“The 1619 Project” book shatters many myths and long-taught misinformation about the lives of Black people in the United States, beginning with the arrival of a group of African enslaved people in 1619, the year before the Pilgrims landed.
It’s one of those haunting books that, when you finish it, you wonder if it’s possible to unknow some of what you have just learned.
No matter how disturbing, it’s an important piece of work.
And, it’s our history.
The “1619 Project” book is an expansion of a collection of articles and writings first published in a New York Times magazine 2019 special issue. It walks readers through 400-plus years of history from 1619 with the historic arrival of a ship to an English colony carrying a cargo of kidnapped people. The nearly 600-page book takes readers through the experiences of Black Americans from that moment to today.
Uncomfortable doesn’t begin to describe many of those experiences across four centuries.
The history presented in “The 1619 Project” isn’t the sanitized version taught in most U.S. schools, nor does it jibe with a plethora of misunderstandings and falsehoods many Americans hold about the experiences of Black people in America, past and present.
“1619” attempts to set the record straight with well-written narratives, essays and heart-wrenching poems divided neatly into chapters like Democracy, Race, Fear, Capitalism, Self-Defense and Justice, among 17 segments.
It was astonishing to read in the early pages that the ship “White Lion” arrived in late August 1619 at the ironically named “Point Comfort” in Virginia, carrying a cargo of 20 or more people kidnapped from Africa. They were a portion of thousands of people who had been snatched in raids across North Africa, largely conducted by Portuguese crews and all destined to be enslaved.
And a supreme irony: The enslaved persons on the White Lion (enslaved persons being the preferred term to slaves) initially had been kidnapped from their homelands, then had been kidnapped a second time from another slave ship in an ocean raid carried out by the White Lion.
Kidnappings, theft and violence are themes that resonate throughout the volume.
The original New York Times magazine project and book version have generated plenty of controversy and an avalanche of often-sharp criticism. Some of the complaints about accuracy seem to come from critics who might not have actually read the magazine or the book version. Or at least have not read it closely.
The book is exceedingly well-researched. There are 55 pages of endnotes with references to many hundreds of original documents — letters, reports, scholarly articles, transcripts of speeches, official policies adopted by many U.S. Congresses, and presidential actions.
As I said, well-researched.
Those endnotes are an historical treasure trove, easy to get lost in, and they should be part of every American History curriculum.
Not many books would push me to read Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ second inaugural address. It was enlightening.
“The 1619 Project” came to me via a favorite source of reading material — the public library near my home. I had read a few reviews of “1619,” but it wasn’t until I had the full volume in my hands that I could appreciate what a remarkable book it is.
Books like “The 1619 Project” put things into perspective in a world that has an ever-shrinking attention span. Kudos to libraries and librarians in the Finger Lakes and elsewhere who added this thoughtful work to their public library collections.
The copy of “The 1619 Project” I read went back to the library today. There’s a list of people waiting to pick it up.
The book I checked out to replace it?
“The Library, A Fragile History.”