FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Significance of the “1619 Project”

On Sunday, the New York Times unveiled “The 1619 Project,” a journalistic series in the Sunday magazine that seeks to tell the “unvarnished truth” about slavery and its impact on America’s history.

In 1619, just 12 years after the founding of the first permanent English settlement in the Americas, the Jamestown colonists bought the first slaves, 20 to 30 enslaved Africans, from English pirates.

The Declaration of Independence, penned by Thomas Jefferson, a slave owner, issued America’s founding creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, … endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, … among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

As Nikole Hannah-Jones writes in her stunning introduction in the New York Times Magazine, at 43, she is part of the first generation of black Americans in the history of this country to be born into a society in which blacks had equal rights of citizenship.

Blacks suffered under slavery for 250 years, and brutal racial apartheid for a century more.

We have been legally free for just 50.

Americans prefer not to face this reality. Our history classes address it gingerly, if at all.

Even as President Donald Trump and cynical politicians stoke racial divisions for political profit, we too often look away from it. Trump has recently decided to make four young, newly elected congresswomen of color a central target of his already launched campaign for re-election, scorning them as un-American, suggesting that if they don’t like America, they should go back to where they came from.

This though all four are American citizens, and three were born right here. Trump is poisonously invoking the old lie of slavery and segregation that people of color are somehow not real Americans.

Yet, as Roger Wilkins wrote in his book “Jefferson’s Pillow” and Hannah-Jones in her introduction, it is the freedom struggles of black Americans that propelled the cause of equal rights for everyone.

The Constitution excluded women, Native Americans and black people, and did not provide the right to vote to most Americans. It is the laws born out of the civil rights movement that extended the right to vote to everyone and banned discrimination not simply on race, but on gender, nationality, religion and disability.

Without the idealistic and patriotic struggle of black Americans, as Hannah-Jones notes, “our democracy today would most likely look very different — it might not be a democracy at all.”

Recently, Ken Cuccinelli, Trump’s acting director of the Citizenship and Immigration Services, sparked outrage when he brazenly reworded Emma Lazarus’ famous poem found at the foot of the Statute of Liberty that reads “give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”

What Cuccinelli probably had no clue about is that the Statute of Liberty was a gift to the people of the United States from the people of France and was dedicated in 1886 to celebrate the national abolition of slavery.

It is the figure of Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom.

A broken shackle and chain lie at her feet as she strides forward, commemorating the abolition of slavery in 1865, an abolition that turned out to be the first step in America becoming in fact, as well as in word, the land of the free.

In telling the “unvarnished truth” of slavery, we will face the horrors of our past, as well as the triumph of our progress. It is a telling that is long overdue.

More articles by:

Jesse Jackson is the founder of Rainbow/PUSH.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
September 18, 2019
Liam Kennedy
Boris Johnson: Elitist Defender of Britain’s Big Banks
September 17, 2019
Mario Barrera
The Southern Strategy and Donald Trump
Robert Jensen
The Danger of Inspiration in a Time of Ecological Crisis
Dean Baker
Health Care: Premiums and Taxes
Dave Lindorff
Recalling the Hundreds of Thousands of Civilian Victims of America’s Endless ‘War on Terror’
Binoy Kampmark
Oiling for War: The Houthi Attack on Abqaiq
Susie Day
You Say You Want a Revolution: a Prison Letter to Yoko Ono
Rich Gibson
Seize Solidarity House
Laura Flanders
From Voice of America to NPR: New CEO Lansing’s Glass House
Don Fitz
What is Energy Denial?
Dan Bacher
Governor Newsom Says He Will Veto Bill Blocking Trump Rollback of Endangered Fish Species Protections
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: Time to Stop Pretending and Start Over
W. Alejandro Sanchez
Inside the Syrian Peace Talks
Elliot Sperber
Mickey Mouse Networks
September 16, 2019
Sam Husseini
Biden Taking Iraq Lies to the Max
Paul Street
Joe Biden’s Answer to Slavery’s Legacy: Phonographs for the Poor
Paul Atwood
Why Mattis is No Hero
Jonathan Cook
Brexit Reveals Jeremy Corbyn to be the True Moderate
Jeff Mackler
Trump, Trade and China
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima’s Radioactive Water Crisis
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Democrats and the Climate Crisis
Michael Doliner
Hot Stuff on the Afghan Peace Deal Snafu
Nyla Ali Khan
Spectacles of the Demolition of the Babri Masjid in Uttar Pradesh and the Revocation of the Autonomous Status of Kashmir
Stansfield Smith
Celebrating 50 Years of Venceremos Brigade solidarity with the Cuban Revolution
Tim Butterworth
Socialism Made America Great
Nick Licata
Profiles in Courage: the Tories Have It, the Republicans Don’t
Abel Prieto
Cubanness and Cuban Identity: the Importance of Fernando Ortiz
Robert Koehler
Altruists of the World Unite!
Mel Gurtov
Farewell, John Bolton
Weekend Edition
September 13, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
The Age of Constitutional Coups
Rob Urie
Bernie Sanders and the Realignment of the American Left
Anthony DiMaggio
Teaching the “War on Terror”: Lessons for Contemporary Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: They Are the Walrus
T.J. Coles
Jeremy Corbyn: Electoral “Chicken” or Political Mastermind?
Joseph Natoli
The Vox Populi
Sasan Fayazmanesh
The Pirates of Gibraltar
John Feffer
Hong Kong and the Future of China
David Rosen
The Likely End to Roe v. Wade?
Ishmael Reed
When You Mess With Creation Myths, the Knives Come Out
Michael Hudson
Break Up the Democratic Party?
Paul Tritschler
What If This is as Good as It Gets?
Jonah Raskin
Uncensored Tony Serra: Consummate Criminal Defense Lawyer
Ryan Gunderson
Here’s to the Last Philosophes, the Frankfurt School
Michael T. Klare
The Pompeo Doctrine: How to Seize the Arctic’s Resources, Now Accessible Due to Climate Change (Just Don’t Mention Those Words!)
Luke O'Neil
I Would Want To Drink Their Blood: God Will Punish Them
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail