The 1619 PROJECT is an undertaking spearheaded by Nikole Hannah-Jones, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a MacArthur Fellow; distinctions attained by a few select and high achievers in their field of work.
It was a feat accomplished with the assistance of fellow journalists and historians under the umbrella of The New York Times.
It aims to give a comprehensive, contextual picture of the American democracy through an added lens of the role played by African Americans in the formulation of the nation, a far cry from the only white narrative of valor that is characterized by heroism and pervasive in the country’s education curriculum and popular culture.
The first Africans came to America’s shores in 1619 as indentured servants and hailed from the present-day Angola.
The project appreciates black people’s role in tandem, independently or in contrast to that of the majority culture from indentured servitude, SLAVERY, THE CIVIL WAR, THE RECONSTRUCTION ERA, JIM CROW, THE CIVIL RIGHTS movement to the present day.
It also aims to view the consequences of those interactions, most of which were discriminatory, violent and have served as the foundation of systemic inequalities baked into the American physic and structures that perpetuate the humongous inequities that exist today.
Only then, when we fully fathom, know and understand the WHYS, WHAT IS – IS, can we then take the necessary steps to address those challenges to make our ‘home’ a more equitable and thriving society.
The contentions surrounding THE 1619 PROJECT as it makes its way into the school curriculum has been heightened as groups for and against the core lessons take it to the political arena in school districts and State Boards of Education.
Conservatives and some states, especially southern states have mounted serious opposition and banned any mere mentions of this project in schools, stating that it promotes divisions, condemns or makes a section of students’ harbor guilt, paints a negative picture of the US etc., etc.
It was with this background, that the Trustees of University of North Carolina (UNC) – Chapel Hill initially refused to consider Nikole Hannah-Jones proposed tenure, an alma mater of the University; despite support from the UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor and faculty.
After months of public pressure, The UNC-Chapel Hill board of Trustees voted about a fortnight to grant her the beleaguered tenured slot.
While grateful for the opportunity, she chose to go to Howard University that offered her an inaugural Knight Chair in race and reporting and will establish the Center for Journalism and Democracy. Howard University is a premier HBCU in the country.
Ms. Hannah-Jones wants to move on and be freer to build a future without having to deal with old, tired fights and microaggressions that are rampant at institutions of higher learning and upper echelons of western corporate world; spaces considered ‘sacred’ by some quarters.
Her project, critics say it’s part of the Critical Race Theory which lately has been a major point of contention especially with the wave of reckoning on issues of access, justice and race that are at the forefront of discourse all over the world since the murder of George Floyd in May 2020.
*CRITICAL RACE THEORY – Theorem of how American RACISIM has shaped public policy and divisions that currently exist in American discourse.
* HBCU – Historically, Black Colleges and Universities.