In the trailer for the new Hulu docuseries on the groundbreaking “1619 Project,” creator and host Nikole Hannah-Jones notes that, “No part of America’s story has been untouched by the legacy of slavery.”
It was that viewpoint, reframing American history by exploring the impact of slavery and the contributions of African Americans to our nation, that underpinned the project and produced both controversy and revelation.
Published by The New York Times Magazine in August 2019, the 400th anniversary of slavery in America, the project won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary. It was accompanied by a podcast, became “The 1619 Project: The Origin Story” bestseller and then was published as a children’s book, “The 1619 Project: Born on the Water,” which includes a K-12 curriculum and teacher’s guide.
The most recent adaptation into a six-part docuseries on the Hulu streaming service gives voice to the written word and provides a powerful visual representation of the disparities that exist in America.
Each episode examines how slavery has impacted every aspect of modern life including the wealth gap, the criminal justice system and the Black maternal mortality rate. Even today’s music has the soul of the enslaved at its roots, the series notes.
“Black Americans have always been foundational to the idea of American freedom,” Hannah-Jones says in the trailer, also noting that “Black Americans’ contributions are undeniable. No people had a greater claim to the American flag than we do.”
The series features Hannah-Jones on porches, in churches and meeting community folks where they are. She talks to historians, civil rights activists, grassroots organizers, community leaders and former foot soldiers, such as MacArthur Cotton, a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Freedom Rider, who was jailed for trying to register Black voters in the 1960s.
Ashley Shelton, founder and president of the New Orleans-based Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, says the organization will hold screenings and panel discussions in cities in Louisiana about the “1619 Project” docuseries during Black History Month, which begins Wednesday (Feb. 1). The coalition’s mission is to “build an integrated civic engagement strategy that amplifies the voices of those who have historically been ignored and organize them into a unified movement.”
The goal of the discussions is to “focus on the reality and ongoing impacts of slavery, Jim Crow and the current ways it continues to show up in the Deep South,” says Shelton, who is also a member of the Black Southern Women’s Collaborative, a network of Black women executive directors in the South who commit to sharing resources and strategy in their joint effort to improve conditions for Black people.
The Hulu series premiered on Jan. 26, just a few days after lawyers for the family of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols held a press conference on his brutal death during an encounter with five Memphis police officers. Video footage shows that when the Black FedEx worker was pulled over for a traffic stop, he was shot with a stun gun, pepper sprayed and beaten. Nichols died three days later from his injuries. The five police officers have been charged with second-degree murder.
The “1619” docuseries also comes at a time when Black history is being attacked. For example, in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis rejected an Advanced Placement course on African American studies claiming that it was a vehicle to push a political agenda and certain ideology. The Florida education commissioner said that the course was filled with critical race theory and described it as “woke indoctrination masquerading as education.”
Last year, DeSantis signed the Stop WOKE Act which restricts how race is discussed in schools, colleges and workplaces. Three Florida high school students are suing DeSantis for rejecting the AP African American course.
Prentiss Haney, executive director of the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, says African American history is being intentionally erased. The collaborative recruits, trains and encourages a new generation of grassroots leaders who work to improve the material conditions of those in marginalized communities and “change the systems that perpetuate injustice.”
“Our stories give a roadmap to the truth of America’s history,” Haney says. “‘The 1619 Project’ made public and permanent the truth of Black history. This is critical when African American history is being used as a political pawn in the future erosion of our democracy.”
Bestselling author and “1619 Project” contributor Kiese Laymon describes the ever-evolving project as “one of the most expansive explorations of Black existence and resistance in this nation’s history.
“But folks forget that it is, indeed, an exploration,” Laymon says. “So there will be revelations and revisions made because revelation and revision are as much a part of this so-called American experience as anything else. The project shaped discourse and gave many of us a trail forward and backward into Black abundance.”
As one of Hannah-Jones’ subjects notes, “We’re still fighting, long as there’s life, we gotta have hope.”
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