The 1619 Project Centers the Enslaved, Rethinks Story of America

By N. Jamiyla Chisholm Aug 14, 2019

In commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the date when the first 20-plus West Africans were kidnapped and brought to Point Comfort, Virginia, to be enslaved, The New York Times unveiled The 1619 Project on Wednesday (August 14).

“It aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are,” the editors write.

The interactive project, created by The Times reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones, was a six-month emotional storytelling task that includes essays by The Times staff writers and Bryan Stevenson; poems by Eve L. Ewing, Yusef Komunyakaa and Tyehimba Jess; short fiction from Barry Jenkins and Jesmyn Ward; and a photo essay highlighting students who currently attend historically Black colleges and universities, and whose ancestors were enslaved. Archival photos were predominantly sourced from collaborator Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.  

On the eve (August 13) of the project’s launch, The Times hosted a two-hour symposium in New York City where Hannah-Jones revealed that 1619 will be ongoing history lesson at the publication on the real legacy of America.

Addressing the idea that Africans arrived with nothing, panelist Mary Eliott and NMAAHC curator said, “We came with empty hands, but not with empty heads. Their intellect made this nation a powerhouse.” 

Hannah-Jones added that the contributors will address a variety of issues, including why Americans consume more sugar than any other Western country and why violence is pervasive in the criminal justice system. “When you go through the [New York Times] Magazine, you’ll see what I see, that the legacy [of slavery] is a part of everything in our society and it doesn’t just impact Black Americans, it impacts all of us,” she said.

Access the interactive issue here and watch the video from the symposium below, courtesy of The Times: