Contemplations – 1619

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The 1619 Project – table of contents

Header image and text from The 1619 Project

"A major initiative from The New York Times observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. 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 1619 Project⩘ , The New York Times Magazine, August, 2019

◯  Our democracy's founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true⩘ . By Nikole Hannah-Jones, a staff writer for the The New York Times Magazine.

What if America understood, finally, in this 400th year, that we have never been the problem but the solution?

◯  In order to understand the brutality of American capitalism, you have to start on the plantation⩘ . By Matthew Desmond, a professor of sociology at Princeton University and a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine.

If today America promotes a particular kind of low-road capitalism—a union-busting capitalism of poverty wages, gig jobs and normalized insecurity; a winner-take-all capitalism of stunning disparities not only permitting but awarding financial rule-bending; a racist capitalism that ignores the fact that slavery didn't just deny black freedom but built white fortunes, originating the black-white wealth gap that annually grows wider—one reason is that American capitalism was founded on the lowest road there is.

Includes embedded short essays: "The Limits of Banking Regulation", "Cotton and the Global Market", and "Fiat Currency and the Civil War" by Mehrsa Baradaran, professor at U.C. Irvine School of Law and author of The Color of Money and How the Other Half Banks; and "How Slavery Made Wall Street" by Tiya Miles, a professor in the history department at Harvard and the author, most recently, of The Dawn of Detroit: A Chronicle of Slavery and Freedom in the City of the Straits.

It is uncanny, but perhaps predictable, that the original wall for which Wall Street is named was built by the enslaved at a site that served as the city's first organized slave auction.

◯  We asked 16 writers to bring consequential moments in African-American history to life. Here are their poems and stories⩘ .

It happened on a Greyhound bus. To a man who was just trying to get himself home.

◯  Myths about physical racial differences were used to justify slavery—and are still believed by doctors today⩘ . By Linda Villarosa, who directs the journalism program at the City College of New York and is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine.

This disconnect allows scientists, doctors and other medical providers—and those training to fill their positions in the future—to ignore their own complicity in health care inequality and gloss over the internalized racism and both conscious and unconscious bias that drive them to go against their very oath to do no harm.

◯  America holds onto an undemocratic assumption from its founding: that some people deserve more power than others⩘ . By Jamelle Bouie, a Washington-based New York Times opinion columnist and a political analyst for CBS News.

The larger implication is clear enough: A majority made up of liberals and people of color isn't a real majority. And the solution is clear, too: to write those people out of the polity, to use every available tool to weaken their influence on American politics.

Includes an embedded short essay, "How Slavery Made Its Way West" by Tiya Miles, a professor in the history department at Harvard and the author, most recently, of The Dawn of Detroit: A Chronicle of Slavery and Freedom in the City of the Straits.

Texas became the West's cotton slavery stronghold, with enslaved black people making up 30 percent of the state's population in 1860. "Indian Territory" also held a large population of enslaved black people. Mormons, too, kept scores of enslaved laborers in Utah.

◯  For centuries, black music, forged in bondage, has been the sound of complete artistic freedom. No wonder everybody is always stealing it.⩘ . By Wesley Morris, a staff writer for the The New York Times Magazine.

And the muses for so many of the songs were enslaved Americans, people the songwriters had never met, whose enslavement they rarely opposed and instead sentimentalized.

◯  What does a traffic jam in Atlanta have to do with segregation? Quite a lot.⩘ . By Kevin M. Kruse, a professor of history at Princeton University and the author of White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism.

In Atlanta, as in dozens of cities across America, daily congestion is a direct consequence of a century-long effort to segregate the races.

◯  Why doesn't the United States have universal health care? The answer has everything to do with race.⩘ . By Jeneen Interlandi, a member of The New York Times's editorial board and a staff writer for New York Times Magazine.

One hundred and fifty years after the freed people of the South first petitioned the government for basic medical care, the United States remains the only high-income country in the world where such care is not guaranteed to every citizen.

◯  Slavery gave America a fear of black people and a taste for violent punishment. Both still define our criminal-justice system.⩘ . By Bryan Stevenson, the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative and the author of Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.

The United States has the highest rate of incarceration of any nation on Earth: We represent 4 percent of the planet's population but 22 percent of its imprisoned. In the early 1970s, our prisons held fewer than 300,000 people; since then, that number has grown to more than 2.2 million, with 4.5 million more on probation or parole. Because of mandatory sentencing and "three strikes" laws, I've found myself representing clients sentenced to life without parole for stealing a bicycle or for simple possession of marijuana. And central to understanding this practice of mass incarceration and excessive punishment is the legacy of slavery.

Equal Justice Initiative⩘ 
The Legacy Museum and The National Memorial for Peace and Justice⩘ 

◯  The sugar that saturates the American diet has a barbaric history as the 'white gold' that fueled slavery.⩘ . By Khalil Gibran Muhammad, a Suzanne Young Murray professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and author of The Condemnation of Blackness.

Most of these stories of brutality, torture and premature death have never been told in classroom textbooks or historical museums. They have been refined and whitewashed in the mills and factories of Southern folklore: the romantic South, the Lost Cause, the popular "moonlight and magnolias" plantation tours so important to Louisiana's agritourism today.

Includes an embedded short essay, "The Enslaved Pecan Pioneer" by Tiya Miles, a professor in the history department at Harvard and the author, most recently, of The Dawn of Detroit: A Chronicle of Slavery and Freedom in the City of the Straits.

The presence of pecan pralines in every Southern gift shop from South Carolina to Texas, and our view of the nut as regional fare, masks a crucial chapter in the story of the pecan: It was an enslaved man who made the wide cultivation of this nut possible.

◯  A vast wealth gap, driven by segregation, redlining, evictions and exclusion, separates black and white America.⩘ . By Trymaine Leem a Pulitzer Prize- and Emmy Award-winning journalist and a correspondent for MSNBC.

During this period of so-called Redemption, lawmakers throughout the South enacted Black Codes and Jim Crow laws that stripped black people of many of their freedoms and property. Other white people, often aided by law enforcement, waged a campaign of violence against black people that would rob them of an incalculable amount of wealth.

◯  Their ancestors were enslaved by law. Today, they are graduates of the nation's preeminent historically black law school⩘ . Photographs by Djeneba Aduayom.

Still, more than any written record, today's nearly 44 million black Americans are themselves the testimony of the resiliency of those who were enslaved, of their determination to fight and survive so that future generations would have the opportunities that they never would.