A landmark with America's racial past and present

Again and again, “The 1619 Project” brings the past to life in new ways. I knew nothing, for example, of Callie House, a slavery-born wi...


Again and again, “The 1619 Project” brings the past to life in new ways. I knew nothing, for example, of Callie House, a slavery-born widowed Tennessee laundress who in the early 1900s organized a nationwide movement to demand pensions for former slaves, such as pensions paid to former soldiers from The union. When Congress refused, House sued the federal government, arguing “that the US Treasury owed black Americans $ 68,073,388.99 for taxes it collected between 1862 and 1868 on the cotton the slaves grew. The federal government had identified the cotton and could trace it. His daring infuriated the white Southerners in Woodrow Wilson’s cabinet so much that they made sure House and his lawyer were charged with mail fraud. She served one year in prison.

Nor may most readers know that a planter could take out mortgages on his bonded laborers. Thomas Jefferson did it, to raise the funds needed to build Monticello. If the debtor defaults, the bank then auctioned off these men and women, which worsened the breakdown of families into slavery. The book also reminds us that the stains of slavery in our history were not confined to the South. Almost 1,000 trips to Africa to procure captives were made from Rhode Island. As a result of an 18th century uprising, 21 male and female slaves were executed, some burned at the stake and one tied to a ferris wheel while his bones were smashed with a mallet – in New York City.

Repeatedly, a writer from The 1619 Project makes a bold claim that departs so far from conventional wisdom that it seems exaggerated. And then comes a zinger which proves the author’s point. For example, Hannah-Jones, who wrote the preface to the book and the first and last of her 18 essays, states that the way the Constitution allowed Congress to ban the Atlantic slave trade after 20 years (from 1808) is something “often held up as evidence of editors’ anti-slavery sentiment”, but “can be seen in some ways as selfish”. self-centered ? Virginians, she says, so important among the Founding Fathers, knew that “years of tobacco cultivation had depleted the soil and landowners like Jefferson were turning to less labor-intensive crops like corn. This meant that they needed fewer slaves to make a profit “and” could make money by cutting off the supply of new people from Africa and from. . . selling their surplus workers ”to cotton and sugar producers in the South. Hmm, the reader is wondering then; prove it. And she does: over a 30-year period, “Virginia alone sold between 300,000 and 350,000 slaves to the south, almost as many as all Africans sold to the United States during slavery.”

Another example comes from Ibram X. Kendi, who writes about “seeing our past as a march of racial progress” from the Emancipation Proclamation to the election of Barack Obama. This has long been a heartwarming myth, he says, even citing George Washington as suggesting that slavery was on the verge of an end. But, the reader thinks, can’t the celebration of progress coexist with the recognition that we still have a long way to go? How can Kendi claim that the progress story “actually undermines the effort to achieve and maintain equality”? Rhetorical exaggeration? Yes, but then comes the zinger: in 2013, the Supreme Court gutted the voting rights law on the grounds, according to Chief Justice John Roberts, in his majority opinion, that since its passage in 1965, “things have gone wrong. radically changed ”.

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