LONDON – Queen Elizabeth II arrived Thursday for the commemoration of Jamestown's 400th anniversary and praised the cultural changes that have occurred since she last visited America's first permanent English settlement 50 years ago.
The last time the queen helped Virginia mark the anniversary of its colonial founding, it was an all-white affair in a still-segregated state. Thursday's visit was starkly different.
"Over the course of my reign and certainly since I first visited Jamestown in 1957, my country has become a much more diverse society just as the commonwealth of Virginia and the whole United States of America have also undergone a major social change," the queen said in speech to the Virginia General Assembly in Richmond, the first stop on her visit.
"The melting pot metaphor captures one of the great strengths of your country and is an inspiration to others around the world as we face the continuing social challenges ahead," she said.
Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said the message couldn't be more timely or appropriate.
"This is a moment that brings Virginia together. That will be very apparent on Capitol Square today, with folks from all over Virginia coming together for this remarkable moment and coming in the aftermath of a hard time," Kaine said at a news conference, referring to the April 16 massacre at Virginia Tech.
Before she departs for Williamsburg, the queen will meet privately with some of those wounded in the Virginia Tech shooting and the families of some of the 32 students and faculty slain.
"My heart goes out to the students, friends and families of those killed and to the many others who have been affected, some of whom I shall be meeting shortly," she said during the Capitol address. "On behalf of the people of the United Kingdom, I extend my deepest sympathies at this time of such grief and sorrow."
The plane carrying the 81-year-old queen landed mid-afternoon, and 20 minutes later she emerged with her husband, Prince Philip.
Hundreds of people stood in lines for hours in a cool drizzle, some since dawn, to enter the grounds of the freshly refurbished 219-year-old Capitol.
"How often do you get to see the reigning monarch, much less in your own town?" said Keith Gary, the first spectator through the gates.
Inside the Capitol, the queen was to meet briefly with construction workers whose $105 million, two-year renovation was completed Monday, with high school student body leaders and with 100-year-old Oliver W. Hill.
Hill, whose birthday was Tuesday, is a civil rights attorney whose litigation helped bring about the 1954 Supreme Court decision outlawing racial segregation in public schools.
When the queen visited Jamestown for its 350th anniversary in 1957, such a meeting was impossible because the state was defying federal desegregation orders.
"We didn't tell everybody's story, we didn't include everyone, we didn't honor all the accomplishments. We didn't acknowledge that the progress came at a cost and there was huge pain along the way," Kaine said. "This time, we have a chance to really get it right."
Ralph Earnhardt, a tourism volunteer supervising one of the Capitol Square entrances, recalled seeing the queen on her previous visit to Jamestown when she was 31 and he was a high school sophomore.
"As a student, I thought all monarchs were supposed to be old. She struck me as young and lovely and quite regal," Earnhardt said. "She is still regal."