The 1619 Project
August 14, 2019 7:41 AM   Subscribe

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. The 1619 Project, New York Times.
posted by Think_Long (17 comments total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
I've been following Nikole Hannah Jones on twitter and it's been helpful and educational for me so I am looking forward to reading this in the Sunday paper.
posted by vespabelle at 7:57 AM on August 14, 2019 [6 favorites]

As part of a college class, I was lucky enough to work on a long-running project to try and identify the names and histories of those first enslaved men and women who came over on the White Lion and what their lives were like in the years after 1619 (some findings here and more recent information here). It was clear from original documents, legal records, etc that the white settlers had many choices and opportunities not to build a system of chattel slavery. Those in power used that power to experiment for the first few decades with the status of the enslaved people, the Native Americans in the area, the indentured servants, and the other settlers, trying to decide what to “allow” for work, pay, marriage, legal status, property ownership, crime, and punishment. When they chose to set up the system of chattel slavery they did so with full knowledge that they could have made other choices and that the enslaved Africans could be just as much members of the community as anyone else. Land ownership and intermarriage was already underway, which led to the Melungeon families of Appalachia. Let there be no mistake that the white settlers in power were simply misguided or ignorant—they knew exactly what they were doing when they consigned other humans to enslavement.
posted by sallybrown at 8:06 AM on August 14, 2019 [35 favorites]

This piece gives more details on the gray area between servitude and enslavement during the years between 1619 and 1662. This quote from Andre Kearns is really apt: “Not only was slavery being constructed, but race was being constructed in support of that business model of slavery.”

It has always bugged me a little that historians assume the records noting one of the enslaved women as “Angelo” must be a mistake and her real name must be “Angela.” Her name is noted as Angelo, it might be unusual, but that’s the evidence we have!

That Inquirer piece also mentions the story of John Punch, the earliest black settler formally classified as enslaved (he was sentenced to lifelong enslavement as a punishment), and thought to be the ancestor of Barack Obama.
posted by sallybrown at 8:41 AM on August 14, 2019 [7 favorites]

Those in power used that power to experiment for the first few decades with the status of the enslaved people

Well, of course. Back in England, the legal status of commoners was still under constant renegotiation with the aristocracy, and there still existed several categories of persons who were not free, including serfs and villains.

The Virginia settlers were trying to create a little playground where they too could be aristocrats unlike back home where their status as cadets commoners precluded that joy. So every option was in play.
posted by ocschwar at 8:47 AM on August 14, 2019 [9 favorites]

Without getting too far off on a derail here, serfdom and villeinage were wholly extinct in England for at least a generation before 1619, and had been in steep decline for centuries before that.

Not to dispute the general point that the Virginia slavers invented chattel slavery in a period of general social flux -- but irrespective of any analogies that might (not) exist between serfdom and slavery, that kind of hereditary servitude was just not a thing in England at that point.
posted by shenderson at 9:14 AM on August 14, 2019 [11 favorites]

I can't find the original article about this court case but I read at some point that when Somerset V. Stewart was litigated, the point of law was that in England the law recognized no such thing as a slave, and that serfdom still existed on the books but serfs did not.

Further in the article: Some legal historians think it was a misquote of an excerpt from Lord Chief Justice Holt's judgment in Smith v Brown,[9] in which he is reported to have said: "as soon as a negro comes to England he is free; one may be a villein in England, but not a slave."
posted by ocschwar at 2:29 PM on August 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

Nikole Hannah Jones is an extraordinary person, and I'm so glad this exists.

I also just want to highlight Jamelle Bouie's essay as part of this project, because it draws the striking connection from 1619 to today: America holds onto an undemocratic assumption from its founding: that some people deserve more power than others.
You could make the case that none of this has anything to do with slavery and slaveholder ideology. You could argue that it has nothing to do with race at all, that it’s simply an aggressive effort to secure conservative victories. But the tenor of an argument, the shape and nature of an opposition movement — these things matter. The goals may be colorblind, but the methods of action — the attacks on the legitimacy of nonwhite political actors, the casting of rival political majorities as unrepresentative, the drive to nullify democratically elected governing coalitions — are clearly downstream of a style of extreme political combat that came to fruition in the defense of human bondage.
posted by zachlipton at 2:55 PM on August 14, 2019 [4 favorites]

What a phenomenal project. The essays are wonderful in their own right, but I strongly urge everyone to spend some time digesting the poetry and prose selections. These works, like the essays, span a 400-year timeline of topics relevant to the African-American experience.

I was profoundly moved by the first poem featured, August 1619:

Over the course of 350 years,
36,000 slave ships crossed the Atlantic
Ocean. I walk over to the globe & move

my finger back & forth between
the fragile continents. I try to keep
count how many times I drag

my hand across the bristled
hemispheres, but grow weary of chasing
a history that swallowed me.

For every hundred people who were
captured & enslaved, forty died before they
ever reached the New World.

I pull my index finger from Angola
to Brazil & feel the bodies jumping from
the ship.

I drag my thumb from Ghana
to Jamaica & feel the weight of dysentery
make an anvil of my touch.

I slide my ring finger from Senegal
to South Carolina & feel the ocean
separate a million families.

The soft hum of history spins
on its tilted axis. A cavalcade of ghost ships
wash their hands of all they carried.

- Clint Smith
posted by chara at 2:50 PM on August 15, 2019 [4 favorites]

There's now a direct PDF link to the magazine, via the Pulitzer Center, no subscription required (and it looks extraordinary in print).

There's also a separate section beyond the magazine that I believe will be available online tomorrow.
posted by zachlipton at 5:53 PM on August 18, 2019 [5 favorites]

Is this magazine for sale on news stands? Or is it online only?
posted by rebent at 5:27 AM on August 22, 2019

It was for sale as part of last Sunday's NYT print newspaper; you can probably still find one.

I just started reading the piece about traffic and highways. I remember realizing suddenly, after 20 years growing up in Atlanta, that there was a reason that the streets changed names when they crossed the north-south axis of the city; it wasn't just a mysterious brute fact that they did.
posted by thelonius at 5:36 AM on August 22, 2019

1619 and the cult of American innocence (Zach Beauchamp, Vox)
What the conservative critics of the New York Times’s 1619 Project miss. […]

At the core of these defenses [of traditional views of slavery in the US] is a belief in American innocence — a notion that no matter how important the role slavery played in the country’s creation and history, it cannot be used to define America; that the United States’ founders must be pure and their ideals untarnished. Otherwise, they warn, we risk traveling down the path [that leads to] civil strife and political ruin.

But even a cursory read of the project’s tone-setting introductory essay, by Nikole Hannah-Jones, makes clear that the point is not to delegitimize American ideals, but to deepen and expand them. She illustrates how being honest about the history of racial oppression works to reveal the ways in which black Americans have, despite all the barriers placed in front of them, become the guardians of America’s highest ideals of equality and individual liberty. That despite everything, the United States can be saved from its own history if we fight for it.
posted by ZeusHumms at 7:01 AM on August 22, 2019 [7 favorites]

USA Today also is doing stories for the 1619 Project. Their graphic illustration of the growth of the enslaved population is nicely done. At the bottom are links to their other stories in the series.
posted by vespabelle at 6:33 PM on August 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

There's a wiki page for the 1619 Project.
posted by ZeusHumms at 7:09 AM on August 23, 2019

There's a wiki page

A WIkipedia page. The NYT did not make their own wiki, as your comment suggests.
posted by thelonius at 5:02 AM on August 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

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