Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Sunday, March 19, 2023

The 1619 Project : A New Origin Story - created by Nikole Hannah-Jones and The New York Times Magazine. - 2021 - 559 Pages


The 1619 Project : A New Origin Story - created by Nikole Hannah-Jones and The New York Times Magazine. - 2021 - 559 Pages

If you are a student in a public high school or college in Florida, where I grew up, very few teachers would have the courage to assign this beautifully incredibly informative work about the experiences of enslaved Americans and their descendents, fearing this might lead to their termination. It has created a near hysterical reaction among so called "Conservatives" throughout America.  

I am very grateful to Nikole Hanah-Jones for the great care and effort that made this work possible.

The book is an expansion of a special edition of an issue of The New York Times Sunday Magazine. Here is an extract from the website of the New York Times

"This book, which is called “The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story,” arrives amid a prolonged debate over the version of the project we published two years ago. That project made a bold claim, which remains the central idea of the book: that the moment in August 1619 when the first enslaved Africans arrived in the English colonies that would become the United States could, in a sense, be considered the country’s origin.

The reasoning behind this is simple: Enslavement is not marginal to the history of the United States; it is inextricable. So many of our traditions and institutions were shaped by slavery, and so many of our persistent racial inequalities stem from its enduring legacy. Identifying the start of such a vast and complex system is a somewhat symbolic act. It was not until the late 1600s that slavery became codified with new laws in various colonies that firmly established the institution’s racial basis and dehumanizing structure. But 1619 marks the earliest beginnings of what would become this system. (It also could be said to mark the earliest beginnings of what would become American democracy: In July of that year, just weeks before the White Lion arrived in Point Comfort with its human cargo, the Virginia General Assembly was called to order, the first elected legislative body in English America.)"

In her chapter "Democracy" Hannah-Jones details how the existence of slavery and the desire to perpetuate it for ever made the success of the American Revolution possible.  

"It was precisely because white colonists so well understood the degradations of actual slavery that the metaphor of slavery held so much power to consolidate their disparate interests: no matter a colonist’s politics, background, or class, by being white, he could never fall as low as the Black people who were held in bondage. As the scholar Patricia Bradley puts it in Slavery, Propaganda, and the American Revolution, “Once transposed into metaphor, slavery could serve to unite white colonists of whatever region under a banner of white exclusivity.”24 The decision to deploy slavery as a metaphor for white grievances had devastating consequences for those who were actually enslaved: it helped ensure that abolition would not become a revolutionary cause, Bradley argues. Instead, the true institution of slavery would endure for nearly a century after the Revolution."

"And yet none of this is part of our founding mythology, which conveniently omits the fact that one of the primary reasons some of the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery. They feared that liberation would enable an abused people to seek vengeance on their oppressors. In many parts of the South, Black people far outnumbered white people. The wealth and prominence that allowed Jefferson, at just thirty-three, and the other founding fathers to believe they could successfully break off from one of the mightiest empires in the world came in part from the dizzying profits generated by chattel slavery. So they also understood that abolition would have upended the economies of both the North and the South. The truth is that we might never have revolted against Britain if some of the founders had not understood that slavery empowered them to do so; nor if they had not believed that independence was required in order to ensure that the institution would continue unmolested. For this duplicity—claiming they were fighting for freedom while enslaving a fifth of the people—the Patriots faced burning criticism both at home and abroad"

If the British government had been totally pro-slavery and wealthy Americans felt secure with this there would never have been an American Revolution.

There are 18 chapters covering a wide range of topics. Accompanied in each topic are short stories and poems related to the topic. ZZ Parker has a story about a slave revolt in New Orleans and Honorée Fanonne Jeffers has a deeply moving poem on Phyllis Wheatley Peters.

Nikole Hannah-Jones is a staff writer at The New York Times Magazine and the Knight Chair in Race and Journalism at Howard University. She is the founder of the Howard University Center for Journalism and Democracy, and the co-founder of the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting. She reports on racial injustice and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2017 for her work on the persistence of racial segregation in the United States, particularly in schools. Her journalism has earned two George Polk Awards, a Peabody, three National Magazine Awards, and the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary. In 2021, she was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

The Hulu series is excellent, and Nikole Hannah-Jones is featured in numerous YouTube presentations.

I read the book slowly over a period of about two months.

There are bios of each contributor. I have added several new to me books on my American history reading list as a result of this.

Mel Ulm

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