About 400 black Americans gathered on the banks of the James River at Jamestown over the weekend to look back on their beginnings in the New World.

Standing in the cool autumn sunshine, the men and women listened as Newport News council member Jessie Rattley described the gathering as a family reunion.

"We need to study our roots to get a new direction," Rattley said.

"We are living in a time when we need a new direction. It seems some have forgotten where we came from."

The Jamestown Reunion, organized primarily by local Muslims but also attended by Christians, was designed to find those roots. Participants recalled stories of the landing of the first slave ship at Jamestown in 1619.

"We were told it was the Good Ship Jesus," said Imam Warithuddin Muhammad, leader of the American Muslim Mission, a Chicago-based organization formerly known as the Nation of Islam or the Black Muslims.

At first, the white colonists imported Christian blacks and blacks who were Islamic, he said. This soon changed.

All the colonies later agreed not to import Christian slaves because they believed Christians should not enslave Christians, Muhammad said.

Eventually, the colonists also agreed not to bring in Islamic blacks as slaves. The blacks who were Islamic were "too smart" and helped start slave uprisings, the religious leader said.