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Events planned in Boston for ‘National Day of Healing’ to explore toll of slavery on 400th anniversary

Massachusetts 54th Regiment reenactors posed in front of the Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial after an event last month. Tours of the Black Heritage Trail will begin at the memorial on Saturday and Sunday.
Massachusetts 54th Regiment reenactors posed in front of the Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial after an event last month. Tours of the Black Heritage Trail will begin at the memorial on Saturday and Sunday. Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff, File/Globe staff

At five sites in Boston and many more across the country, people will pause Sunday to consider the lives of men and women torn from their homelands and treated as property, as the National Park Service hosts a National Day of Healing marking the 400th anniversary of chattel slavery.

The practice of enslaving African-Americans in what became the United States began with the 1619 landing at Point Comfort, Va., of a ship carrying about 20 Africans stolen by English privateers from a Spanish slave ship, according to the Park Service.

Over the next 246 years, hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children were brought from Africa to the English colonies and then the United States, with about 10 million more Africans shipped to other sites across the Americas and the Caribbean, scholars say.

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The privateer ship White Lion is believed to have reached Fort Comfort on about Aug. 25. On Sunday, exactly four centuries later, the Park Service will hold a four-minute bell ringing ceremony to honor the enslaved Africans aboard that vessel and the many “subsequent generations who endured hardship, possessed resilience, and contributed to the history and development of the United States,” the agency said.

In Boston, the 3 p.m. ceremony will take place at the Old South Church, King’s Chapel, Old North Church, the USS Constitution and the USS Cassin Young at Charlestown Navy Yard, and at Faneuil Hall, a site that has been the subject of much discussion in recent years because of its namesake’s participation in the slave trade.

Some have called for a renaming of the historic marketplace, but Mayor Martin J. Walsh has opposed such a change. Walsh supported a plan by artist Steve Locke to build a memorial that would honor the enslaved men and women sold in downtown Boston during the colonial period, but Locke dropped the plan after the Boston NAACP chapter expressed reservations.

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Over the weekend, there will be other opportunities to remember Boston’s role in the slave trade and the abolitionist movement, as the Park Service hosts free events examining multiple aspects of African-American history.

■   At 10 a.m. Saturday, a guide will offer a one-hour tour of Long Wharf, focusing on its role in the triangular trade and the Underground Railroad. Participants will meet at the Boston Harbor Islands Welcome Center on the Rose Kennedy Greenway downtown.

■   At 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, a Park Service ranger will lead tours of the Black Heritage Trail on Beacon Hill, exploring the lives of free African-Americans and abolitionists. The tour will begin at the Robert Gould Shaw and Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial on Beacon Street, across from the State House.

■   From noon to 3 p.m. both days, visitors to the Boston Harbor Islands Welcome Center will be able to view documents — including maps, petitions, and newspaper advertisements — related to the more than 165 ocean voyages between the Boston area and African ports that brought more than 20,000 enslaved people across the Atlantic.

■   At 3 p.m. Saturday and again at 3:15 p.m. Sunday, the Great Hall on the second floor of Faneuil Hall will host a reenactment exploring the 1854 case of Anthony Burns, who fled slavery in Virginia but was caught and tried in Boston under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.

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■   At 2 p.m. Sunday, the Great Hall will be the site of a public conversation about Boston’s role in the transatlantic slave trade.

Correction: Due to incorrect information provided to the Globe, an earlier version of this story misstated the location of a bell-ringing ceremony. It was held at Old South Church.


Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.