August 16, 2019 | General news
By Meghana Mysore
On Tuesday, August 13, a sold-out crowd packed the TimesCenterin New York City for a program marking the launch of The New York Times Magazine’s ‘1619 Project,’ which explores the continuing legacy of slavery in America. The issue, which was the brainchild of New York Times Magazine staff writer Nikole Hannah-Jones, is timed to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the arrival of 20 to 30 enslaved Africans in colonial Virginia. Many of the contributors to the issue presented and discussed their work in a two-hour program emceed by editor Jake Silverstein and Hannah-Jones. Many hundreds of viewers from around the world also livestreamed the event online.
Hannah-Jones had pitched the idea for an entire issue dedicated to exploring the legacy of slavery in contemporary America to her editors at The New York Times Magazine. When doing so, she explained, she higlighted several modern phenomena—from capitalism to violence in the criminal justice system—and argued that they trace their roots back to slavery. “The legacy is part of everything in our society; it doesn’t only impact black Americans but all of us who are Americans,” Hannah-Jones said.
“What if I told you that the year 1619 is as important to the American story as the year 1776? What if I told you that America is a country born both of an idea and a lie?” she asked. She remembered how she was taught about slavery in school: “Slavery was always taught as something marginal to the American story; it was mentioned in history books because we had to talk about the Civil War,” she said.
She knew that the anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans to Virginia in 1619 would pass in many households in America without notice. But, she said, “this anniversary is the reason we even exist as a country…we would not be the United States were it not for slavery.”
“The dizzying profits from enslaved labor paid off war debts, helped finance some of our most prestigious universities…Wall Street in New York is named after the wall upon which enslaved people were bought and sold,” she continued. “When Thomas Jefferson wrote that all men are created equal, and endowed by the creator with unalienable rights…he owned 130 human beings who would enjoy none of those rights,” she said.