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Reviews for The 1619 Project

by edited Nikole Hannah-Jones, Caitlin Roper, Ilena Silverman and Jake Silverstein

Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

Journalist, academic, and MacArthur fellow Hannah-Jones launched The 1619 Project in 2019 in the New York Times Magazine to mark the four-hundredth anniversary of the arrival of the pirate-seized White Lion, which brought the first captive Africans to colonial soil in Virginia, and to take fresh measure of what followed as a new nation gradually coalesced, then failed to live up to its founding ideals. The response was passionate, paving the way for this volume of expanded and new essays, each proceeded by an historical photograph and a history-inspired poem or work of fiction by Claudia Rankine, Yusef Komunyakaa, Jesmyn Ward, Tracy K. Smith, Yaa Gyasi, Natasha Trethewey, and many more. Readers will discover something new and redefining on every page as long-concealed incidents and individuals, causes and effects are brought to light by Hannah-Jones and 17 other vital thinkers and clarion writers, including Carol Anderson, Ibram X. Kendi, Tiya Miles, and Bryan Stevenson, each of whom sharpens our understanding of the dire influence of anti-Black racism on everything from the American Revolution to the Black church, Motown, health care, Trumpism, how infrastructure enforces racial inequality, the unrelenting financial struggle in Black families and communities, and how Black Americans fighting for equality decade after decade have preserved our democracy. The revelations are horrific and empowering. As Hannah-Jones writes: “If we are a truly great nation, the truth cannot destroy us.” This visionary, meticulously produced, profound, and bedrock-shifting testament belongs in every library and on every reading list.HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: A vigorous publicity campaign building on the impact of the first incarnation will guarantee avid interest in this invaluable and galvanizing history.

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.

