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The 1619 Project summary

Nikole Hannah-Jones

A New Origin Story

4.1 (536 ratings)
27 mins

Brief summary

'The 1619 Project' by Nikole Hannah-Jones explores the legacy of slavery and racism in America, and how it has shaped society and culture today. It includes essays, photography, and fiction that provide a new perspective on American history.

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    The 1619 Project
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    A history of silences, and flying the flag of a country that abandoned you.

    Let’s begin with two powerful moments in Nikole Hannah-Jones’s life. The first takes place in the author’s childhood home.One of the things Hannah-Jones remembers most clearly from her childhood is the American flag that fluttered on the front lawn of their family home.

    It was her father’s pride and joy, and he went to great lengths to make sure it was always immaculate. The house might fall into disrepair, but the flag was replaced as soon as it became a little bit frayed. 

    Hannah-Jones didn’t understand her father’s patriotism at all. This was a man born in Mississippi, one of the most violently racist states in the country – someone whose mother hadn’t been allowed to vote or use the library. A descendent of enslaved people who’d been forced to toil in inhumane conditions, this was a man who’d experienced discrimination in every aspect of his life. It impacted where he was allowed to live, what kind of education he had access to, and what kind of jobs he could get. He’d joined the military, believing it would give him access to the privileges afforded white US citizens, only to be overlooked when it came to promotions, and eventually discharged. This was a fiercely intelligent man who spent his life working in service jobs that barely allowed him to get by.

    So, when the country he’d grown up in had let him down so much, how could he be so patriotic? Why did he insist on flying that red, white, and blue flag?

    Like many teenagers, Hannah-Jones was mortified by her father’s insistence on flying the flag. Added to that, she thought his patriotism was misguided, that he’d been lulled into participating in his own degradation. 

    The second moment takes place in her classroom, at school.

    Her social-studies teacher has given all the students an assignment: Draw the national flag of the country where your ancestors came from.Hannah-Jones locks eyes with the only other Black child in the class. Like many descendants of enslaved people, they don’t know exactly where their ancestors came from, just that it’s somewhere in Africa. The moment is uncomfortable; it’s awkward; it’s subtle in its cruelty. They’re denied the glee their white classmates experience in tracing their heritage back to Scotland, or Italy. Hannah-Jones goes to the globe and picks a random African country, and draws that flag. She doesn’t even consider drawing the flag of the country where she was actually born, a place where her ancestors had lived for hundreds of years.

    As a child, Nikole Hannah-Jones had absorbed the message that as a Black person she didn’t really belong in the United States. She wasn’t a “real” American. And she’d absorbed the message that Black people hadn’t contributed much to the country, except “perhaps” their physical labor. After all, there were no Black people among the Founding Fathers, no Black men with their faces carved into Mount Rushmore, no Black politicians staring back at her from the pages of the history books she’d read in school. 

    In short, if the history books were to be believed, Black people featured very minimally in the story of the United States. They popped up in the section about enslaved people, as a victimized population who were held in subjugation until they were “freed” by Abraham Lincoln. Then Black people disappeared from the history books until suddenly someone called Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech about “having a dream.” 

    So who could’ve blamed Hannah-Jones for believing that Black people didn’t really have much to do with the forming of the United States, nevermind anything to be proud of? She’d later learn that, like many Americans, she’d bought into the biggest lie of all – a lie her father disavowed every time he flew that flag in their garden. She’d realize that her father’s reasons for flying the flag were more complex than she could’ve imagined; he knew something she didn’t about the country she’d grown up in. She’d realize that her school education was missing vital parts of the history of herself, her father, and other Black Americans. 

    You see, what you think you know about the founding of America has been warped and distorted. From the date the first ship arrived, to the reason the pilgrims decided to declare independence, to the role Black people have played in forming the country. 

    Even though it happened hundreds of years ago, these stories matter. And they matter more than you know. They matter to girls like Hannah-Jones, staring at a globe and trying to figure out where they come from. And they matter to every person who wants to understand the tendrils of white supremacy that still choke them, no matter how much they try to escape it. They matter to politicians and teachers and historians, and anyone with an interest in systemic poverty, and racism, and why it is that Black people, today, in the United States, are murdered for going to the shops or jogging around their neighbourhoods, or even lying asleep in their beds. So, let’s talk about why the date 1619 is so important. Let’s talk about how its legacy has shaped America.

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    What is The 1619 Project about?

    The 1619 Project (2021) is an anthology of essays investigating the origins of the slave trade in America, and how it has shaped what the country would become. It’s also an exploration of how we create history, and how these stories shape our political present. The essays are accompanied by fictional excerpts and poetry, bringing to life the experiences of enslaved people in America.

    The 1619 Project Review

    The 1619 Project (2019) is an insightful book that explores the history and lasting legacy of slavery in America. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • It offers a thought-provoking examination of the impact of slavery on our society, highlighting the contributions and struggles of Black Americans throughout history.
    • Through a combination of in-depth research, personal narratives, and powerful storytelling, it provides a comprehensive understanding of the complex issues surrounding race in America.
    • By shedding light on often overlooked aspects of American history, The 1619 Project challenges conventional narratives, encouraging readers to reassess their understanding of the past and its implications for the present.

    Who should read The 1619 Project?

    • History-lovers interested in learning more about cutting-edge research from the 1619 Project. 
    • Americans wanting to learn about how the slave trade has shaped their country.
    • Anyone wanting to understand the roots of institutional racism, and how to fight white supremacy.

    About the Author

    Nikole Hannah-Jones is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist covering racial injustice for The New York Times Magazine, and creator of the 1619 Project. She has received a MacArthur Foundation Grant as well as a Peabody Award, two George Polk Awards and the 2018 John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism from Columbia University. In 2016, Hannah-Jones founded the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting with the aim of supporting the work of investigative reporters of color. 

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    The 1619 Project FAQs 

    What is the main message of The 1619 Project?

    The main message of The 1619 Project is a comprehensive reexamination of the legacy and impact of slavery in America.

    How long does it take to read The 1619 Project?

    The reading time for The 1619 Project can vary depending on the reader, but it usually takes several hours. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is The 1619 Project a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The 1619 Project is an important read that sheds light on a crucial part of American history. It provides valuable insights and a deeper understanding of the impact of slavery.

    Who is the author of The 1619 Project?

    The author of The 1619 Project is Nikole Hannah-Jones.

    What to read after The 1619 Project?

    If you're wondering what to read next after The 1619 Project, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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