers said they would boycott Trump’s visit to Jamestown, as well as other parts of a weeklong series of events, according to the Associated Press.
Instead, they planned alternative commemorations Tuesday in Richmond.
— WYDaily (@WYDaily) July 30, 2019
Trump’s speech was interrupted for a few seconds when a protester carrying a tall sign ran forward toward the podium.
As the protester shouted, the crowd began to chant “Trump, Trump, Trump.” The protester, a young man, was escorted out of the event tent by security.
There were also multiple protests scheduled for around the Jamestown area as well, including one organized by the Williamsburg James City County Democrats and Williamsburg-James City County Indivisible.
Several dozen protesters gathered outside the historic site ahead of Trump’s arrival at the 400th anniversary of the rise of American democracy, according to the Associated Press.
The protesters in historic Jamestown held signs and chanted slogans including, “Love not hate makes America great.”
Among them was 47-year-old Sonya Hull of Williamsburg. Hull said she was protesting because she has concerns about the integrity of U.S. elections.
She says: “I’d like to see the United States act the way it reads on paper.”
Local Voice Media reporters Alexa Doiron and Julia Marsigliano contributed to this article.