‘The 1619 Project’ should be required reading

America

The New York Times is marking the 400th anniversary of the  arrival of the first Blacks in America with a three-month editorial series called “The 1619 Project.” 

The series will document and narrate how enslaved Blacks were already building America at Point Comfort before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620. It will also show how Blacks have been unsung and unpaid builders of much of the rich nation America has become. 

Telling the truth 

From the series, an excerpt from an essay by Nikole Hannah-Jones: 

Before the abolishment of the international slave trade, 400,000 enslaved Africans would be sold into America. Those individuals and their descendants transformed the lands to which they’d been brought into some of the most successful colonies in the British Empire. 

Through backbreaking labor, they cleared the land across the Southeast. They taught the colonists to grow rice. They grew and picked the cotton that at the height of slavery was the nation’s most valuable commodity, accounting for half of all American exports and 66 percent of the world’s supply.

They built the plantations of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, sprawling properties that today attract thousands of visitors from across the globe captivated by the history of the world’s greatest democracy. 

They laid the foundations of the White House and the Capitol, even placing with their unfree hands the Statue of Freedom atop the Capitol dome. They lugged the heavy wooden tracks of the railroads that crisscrossed the South and that helped take the cotton they picked to the Northern textile mills, fueling the Industrial Revolution.

They built vast fortunes for White people North and South – at one time, the second-richest man in the nation was a Rhode Island “slave trader.” Profits from Black people’s stolen labor helped the young nation pay off its war debts and financed some of our most prestigious universities. 

It was the relentless buying, selling, insuring and financing of their bodies and the products of their labor that made Wall Street a thriving banking, insurance and trading sector and New York City the financial capital of the world. 

But anyone who knows anything about the history of slavery in America knows that, for 350 of the past 400 years, Whites constitutionally and systematically enriched themselves at the expense of Blacks. This included Whites reneging on the infamous 1865 promise to compensate newly freed Blacks for their slave labor by granting them 40 acres (and a mule). 

White over right 

And what happened to this astonishingly visionary program, which would have fundamentally altered the course of American race relations? From the Root, published January 7, 2013: 

“Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s successor and a sympathizer with the South, overturned the Order in the fall of 1865, and, as Barton Myers sadly concludes, “returned the land along the South Carolina, Georgia and Florida coasts to the planters who had originally owned it” – to the very people who had declared war on the United States of America.”

Ever since then, Whites have reacted with racial indignation to any attempt at making good the reparations this Order envisioned. This is because far too many of them never learn a damn thing about the history of slavery in America. 

This explains why America has yet to atone for its original sin. It also explains why the legacy of racism and all its malicious strains endure. 

Besides making good on (all) promissory notes, the best thing the government can do to facilitate racial justice and reconciliation is to make The 1619 Project a mandatory course in every American high school. 


Anthony L. Hall is a native of The Bahamas with an international law practice in Washington, D.C. Read his columns and daily weblog at www.theipinionsjournal.com.

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