RICHMOND, Va. - Queen Elizabeth II arrived yesterday 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. Yesterday'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, 81, 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."
Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said the message could not be more timely or appropriate.
"This is a moment that brings Virginia together," and comes "in the aftermath of a hard time," Kaine said at a news conference, referring to the April 16 massacre at Virginia Tech.
After her Capitol address, the queen met with Virginia Tech students and faculty, including three who were wounded. Among them was Katelyn Carney, who was shot in the hand and who gave the queen a bracelet with 32 polished stones - one for each person slain - in the school's colors of maroon and orange.
"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," the queen said during her 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 queen landed midafternoon, 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 met briefly with construction workers whose $105 million, two-year renovation was completed Monday; with high school student leaders; and with 100-year-old Oliver W. Hill.
Hill, whose birthday was Tuesday, is a civil rights lawyer whose litigation helped bring about the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision outlawing racial segregation in public schools.
When the queen visited Jamestown 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," Kaine said. ". . .This time, we have a chance to really get it right."
Yesterday evening, the queen arrived in Colonial Williamsburg in an open carriage, where she waved a gloved hand at the several thousand people lining Duke of Gloucester Street, the main street of Virginia's restored 18th-century capital.
Judy Stillman of Portola Valley, Calif., timed a visit to her daughter in Williamsburg specifically to see the queen.
"She's our history," Stillman said. "England started everything we have now: the law, the wonderful Magna Carta, democracy. We need to know about England. We need to know about the queen."
See video of the queen's Virginia Tech condolences via go.philly.com/queenvisits