Book: The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story by Nikole Hannah-Jones
Publisher: One World
Publication date: 2021
Pages: 590 (480 without end material — don’t let anyone tell you that this book wasn’t well-researched!)
Source: Hardcover, borrowed from library
Summary: The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story began life as a special issue of The New York Times Magazine in 2019 that illuminated the importance of the year 1619. In 1619, the White Lion docked in Virginia where it traded a cargo of people, Africans, for supplies. These were the first enslaved people in what would one day become the United States. This was the year before the arrival of the Mayflower and nearly 16 decades, eight generations, before 1776, the date that we often think of as the origin of the nation.
Eight generations can develop a lot of traditions, habits, and economic structures that don’t get broken by a revolution. That revolution, however, established myths about what these United States stand for, even though the tenets weren’t true when the words were written. Clearly, no one who signed the Declaration of Independence believed that all men were created equal. An unquestioning belief in our founding myths is an act of denial that makes it impossible to understand our history or our present.
Our myths have not served us well. We are the most unequal of the Western democracies. We incarcerate our citizens at the highest rates. We suffer the greatest income inequality. Americans’ life spans are shorter than those of the people in the nations we compare ourselves to. The 1619 Project seeks to explain this present-day reality and challenge these myths not to tear down or further divide this country, as some critics suggest, but so that we can truly become the country we already claim to be. (p. xxxii)
Thoughts: This was our August pick for the Community for Understanding and Hope Book Group. Not everyone finished, but everyone liked it. This was the 129th book that we’ve read together. We’ve covered most of these topics in previous books, but we still learned new things. The experience of reading these carefully curated pieces together was powerful and convincing.
I was so surprised by one historical event that I wrote about it on Facebook:
Today, I’m sharing my frustration about my ignorance. How did I not know about the only successful coup in the United States? In 1898, thousands of white supremacist insurrectionists overthrew the city government of Wilmington, North Carolina. During the previous decade, poor white farmers, laborers, and black people in North Carolina had formed a coalition, the Republican-Populist Fusion Ticket, consolidating power (especially in Wilmington) that white Democrats thought of as their own.
Rather than deal with the issues that were impacting people in North Carolina, regardless of race, the Democrats revved up white supremacy with White Supremacy Clubs, a White Supremacy Convention, and “The White Declaration of Independence.” All of that leading up to white violence that drove out the elected officials of Wilmington, destroyed black-owned businesses, and massacred black people. The mob replaced the officials with their own choices.
I learned about this yesterday due to a reference in The 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones and a detailed article in Wikipedia.
Gee, every news reporter in the US, don’t you think this might be interesting as we’re learning more about the 21st century insurrection on January 6, 2021?
People want to ban The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story and its predecessor issue of The New York Times Magazine from school curriculums. This is the history that I wish I’d learned much earlier. Our current situation makes no sense without understanding a fuller version of history than I was taught.
Appeal: This book is a collection of essays by different authors, easily read in short stints. Doing it that way took me about a month — which is longer than I usually spend on books for our book group. Between the essays there are poems, short stories, photographs, and other creative material — for a couple of our members, the poems were a crucial part of the experience of reading the book.
Challenges: This is my seventh book for the Diversity Reading Challenge.
Have you read this book? What did you think?