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New York Times Magazine Explores How Slavery Created America’s Wealth, Growth

 August 20, 2019 at 10:40 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 School textbooks tell us the simple facts about slavery, that Africans were stolen from their homelands and forced to work as slaves in the American south. Then we learned that the slaves were freed by Abraham Lincoln during the civil war, and for many of us, that's about as much history as we ever learned about slavery in America. Last Sunday, The New York Times magazine published a comprehensive series of articles that frame slavery as the institution that fundamentally shaped this country. The essays outlined how slavery was a primary instrument in America's wealth and growth and document how the ongoing struggle of black Americans for full equality can be seen as the redemption of America's original ideals. The effort is called project 1619 marking 400 years since the first African slaves landed in the American colonies. Joining me as Jasmine Hughes with New York Times magazine and Jasmine, welcome to the program. Thank you so much for having me. Speaker 1: 00:58 It seems from reading these essays that there's been a hunger to bring this information to the public for some time. What, besides the 400 year anniversary gave the times the push to launch this series now? I mean I think that there are so many things. So this entire project was cooked up by a staff writer for the magazine. So I mean Nicole, Hannah Jones who covers race quite largely throughout her beat. I think she would describe herself as like a historian of sorts, right? So this is something that she's been personally obsessed in. And the great thing about the final product of the magazine is the myriad ways in which the foundation of slavery continues to affect American life on a day to day basis. So we did have the 400 year anniversary, which is like a useful framing, I guess in some ways from a magazine perspective. But it really, it is something that we interact with in touch every single day. And the idea that slavery could affect every single part of our life unknowingly is I think a huge reason why we decided to not only pursue this project, but go about it so robustly. Can you give us an overview of project 16, 19 for those who haven't seen the series in print or online? Speaker 2: 02:07 So the 16, 19, uh, is a production by the New York Times Sunday magazine and it's in two parts. There is an actual issue of the Sunday magazine with about a dozen writers who have picked various ways of American life and sort of explain how these institutions have its roots in slavery. So for example, Wesley Morris wrote about American music and how so much of what we would call cultural appropriation or just like, or mixing and matching and borrowing from different genres or cultures or what have you. How so much of that has its roots in black creative production. The magazine itself also issues several creative works, several original creative works from poets and novelists and writers who in an attempt to add more to the, uh, to the American creative cannon about the legacy of slavery and the black experience in America. People submitted many, many like wonderful creative forks. Speaker 2: 03:05 The other part of the project is a special section of the paper, which thinks about how inadequately slavery was taught in schools. I mean, so a big reason for this project is sort of like the Gross Miss Education of what slavery really was and how so many people, myself included, to some extent have this idea of slavery. That is, that like begins with Harriet Tubman and maybe ends with Frederick Douglas and everything. And the civil war was one, the menstruation proclamation was, um, disseminated and everything was fine. Right? So the opening essay of this special section is by a reporter called Nikita Stewart, who spoke with many like textbook authors and educators about exactly how they teach the concept of slavery. And there's a study that goes in ranks several textbooks about like really the veracity of the way that the subject is taught and an, it considers the, the myriad ways in which lots of things are left out. And the section that I worked on is um, a collection of objects that were selected by Mary Elliot who was a curator at the National Museum of African American history and culture through which she and I tried to tell a fuller more robust story of what slavery really was. Speaker 1: 04:16 Well you know, the information that's contained in project 1619 weaves together connections that aren't usually made in mainstream histories about slavery for example, how slavery helped Create Wall Street. Exactly. Slavery Speaker 2: 04:30 Create Wall Street slavery has led to like the the modern day understanding of mortgages or like homeowners insurance. Like you know, these sorts of things go back to the protection of property, which 400 years ago meant the protection of people but various people owned. I think part of the reason why the [inaudible] this project has had such an outsized response is because it is Speaker 1: 04:53 a hugely different way of teaching slavery against the that like it's not something that only takes up four pages of your history of textbook. It's not something that's just a couple of questions and your AP US history tests. Like there are ways, again in which the foundation of America and the institutions that we hold dear and know familiarly today are touched by what we call in the issue. Like America's original sin I think will come as a surprise to many people that the great emancipator Abraham Lincoln did not believe that blacks and whites could live together in America and urged freed slaves to go back to Africa. And the project 1619 makes the point that it was then wasn't it, that former slaves claimed America as their country? Yes. So in the process of researching this project, I took many visits to the National Museum of African American history and culture, which I've taken up to calling the black Sonian because it is a little bit of a lengthy name and there's a quote on the wall and the slavery and freedom floor that I'm going to butcher. But essentially the gist of it is that is from a formerly enslaved person talking about how America is his home and that he feels a birthright to be here because of the toil and labor that he contributed to the foundation of this country. In the total labor of his ancestors, in their answers of ancestors and so on. And I think that, you know, as a young African American woman, as someone who was more than likely to send it of slaves working on this project, for me, Speaker 2: 06:26 he gave me, I guess my first real opportunity to feel real ownership and loyalty to this country and to really understand processes through which my ancestors likely contributed to its foundation. And the great thing about this project, and I think that everyone worked really hard to ensure this, is that it's, it's not a project of sorrow, right? It's not something that's very pitiful, it's atrocious, it's heartbreaking. It's often stomach turning at times, but it also really speaks to the resilience of black people or if people who have descended from slaves and how incredible that is. And it really does. As I think Nicole Hannah Jones, his opening essay does a great job of doing really cement us in the foundation of American history. Speaker 1: 07:09 I've been speaking with Jasmine Hughes, with the New York Times magazine, and we've been talking about New York Times Project 1619 jasmine, thank you very much. Thank you so much for having me. Speaker 3: 07:22 [inaudible].

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On Sunday, The New York Times Magazine published a comprehensive series of articles and essays that frame slavery as the institution that fundamentally shaped the United States.
KPBS Midday Edition Segments