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For this essay, I would like you to read two articles that argue different sides of the debate around The 1619 Project. The first article is by Jake Silverstein and is entitled “Why We Published the 1619 Project.” The second article is by Bret L. Stephens and is entitled “The 1619 Chronicles.” In the first one, Silverstein lays out why the NYT published the articles that comprise the 1619 Project, and in the second one Stephens makes a critique of the project. As you read, make sure you take a few notes on the differences in their opinions about the Project. You may also want to choose a quote or two from each piece that you think represents, or sums up, their position well.
1. “Why We Published the 1619 Project” by Jake Silverstein from The New York Times December 20th, 2019 1619 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 the moment that the country’s defining contradictions first came into the world was in late August of 1619? 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, its 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.
The 1619 Project began with the publication, in August 2019, of a special issue of The New York Times Magazine containing essays on different aspects of contemporary American life, from mass incarceration to rush-hour traffic, that have their roots in slavery and its aftermath. Each essay takes up a modern phenomenon, familiar to all, and reveals its history. The first, by the staff writer Nikole Hannah-Jones (from whose mind this project sprang), provides the intellectual framework for the project and can be read as an introduction.
Alongside the essays, you will find 17 literary works that bring to life key moments in American history. These works are all original compositions by contemporary black writers who were asked to choose events on a timeline of the past 400 years. The poetry and fiction they created is arranged chronologically throughout the issue, and each work is introduced by the history to which the author is responding.
In addition to these elements, we partnered with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture to create a brief visual history of slavery. That is as good a place to start as any.
A word of warning: There is gruesome material in these stories, material that readers will find disturbing. That is, unfortunately, as it must be. 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.
That is the hope of this project.
After you have read and taken notes on each essay, think about the structure of your final essay. In your introduction, you should introduce your reader to the issue by giving some of the context and stakes. End the introduction by making some kind of claim about the issue, even if you agree with points made by both sides. You should then support your position in the essay. You can do this by mentioning the position of any of the four people that we read or heard debate the issue and suggesting why their position is more logical than the opposing ones. By the end of the essay, it should be clear to me that you understand the issue and that you can choose and defend a side within the debate.
This essay is more about your thinking and writing than it is about doing proper and official research, so don’t worry too much about proper citation. I just want to see the you can write clearly and that you can take a position in your writing. You can use first person pronouns hear, and if you feel compelled, feel free to use your own voice if the issue relates to you personally in some way or if you feel strongly about it. Just remember that this is an academic essay, so you should show that you understand the other side as well.