The 1619 Project
The 1619 Project is a program organized by The New York Times with the goal of re-examining the legacy of slavery in the United States and timed for the 400th anniversary of the arrival in America of the first enslaved people from West Africa. It is an interactive project by Nikole Hannah-Jones, a reporter for The New York Times, with contributions by the paper's writers, including essays, poems, short fiction, and a photo essay. Originally conceived of as a special issue for August 20, 2019, it was soon turned into a full-fledged project, including coverage in the newspaper and on its website.
The New York Times describes the project as a "major initiative ... observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery". The project was almost exclusively contributed to by black academics, journalists and writers. According to Hannah-Jones, all the contributions were deeply researched, and arguments verified by a team of fact-checkers in consultation with a panel of historians.
In 1493, Portugal was granted a monopoly on trade in West Africa by Pope Alexander VI. This paved the way for the transatlantic slave trade, which has had a lasting impact on American history, as well as on the socio-economic development of the country. The Portuguese ship carrying the first 20 African slaves to be brought to what would become the present day United States of America landed at Port Comfort in the British colony of Virginia in August 1619. The authors argue that the African-American citizens who make up 12% of the United States population face institutional racism and a disproportionate amount of socio-economic and political challenges in 2019, four hundred years since the first slaves landed and more than 150 years since the abolition of slavery.
Based on a proposal by Hannah-Jones to have an issue of the magazine dedicated to re-examination of the legacy of slavery in America, at the anniversary of the arrival of the first slaves to America, in order to challenge the notion that American history began in 1776, the initiative quickly grew into a full-fledged project. The project encompasses multiple issues of the magazine, accompanied by related materials on multiple other publications of the Times as well as a project curriculum developed in collaboration with the Pulitzer Center, for use in schools. The project employed a panel of historians, and support from the Smithsonian, for fact-checking, research and development. The project was envisioned with the condition that almost all of the contributions would be from African-American contributors, deeming the perspective of black writers an essential element of the story to be told.
August 14 magazine issue
The first edition, published in The New York Times Magazine on August 14, published in 100 pages with ten essays, a photo essay, and a collection of poems and fiction by an additional sixteen writers, included the following works:
- America Wasn't a Democracy Until Black Americans Made It One, essay by Nikole Hannah-Jones
- American Capitalism Is Brutal. You Can Trace That to the Plantation, essay by Matthew Desmond
- A New Literary Timeline of African-American History, a collection of original poems and stories from 16 different writers, including Clint Smith, Yusef Komunyakaa, Eve L. Ewing, Reginald Dwayne Betts, Barry Jenkins and Jesmyn Ward, among others
- How False Beliefs in Physical Racial Difference Still Live in Medicine Today, essay by Linda Villarosa
- What the Reactionary Politics of 2019 Owe to the Politics of Slavery, essay by Jamelle Bouie
- Why Is Everyone Always Stealing Black Music?, essay by Wesley Morris
- How Segregation Caused Your Traffic Jam, essay by Kevin Kruse
- Why Doesn't America Have Universal Healthcare? One word: Race, essay by Jeneen Interlandi
- Why American Prisons Owe Their Cruelty to Slavery, essay by Bryan Stevenson
- The Barbaric History of Sugar in America, essay by Khalil Gibran Muhammad
- How America's Vast Racial Wealth Gap Grew: By Plunder, essay by Trymaine Lee
- Their Ancestors Were Enslaved by Law. Now They're Lawyers, photo essay by Djeneba Aduayom, with text from Nikole Hannah-Jones and Wadzanai Mhute
The essays explore the details of modern American society, such as traffic jams and American affinity for sugar, and explore their connections to slavery and segregation. Matthew Desmond's essay explores the way in which slavery has shaped modern capitalism and workplace norms. Jamelle Bouie's essay explores the parallels between pro-slavery politics and the modern right-wing politics. Bouie argues that America still has not let go of the assumption that some people inherently deserve more power than others.
Accompanying material and activities
The magazine issue was accompanied by a special section on the Sunday newspaper, in partnership with the Smithsonian, examining the beginnings of the transatlantic slave trade, written by Mary Elliott and Jazmine Hughes. Beginning on August 20, a multi-episode audio series titled "1619" was started, published by The Daily, the morning news podcast of the Times. The Sunday sports section had an essay that explored slavery's impact on professional sports in America, "Is Slavery's Legacy in the Power Dynamics of Sports?". The Times plans to take the project to schools, with the 1619 Project Curriculum developed in collaboration with the Pulitzer Center. Hundreds of thousands of extra copies of the magazine issue were printed for distribution to schools, museums and libraries.
