Nikole Hannah-Jones, The New York Times Magazine and additional contributors
One World, 624 pages
In 1619, a ship carrying 20-30 Africans arrived in Virginia, initiating the slave industry in the Colonies. 400 years later, The New York Times Magazine, led by Nikole Hannah-Jones, set out to chronicle America from this event. “The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story” is the amplified collection of this award-winning journalism. 18 essayists share their views of slavery from a variety of sociological disciplines and through a distinctly African American lens. In it, journalism combines with the art of storytelling, using poems and fictional narratives to provide depth and opportunities for emotional connection. Collectively, “The 1619 Project” is a sweeping drama about the centrality of slavery in the American narrative, describing its impact on Africans brought to American shores, and its reverberating consequences.
The initial project drew heavy criticism from the historical establishment because it challenged the long-held American narrative that granted worth and power to white people in explicit and implicit, intentional and unintentional ways — a narrative developed without the benefit of African Americans around the editorial table to bear witness. This new offering is sure to be just as disruptive, especially in a national environment rife with fear and self-preservation and stoked by issues like Black Lives Matter, white supremacy, critical race theory, immigration and “Making America Great Again.” As the 2012 U.S. Census predicted, we are heading toward an America where there will no longer be a majority race. And so, the question hangs in the air: “Who will be the face of America?”
Jamelle Bouie’s essay “Politics,” for example, addresses the anxiety felt by a fading white majority: “There is a homegrown ideology of reaction in the United States, inextricably tied to our system of slavery. And while that ideology no longer carries the explicit racism of the past, the basic framework remains fear of rival political majorities; of demographic ‘replacement;’ of a government that threatens privilege and hierarchy.”
“The 1619 Project” strengthens the argument for a more accurate and inclusive historical narrative by highlighting the relationship between African Americans and Indigenous citizens. The same system of oppression has historically victimized both groups, leading to a present situation in which both exist in poverty, at the lowest levels of health, and are incarcerated at significantly higher rates. Tiyah Miles relates a slide shown at a Black Lives Matter rally: two tattooed arms, tan and brown, locked together in unity, with the message on one arm reading, “Indigenous Sovereignty,” and on the other, “Black Liberation.”
History is fascinating when individuals see the same event from different perspectives; when the re-telling includes each voice, we achieve greater historical authenticity. To describe the intent of “The 1619 Project,” Hannah-Jones quotes Frederick Douglass’ 1892 autobiography: “The story of the master never wanted for narrators.” She concludes, “our part, as Douglass said, has been to tell the story of the slave.”
This book is a passionate testimony from the historically disenfranchised, and a must-read for all Americans. It must be read in schools, universities, seminaries and faith-based institutions. The hope is not to alienate, but rather to compel people to intentionally cross socio-political, class, theological, racial and intercultural boundaries to engage in critical conversations. Only by doing so can we heal the head and heart of the nation.
Sterling Morse is pastor of Church of the Redeemer Presbyterian, Washington, D.C.
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