Nikole Hannah-Jones, Journalist and creator of the 1619 Project

Does it surprise you that in 2019 the ‘1619 Project’ was introduced through a series of articles in the New York Times magazine written by journalist on staff? The intent of using the entire New York Times Magazine was to rewrite and center the story of how America was built at the arrival of ‘human cargo’ from the soil of Africa. Nikole Hannah-Jones takes the stand that America’s history needs to be retold based on the fundamental relationship with its former enslaved people. This steps on the teachings of settlers building our country as the hero and brings a truth that changes that perception. Adding in the struggle against slavery, oppression, and racial injustice dignifies formerly enslaved people as the true Americans for making our Democracy a reality.  Indeed the argument that slavery was the reason for causing the revolutionary war (1779) has been disputed because ‘not all were fighting just to keep slavery as part of the culture’ instead some indeed had other issues worth fighting for like freedom from monarchial rule to establish united colonies (under slavery) with a constitution. 

Being written out of history as a people and suffering an embarrassing high school history class tells me we were lied to and even today in 2021 are still learning the truth. As journalist for the New York Times Hanna-Jones created a platform from which to tell our story with authority based on the premise that ‘1619 Project’ was the beginning of America’s story as unapologetic. Nikole Hanna-Jones, herself, a product of this country, experienced segregated neighborhoods and schools chose to focus on journalism about housing and education. Her organic evolution in the American experience empowered creating the ‘1619 Project’ and writing the Pulitzer Prize winning article in a series of articles written by other New York Times journalist. 

Critique of the ‘1619 Project’ declares that it is not the truest story of our country beginnings. Meanwhile school curriculums across the nation are embracing 400 years of knowledge. It is crazy to ask this well documented body of work about racial injustice to cover today’s news cycles as an argument for not being up to par! The ‘1619 Project’ connects the dots between the struggle against slavery while exposing intrenched problems embedded within our institutions built to maintain ‘white supremacy’. Race problems in America have not shown intent for resolution but instead cuddles resistance which festers, fosters and infects our Democracy. For example, look at the behavior of many white Americans, January 6, 2021, who stormed the capital with intent to disrupt certifying elections as a peaceful transfer power. What was that? An insurrection and attack on capital police officers was defended as a friendly march. Who did they blame? Organizations that use civil disobedience. This cuddling has given our educational institutions license to legally denied us access (Brown vs Board of Education) while spoon feeding us false narratives for centuries. Those shaped negative and demeaning interpretations of ourselves. Hannah-Jones work changes everything!

The 1619 Project is deservingly disruptive to the American story. I was born in DC during Jim Crow though lived in segregated northern, Virginia, we fought court battles to integrate nearby schools in walking distance. Outside of school I learned about cargo ships full of Africans packed like sardines in ships crossing the Atlantic under the worst human conditions arriving at the height of slavery throughout north and south America. The ‘1619 Project’ disputes, disagrees and stimulates discourse in reevaluating our predicament as an integral part of formulating this nation. We have made progress, but this is a game changer. All historical assumptions are challenged. The minds of many are already shifting. Now, that we know better could we do better? Can ‘white privilege’ disappear along with ‘black subjugation’? For there cannot be one without the other, according to Nikole Hannah-Jones, creator of the ‘1619 Project’. Her pessimism of a mind shift that would literally free democracy towards its vision requires a level of consciousness not yet conceptualized. She does not believe it will happen in her lifetime. The ‘1619 Project’ is definitely a significant contributor in truth-telling about our people. 

Nikole Hannah-Jones states her objective to research and formulate an argument for debate. It is the end user of the ‘1619 Project’ data to think critically about interpretations of our nation. We begin as labor in building America. We were bargained from the soil of Africa. Our precarious arrival as cargo does not dismiss us as human beings. It was with greed and pernicious behaviors that perpetuated this ‘cargo’ concept into an extensive weave of believability to justify and build a colonial society. Deniability and designation as (human cargo) property while designing constitutional frameworks to benefit those in power and giving mental relief to inhumanity. This premise perceived and/or believed plays out today is validated by legislative policies which controls our institutional infrastructure. It is almost like a single thread of domination, once grasped could pull one back to the origin of a slavery society designed to sustain property ownership of enslaved people. These laws were designed to limit travels, access, rights, free speech, education, the antithesis of white privilege. Institutions were formed to legally sustained these controls with resistance from the oppressed during and after slavery. 

Look at us today in 2021. Americans have ownership in freely believing, with conviction, that our election process was invalid questioning the legitimacy of the Biden Administration, which won a free and fair election! This division perpetuates ‘white privilege’. Being bold enough to reframe our election process for the benefits of ‘keeping it white’ then what’s to stop Nikole Hanna-Jones from reframing the narrative about enslaved people’s story through the ‘1619 Project’?

Hannah-Jones is pessimistic about our ability to incorporate the information from the ‘1619 Project’ and capacity to act on it. Will this just be an ‘aha’ moment as we clap hands in appreciation or go one step further and embrace this argument as part of our reinterpretation of self and our story? There is no box for Nikole Hannah-Jones, only our thinking. She is a child of Mississippi deep racial oppression and mixed marriage bans. Her story of busing from 2nd grade to 12th grade has given her time to reflect on the differences when riding from her neighborhood through ‘white’ ones to attend school. Nikole Hannah-Jones was able to see into our institutions and evaluate intent and affects on the people over centuries. Her perspective resulted in the ‘1619 Project’ as an organic and intellectual endeavor. 

Nikole Hanna-Jones dedicated her journalism to racial injustice. Her journey now becomes our journey to reflect on what was told by others to embarrass and offend our greatness and human trials under some of the most severe circumstances in mankind. Her status emerges as our philosopher. I look to her pessimistic data driven perspective to challenge my assumptions about American life. Her work frees me from embarrassment, confirms my belief in being the most dedicated of Americans in shaping Democracy, and through the ‘1619 Project’ offers an educational narratives so needed in formative years and beyond.  Still learning the truth and feeling so good about who we are within this experimental democracy. Thank you Ms Hannah-Jones for being influential.  

Learn more about NY Times 1619 Project at New York Times. Her website is www.nikolehannahjones.com. See and listen to her words on views of our story and why it empowered her to formulate this work regardless of her pessimism about the lost potential of our democracy on video/youtube. 

Essay by Lillian L. Thompson and artist drawing inspired from zoom interview with Pratt Institute students. 

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