The 1619 Project and the Demands of Public History

Lauren Michele Jackson in The New Yorker:

In August of 2019, a special issue of the Times Magazine appeared, wearing a portentous cover—a photograph, shot by the visual artist Dannielle Bowman, of a calm sea under gray skies, the line between earth and land cleanly bisecting the frame like the stroke of a minimalist painting. On the lower half of the page was a mighty paragraph, printed in bronze letters. It began:

In August of 1619, a ship appeared on this horizon, near Point Comfort, a coastal port in the British colony of Virginia. It carried more than 20 enslaved Africans, who were sold to the colonists. America was not yet America, but this was the moment it began.

The name of this endeavor was introduced at the very bottom of the page, in print small enough to overlook: “The 1619 Project.” The titular year encapsulated a dramatic claim: that it was the arrival of what would become slavery in the colonies, and not the independence declared in 1776, that marked “the country’s true birth date,” as the issue’s editors wrote.

Seldom these days does a paper edition have such blockbuster draw. New Yorkers not in the habit of seeking out their Sunday Times ventured to bodegas to nab a hard copy. (Today you can find a copy on eBay for around a hundred dollars.) Commentators, such as the Vox correspondent Jamil Smith, lauded the Project—which consisted of eleven essays, nine poems, eight works of short fiction, and dozens of photographs, all documenting the long-fingered reach of American slavery—as an unprecedented journalistic feat. Impassioned critics emerged at both ends of the political spectrum.

More here. (Note: At least one post throughout the month of February will be devoted to Black History Month. The theme for 2022 is Black Health and Wellness)