The project received a positive reception from scholars, political pundits, journalists and politicians. Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris praised the project, via a tweet. Alexandria Neason, analysing the project for the Columbia Journalism Review, lauded the efforts to challenge the characterisation of slavery as something marginal to the history of the United States, particularly in light of the role journalism has played in mischaracterisation of slavery's role in American history. Fortune magazine also published a positive review writing the project was "wide-reaching and collaborative, unflinching, and insightful" and a "dramatic and necessary corrective to the fundamental lie of the American origin story".
The project received harsh criticism from some conservatives. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich criticised the project as "brainwashing" "propaganda", in a tweet, and called it "a lie" in a subsequent media appearance. Senator Ted Cruz has also equated it with propaganda. Conservative commentator Byron York, writing for the Washington Examiner, characterized the project as an attempt to reframe American history in accordance with the values of New York Times editors, as part of an alleged ongoing campaign by the paper to shift the narrative of the Trump presidency from the Trump-Russia affair toward race, in the re-election year. Conservative pundit Erick Erickson also criticized the "racial lenses" deployed in revisiting history. President Donald Trump, Senator Cruz and Newt Gingrich have echoed the opinions expressed by the conservative commentators. The August 18, 2019, edition of the Washington Examiner said, "The 1619 project has been panned by critics as an attempt to reduce the entirety of American history to a lesson on slavery and race".
In response to criticisms, Hannah-Jones has said that every part was deeply researched, and also analyzed by fact-checkers, in consultation with a panel of historians, verifying every argument. Nancy LeTourneau, writing in the Washington Monthly, argues that the conservatives feel threatened by the project because "it challenges the totalism on which their entire world view has been constructed. It is their mindset, which monopolizes imagination and stifles alternatives, that lays the groundwork for authoritarianism".
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- Neason, Alexandria (August 15, 2019). "The 1619 Project and the stories we tell about slavery". Retrieved August 17, 2019.
- Gyarkye, Lovia (August 18, 2019). "How the 1619 Project Came Together". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved August 19, 2019.
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- "World Report 2019: Rights Trends in the United States". Human Rights Watch. December 20, 2018. Retrieved August 19, 2019.
- Tharoor, Ishaan (August 20, 2019). "The 1619 Project and the far-right fear of history". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 21, 2019.
- Charles, J. Brian (August 19, 2019). "Why conservatives are bothered by the New York Times' project on slavery". Vox. Retrieved August 21, 2019.
- Geraghty, Jim (August 20, 2019). "What The 1619 Project Leaves Out". National Review. Retrieved August 21, 2019.
- McGirt, Ellen (August 14, 2019). "The New York Times Launches the 1619 Project: raceAhead". Retrieved August 17, 2019.
- Asmelash, Leah (August 19, 2019). "The New York Times Magazine's 1619 Project takes a hard look at the American paradox of freedom and slavery". CNN. Retrieved August 21, 2019.
- Covucci, David (August 19, 2019). "Conservatives are livid the New York Times is writing articles about slavery". The Daily Dot. Retrieved August 21, 2019.
- Kurt Streeter (July 18, 2019). "Is Slavery's Legacy in the Power Dynamics of Sports? - The New York Times". Nytimes.com. Retrieved August 23, 2019.
- "New goal for New York Times: 'Reframe' American history, and target Trump, too". Washington Examiner. August 17, 2019. Retrieved August 18, 2019.
- "Gingrich spurns New York Times history project as 'propaganda'". Washington Examiner. August 18, 2019. Retrieved August 19, 2019.
- LeTourneau, Nancy (August 22, 2019). "Why Are Conservatives So Threatened by the 1619 Project?". Washington Monthly. Retrieved August 27, 2019.
- Mysore, Meghana (August 16, 2019). "The New York Times Magazine Presents 'The 1619 Project' Onstage". Pulitzer Center.
- Jarvik, Laurence (August 29, 2019). "Pulitzer's 1619 Project Brings Back Yellow Journalism." TheLatest.com.