Ed. Note: Choice considers racial justice a cornerstone of its mandate to support academic study. Accordingly, Choice is highlighting select racial justice titles through the creation of long-form reviews such as the one featured here. Though the scope of these reviews will be broader than those applied to the standard 190-word Choice reviews, many of the guidelines regarding what to focus on will remain the same, with additional consideration for how the text under review sheds light on racist systems and racial inequities or proposes means of dismantling them. The intent is to feature important works on racial justice that will be useful to undergraduates and faculty researching racism and racial inequalities from new perspectives. The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story is a reimagining of the standardized American history curriculum taught in mainstream public schools, based on The 1619 Project, created and published by The New York Times Magazine. Both the original project and the book are crafted by Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, who began this undertaking in 2019 in commemoration of the 400th year of the start of American slavery. Hannah-Jones, who joined Howard University as the inaugural Knight Chair in Race and Journalism in 2021, reports on issues pertaining to race for The New York Times Magazine and is well versed in matters of race, history, and disparity. Hannah-Jones is not the only expert to feature in this collection, however. She is joined by coeditors Caitlin Roper (former editor, The New York Times Magazine), Ilena Silverman (current story editor at the magazine), Jake Silverstein (editor in chief of the magazine), and a host of prominent contributing authors. Avid readers of history will take note of pieces by Martha S. Jones, Carol Anderson, Tiya Miles, Ibram X. Kendi, Dorothy Roberts, Khalil Gibran Muhammad, and Michelle Alexander. For those who enjoy poetry and fiction, heavyweights such as Clint Smith, Terrance Hayes, Terry McMillan, ZZ Packer, Claudia Rankine, and Sonia Sanchez make appearances as well. All together, the contributors boast a veritable bevy of Black thought leaders, scholars, artists, and social justice influencers. The 1619 Project explores a central question: What if we look at 1619, when 20 to 30 Africans bound for enslavement arrived aboard the White Lion, as the year of the American founding, rather than 1620 when the Mayflower arrived? In other words, this collection asks readers to consider the history of the United States through a non-white lens. In 18 chapters, the book presents elements of American history through the eyes of those who are descendants of the enslaved Africans who arrived before the Pilgrims. Nevertheless, this project is not just a retelling of history. It is a time line of important events that centers enslavement, spanning 1619–2020. At each important milestone, the book discusses a topic that sprouts from the existence of enslavement, and readers are treated to poetry, images, and essays to underscore the historical narrative. Chapters address several issues at the heart of American history and politics such as democracy, race, citizenship, and capitalism and elements of the human experience, including fear, the church, dispossession, and justice. Like many books that explore the intersections of race, sociology, and history, this work is targeted toward a broad audience. The 1619 Project sets out to decenter whiteness as the only American origin story and to highlight the contributions and experiences of oft-marginalized Black Americans, and it succeeds in doing so. It centers the Black experience through the voices of poets, essayists, historians, and writers. For example, in chapter 15 (“Healthcare”), author Jeneen Interlandi, a staff writer at The New York Times Magazine, connects current discussions of universal health care to policies that began with the end of the Civil War when newly freed Black people had no access to health care. As smallpox ravaged the population, Black bodies littered the streets. Hospitals at the time were scarce, and those that were available attended to the needs of white people only. Freed Black citizens asked for the same disease prevention, in terms of sanitation and vaccination, that the Union Army received. After much debate, the request was granted, but when Black people continued to die, they were branded as “unfit for citizenship.” This stigma that deems Black Americans unworthy of citizenship is rooted in the same systemic racism that pervades the health care system today. The discussion that follows from this considers Black people’s responses to being written off as “soon to be extinct,” which has implications that simply addressing the history of American health care has never before captured. Each of the other 17 sections are given the same thoughtful, well-researched treatment. The essays, poetry, fiction, and photographs are combined in such a way that readers are taken on a journey through time. To be clear, the topics and stories in this project are not revisionist, negotiationist, or distortionist. Rather, they present research-based facts and time lines that coincide with white, mainstream history most often taught in high schools across the nation. Despite these admirable aims and excellent execution, The 1619 Project, both the book and (particularly) the original magazine feature, has created a remarkable amount of controversy. Though proponents of the work appreciate its ability to be more inclusive of Black voices, opponents have derided the text and even questioned the integrity of The New York Times Magazine for so much as broaching the topic, much less taking up such a project. Criticism has been loud, public, and at times full of vitriol. A group of historians, for example, wrote a public letter claiming that there were numerous distortions and errors in the original project. Upon closer reflection, there were sentences in Hannah-Jones’s original editorialization that drew fire, notably a passage in which she claims white colonizers wanted to come to America after growing dissatisfied with Britain’s move toward abolishing enslavement. Though it is true that not all colonizers felt this way, a significant number did. The wording in the book was changed to convey this by clarifying that “some” colonizers felt this way. It is worth noting that after rigorous fact checking, the claims put forward in the book were found to be true. Even in disagreement, major scholars have warned that the book should not be discounted because of such debate. Nevertheless, the book has still been attacked by white scholars who have doubled down on 1620 as the year the United States began. Though these critics acknowledge that other white-centered events in years such as 1776 are viable ways to define the beginnings of the country, they still label Hannah-Jones’s work “radical,” calling it incomplete because it overlooks the contributions of multicultural and working-class families. Perhaps most jarringly, fringe groups have used the book to stir anger and retaliation. In all fairness, however, such wild claims made against the book are not true. At no point in this book do Hannah-Jones or any of the writers call for violence or retaliation against white Americans. Even more recently, the book has been at the center of the critical race theory (CRT) debate. Right-wing detractors have described the text as an attempt to erase the contributions of white people to the United States as well as to shame those same Americans into denying their heritage. Conservative white scholars have even described the volume as racist and divisive and accused the creators of the project as socialists and tools of the left wing. Still, perhaps precisely because of this blowback, the book has been held up as an example of why CRT is needed in schools, as it features experiences of U.S. laws and public policies unknown to white Americans. At its core, The 1619 Project is simply a view of American history, laws, and public policy from the viewpoint of Black Americans. The book does not deride, deface, or suggest that white Americans be erased from history. Further, it does not claim to discuss the contributions of other groups of Americans such as the general working poor, immigrants, or white women. Instead, the book is clearly grounded in the Black viewpoint and the mission to highlight that viewpoint as a starting place for understanding the origins of the United States, just as other books have done, from different vantage points. Although this book contains high-level discussions well suited for higher education, practitioners, and general adult audiences, high school students will also benefit from many of the essays, poems, and short stories included here. Academic libraries will do well to include this title on their shelves. Controversy aside, this is a wonderful critical analysis of U.S. policy, law, and politics. Instructors will find the book an excellent resource for course discussions on race, justice, politics, progress, and other topics. For those looking to include supplemental work or highlight marginalized voices, this volume goes far to make this happen in a meaningful, enlightening way. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels. --Leslie T Grover, Southern University and A&M College

Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Launched by the New York Times editors in August 2019 as an ongoing series with MacArthur Fellow Hannah-Jones at the helm, the 1619 Project takes the arrival of the first enslaved people from Africa in August 1619 as its starting point and proceeds through four centuries to explore the contributions of Black Americans and the ways both slavery and resistance to oppression have definitively shaped America. The project brings us up to the present day with examinations of persistent anti-Black racism and continuing discussions of reparations and other unresolved issues. Contributors range from Jamelle Bouie and Jeneen Interlandi to Matthew Desmond and Bryan Stevenson, with fiction and poetry included along with nonfiction. The aim is to provide a new perspective on American history, and Hannah-Jones has already won a Pulitzer Prize for the project; this work expands on coverage that has already appeared. Note that a children's edition will appear simultaneously (ISBN 9780593307359).

Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

In this substantial expansion of the New York Times Magazine’s 2019 special issue commemorating the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in America, Pulitzer winner Hannah-Jones (coauthor, The 1619 Project: Born on the Water) and an impressive cast of historians, journalists, poets, novelists, and cultural critics deliver a sweeping study of the “unparalleled impact” of African slavery on American society. In an enlightening preface, Hannah-Jones pinpoints the origins of the project in her reading of Lerone Bennet Jr.’s Before the Mayflower as a high school student, and discusses the political and scholarly backlash it’s received. Updated versions of the original 10 essays examine the struggle for African American voting rights and the centrality of Black music to American culture, among other topics, while new essays by Carol Anderson and Leslie and Michelle Alexander spotlight double standards in the application of self-defense laws and the police response to Black Lives Matter protests and the January 6 Capitol riot. Stories and poems by Claudia Rankine, Terry McMillan, Darryl Pinckney, and others bring to vivid life historical moments such as the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation to “one of the first Black military brigades.” The result is a bracing and vital reconsideration of American history. Photos. (Nov.)

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A book-length expansion of the New York Times Magazine issue that explores the history of slavery in America and its countless toxic consequences. Famously denied tenure at the University of North Carolina for her critical journalism, Hannah-Jones sounds controversial notes at the start: There are no slaves but instead enslaved people, a term that “accurately conveys the condition without stripping the individual of his or her humanity,” while the romantic plantation gives way to the more accurate terms labor camp and forced labor camp. The 1619 Project was intended to introduce Black people into the mainstream narrative of American history as active agents. It may have been White people who enslaved them, but apart from the legal and constitutional paperwork, it was Black people who resisted and liberated themselves and others, from their very first arrival at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619 to the very present. Hannah-Jones and colleagues consider a nation still wrestling with the outcomes of slavery, an incomplete Reconstruction, and a subsequent history of Jim Crow laws and current legal efforts to disenfranchise Black voters. As she notes, the accompanying backlash has been vigorous, including attempted laws by the likes of Sen. Tom Cotton to strip federal funds from schools that teach the 1619 Project or critical race theory. Among numerous other topics, the narrative examines: the thought that the American independence movement was fueled at least in part by the insistence on maintaining slavery as the Crown moved to abolition; the use of slavery to tamp down resistance among poor Whites whose functions were essentially the same as the enslaved but who, unlike Black people, were not considered property; the ongoing appropriation of Black music, which has “midwifed the only true integration this country has known,” as Wesley Morris writes, by a machine that perpetuates minstrelsy. Those readers open to fresh and startling interpretations of history will find this book a comprehensive education. A much-needed book that stakes a solid place in a battlefield of ideas over America’s past and present. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Based on the landmark 1619 Project, this collection edited by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Hannah-Jones, who developed the Project in collaboration with the New York Times Magazine, expands on the groundbreaking work with added nuance and new contributions by poets like Tracy K. Smith, writers including Kiese Laymon, and historians such as Anthea Butler. In the preface, Hannah-Jones shares her inspiration for the magazine version of the 1619 Project and her fascination with history—and who is allowed to tell it. Fans of the 1619 Project will be eager to reread its essays, including Khalil Gibran Muhammad's examination of sugar slavery and Wesley Morris's treatise on the appropriation of Black music. Combining history, criticism, and literature, this book also adds powerful new contributions, including Carol Anderson's study of the connection between slavery and the Second Amendment and Leslie and Michelle Alexander's reporting on longstanding fears of Black rebellion. Interspersed throughout are historical facts about Black people fighting for freedom, as well as archival photographs. Like Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain's Four Hundred Souls, this work asks readers to deeply consider who is allowed to shape the collective memory. VERDICT Like the magazine version of the 1619 Project, this invaluable book sets itself apart by reframing readers' understanding of U.S. history, past and present.—Stephanie Sendaula, Library Journal