Sometime around August 20, 1619 (the exact date is not known), a ship arrived on the shores of Point Comfort, Virginia with between 20 and 30 Africans…and thus the Inter-Atlantic theft and enslavement of African people began.
Thanks to the 1619 Project, an initiative of the New York Times, spearheaded by Nikole Hannah Jones, a staff writer for New York Times Magazine and a 2017 MacArthur Fellow, we have accurate information being openly discussed in the media about the true founding tenets of our country. The 1619 Project is intended to educate us about the truth of enslavement in this country, no longer telling the narrative of a Southern shame, but more a national stain. The North was complicit through its financial gain, surrounding enslaved labor, as well as international involvement through the demand for sugar, cotton, tobacco and other commodities. Commodities were cheap because of unpaid labor.
The telling of this wholly American story is to tell each of us about our beginnings. It is to tell of the contradictions that are embedded in our founding documents. It is to tell why African Americans, in particular, have a right and responsibility to protest those things that are antithetical to what our country says are its ideals and standards. But most importantly, it is for everyone, who calls themselves an American to know the historical truth. Because it is only through this knowledge that we can move forward to effectively eliminate the remaining vestiges of enslavement.
When the staff and board of the National Civil Rights Museum renovated the Museum in 2014, an important Story of A People was added telling of our proud beginnings in Africa to our tragic kidnapping from the African coasts to the shores of the soon to be new American Colonies. We tell of the movement of resistance from the very beginnings of enslavement through the triumph of legal gains during the mid-20th century civil rights movement. But the story doesn’t end there and the 1619 Project does an excellent job of connecting the dots between the then and now.
I encourage everyone to read the articles that make up the 1619 Project or listen to the 1619 New York Times podcast. It’s only taken 400 years for us to begin to talk openly about our nation’s true founding and everyone needs to be a part of this conversation.
Terri Lee Freeman
National Civil Rights Museum President