One of the most talked-about media projects of 2019, the New York Times Magazine’s “The 1619 Project” commemorated 400 years since the first 20-to-30 enslaved Africans arrived in what would become the U.S.
The project was years in the making and will be ongoing. The opening essay was entitled, “Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true.”
The 1619 Project documented how the brutal system of slavery on which the U.S. was built left a legacy that persists. Numerous Black authors contributed to the project including essayists, poets, playwrights, scholars, and novelists who explored aspects of contemporary American life rooted in this history. They wrote about how Black resistance to slavery and racism helped to force progress and equality for all Americans.
In her essay, Hannah-Jones wrote, “It would be historically inaccurate to reduce the contributions of black people to the vast material wealth created by our bondage. Black Americans have also been, and continue to be, foundational to the idea of American freedom. More than any other group in this country’s history, we have served, generation after generation, in an overlooked but vital role: It is we who have been the perfecters of this democracy.”
Hannah-Jones told the Times’ staff that the ‘1619 Project’ was “the most important work of my life,” the Poynter Institute reported.
The 1619 Project drew both praise and anger as it sought to reframe the story we’ve been sold about slavery in the U.S.
Historian, conservative and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called the whole 1619 Project “a lie” and “propaganda.” Sitting senators and some of the most influential commentators on the right screamed about the project.
“But the most noteworthy criticism came from a group of five historians,” Poynter reported. “ln a letter to the Times, they wrote that they were ‘dismayed at some of the factual errors in the project and the closed process behind it.’ They added, “These errors, which concern major events, cannot be described as interpretation or ‘framing.’ They are matters of verifiable fact, which are the foundation of both honest scholarship and honest journalism. They suggest a displacement of historical understanding by ideology.”
Not everyone was happy to hear Hannah-Jones won a Pulitzer. On Twitter, the Pulitzer site attracted a lot of angry tweets — mostly negative comments saying things like “journalism is dead,” “full of shoddy errors & untruths” and “garbage history.”
There were also congratulations. “YES!! Give her ALL the things!” tech attorney and strategist Bärí A. Williams tweeted.
“Congratulations! The 1619 project is amazing and so very important. Appreciation will grow over time. Your Pulitzer Prize is well-deserved!” Angela Billings tweeted.
“You big mad,” @aisling206 tweeted about the anger.
When the 1619 Project launched, Hannah-Jones tweeted that it was her “profound hope that we will reframe for our readers the way we understand our nation, the legacy of slavery, and most importantly, the unparalleled role black people have played in this democracy.”
Hannah-Jones is overseeing a series of books based on the 1619 Project. Random House has acquired rights to a multi-book series. The book releases will include an expanded version of the magazine issue with essays, fiction and poetry published by One World. A graphic novel is also planned. Random House Children’s Books plans four “1619 Project” publications for young people.
“In the end, the 1619 Project — and Hannah-Jones’ essay, in particular — will be remembered for one of the most impactful and thought-provoking pieces on race, slavery and its impact on America that we’ve ever seen,” Tom Jones wrote for Poynter. The Poynter Institute for Media Studies is a nonprofit journalism school and research organization located in St. Petersburg, Florida. The school is the owner of the Tampa Bay Times, formerly the St. Petersburg Times.
The “1619 Project” as a whole did not make the list of Pulitzer Prize finalists.
“The arts have the power to sustain, unite and inspire us during times of uncertainty and fear,” Pulitzer Prize administrator Dana Canedy said before announcing Hannah-Jones as a 2020 winner on Monday, The Root reported.
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Other awards included celebrated novelist Colson Whitehead, who won the the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his novel “The Nickel Boys, about two boys at a horrifying reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida.
African-American artists were also recognized for poetry, drama, and music, with prizes going to playwright Michael R. Jackson, poet Jericho Brown, and composer Anthony Davis.
See the full list of 2020 Pulitzer Prize awardees here.
You can read The New York Times’ 1619 Project in full here.
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