The 1619 Project
Nikole Hannah-Jones grew up in Iowa in a black neighborhood separated from the white side of town by a river. When she was a young girl she didn’t understand why her father flew an American flag on a tall aluminum flagpole in the corner of their front yard. At any sign of wear on the flag her dad would buy a new one and replace it so the flag always stayed in pristine condition. Nikole knew the story of her dad’s childhood and the story of her grandparents’ lives. She had trouble understanding why her father was so particular about the flag’s appearance and why it was so important to him to have it out there in the first place. She would look at the flag and think about the way her black Americans had been treated and abused by this country. To her the flag was an embarrassment rather than a symbol of patriotism and pride.
Nikole writes, “I had been taught, in school, through cultural osmosis, that the flag wasn’t really ours, that our history as a people began with enslavement and that we had contributed little to this great nation. It seemed that the closet thing black Americans could have to cultural pride was to be found in our vague connection to Africa, a place we had never been.”
Earlier this year during the January planning meeting with the editor and writers for The New York Times Magazine Nikole pitched an idea for a very ambitious project that would require exhaustive research and a long term commitment from the newspaper, the magazine, and of every person who was assigned to work on the project. Its outcome would change what most of us were taught about the history of America. It would in fact, be written into history during a time when white supremacy has been on the rise at alarming levels, right now, August 2019.
From The News York Times introducing the 1619 Project and stating its goal:
“The Fourth of July in 1776 is regarded by most Americans as the country’s birthday. But what if we were to tell you that the country’s true birth date, the moment that its defining contradictions first came into the world, was in late August 1619?
That was when a ship arrived at Point Comfort in the British colony of Virginia, bearing a cargo of 20 to 30 enslaved Africans. Their arrival inaugurated a barbaric system of chattel slavery that would last for the next 250 years and form the basis for almost every aspect of American life. The 1619 Project is a major initiative from The New York Times memorializing that event on its 400th anniversary. The goal of the project is to deepen understanding of American history (and the American present) by proposing a new point of origin for our national story. In the days and weeks to come, we will publish essays demonstrating that nearly everything that has made America exceptional grew out of slavery.”
The 1619 Project was first presented on August 13, 2019 during a live two hour program you can watch on the website:
The entire August 14, 2019 issue of the magazine is devoted to the 1619 Project. It can be read in an interactive form with photographs, essays, poems, a historical timeline, music, and more: www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine.
The New York Times award winning podcast, “The Daily,” will be featuring a new podcast from the project every Friday. You can access the first podcast from Friday, August 23, 2019 here on “The Daily” page: https://www.nytimes.com/column/the-daily-newsletter?module=inline
The Pulitzer Center has a full teaching curriculum on its website along with a reading guide and a pdf file for the full issue:
Nikole later understood why her father flew the American flag and kept it pristine condition after she took a Black Studies class in high school. She wrote, “Like most young people, I thought I understood so much, when in fact I understood so little. My father knew exactly what he was doing when he raised that flag. He knew that our people’s contributions to building the richest and most powerful nation in the world were indelible, that the United States simply would not exist without us.”