VoxFairfax Editors’ Message:
From early grade school instruction, the emergence of the United States of America tends to be characterized as a “birth.” The invasion of this continent’s eastern shores by Europeans was not a birth at all but, ultimately, an act of replacement of indigenous populations. Not long after the first invaders arrived, the shore in Virginia received a population of abducted people, likely from Angola in Africa.
Shortly after arriving in 1607, the Virginia intruders annihilated the Paspahegh tribe, a branch of the more extensive Powhatan Confederacy. Historians record in formal terms the second Anglo-Powhatan War (1622–1632). A few years earlier, in July 1619, the Virginians contingent created a House of Burgesses, a legislative body. One month later, the first of hundreds of thousands of Africans abducted from that continent were delivered to Jamestown, Virginia, as slave labor for the Europeans.
The fates of at least three nations on two continents were impressed one upon another. In July 2019, a celebration, a commemoration, was held in Jamestown to praise the founding of democracy in the New World, with remarks by the President of the United States. A search of the planned proceedings evidences no effort to invite Native Americans to join in the event. Many African-American from Virginia boycotted the occasion.
The New York Times Magazine undertook a broad, insightful effort to refocus the generally accepted prism through which our educational system views this aspect of American history. The introductory paragraphs are excerpted to describe the purpose:
Excerpted from The New York Times, August 18, 2019:
It is not a year that most Americans know as a notable date in our country’s history. Those who do are at most a tiny fraction of those who can tell you that 1776 is the year of our nation’s birth. What if, however, we were to tell you that this fact, which is taught in our schools and unanimously celebrated every Fourth of July, is wrong, and that the country’s true birth date, the moment that its defining contradictions first came into the world, was in late August of 1619? Though the exact date has been lost to history (it has come to be observed on Aug. 20), that was when a ship arrived at Point Comfort in the British colony of Virginia, bearing a cargo of 20 to 30 enslaved Africans. Their arrival inaugurated a barbaric system of chattel slavery that would last for the next 250 years. This is sometimes referred to as the country’s original sin, but it is more than that: It is the country’s very origin.
Out of slavery–and the anti-black racism it required–grew nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional: Its economic might, its industrial power, its electoral system, diet and popular music, the inequities of its public health and education, its astonishing penchant for violence, its income inequality, the example it sets for the world as a land of freedom and equality, its slang, its legal system and the endemic racial fears and hatreds that continue to plague it to this day. The seeds of all that were planted long before our official birth date, in 1776, when the men known as our founders formally declared independence from Britain.
The goal of the 1619 Project is to reframe American history by considering what it would mean to regard 1619 as our nation’s birth year. Doing so requires us to place the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are as a country.
American history cannot be told truthfully without a clear vision of how inhuman and immoral the treatment of black Americans has been. By acknowledging this shameful history, by trying hard to understand its powerful influence on the present, perhaps we can prepare ourselves for a more just future.
The entire article, which includes the ten essays referenced below about various aspects of the 1619 experience, can be accessed here: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/1619-america-slavery.html
Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true. ~Essay by Nikole Hannah-Jones
In order to understand the brutality of American capitalism, you have to start on the plantation. ~By Matthew Desmond
Myths about physical racial differences were used to justify slavery—and are still believed by doctors today. ~By Linda Villarosa
America holds onto an undemocratic assumption from its founding: that some people deserve more power than others. ~By Jamelle Bouie
For centuries, black music, forged in bondage, has been the sound of complete artistic freedom. No wonder everybody is always stealing it. ~By Wesley Morris
What does a traffic jam in Atlanta have to do with segregation? Quite a lot. ~By Kevin M. Kruse
Why doesn’t the United States have universal health care? The answer begins with policies enacted after the Civil War. ~By Jeneen Interlandi
Slavery gave America a fear of black people and a taste for violent punishment. Both still define our prison system. ~By Bryan Stevenson
The sugar that saturates the American diet has a barbaric history as the ‘white gold’ that fueled slavery. ~By Khalil Gibran Muhammad
A vast wealth gap, driven by segregation, redlining, evictions and exclusion, separates black and white America. ~By Trymaine Lee