Nikole Hannah-Jones, a visiting journalist at the Russell Sage Foundation in fall 2017 and 2017 MacArthur fellow, has spearheaded an initiative, the “1619 Project,” for the New York Times magazine, which brings together a group of celebrated journalists and writers to author a series of essays, stories, and poems on the African-American experience. 1619 was the year when enslaved Africans were first brought and put to work in the United States. This series of essays, podcasts, and creative works responds to and analyzes this difficult American legacy. The New York Times describes the project as a “major initiative…observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are.”
Sociologist Matthew Desmond (Princeton University), an RSF grantee and author, wrote an essay for the 1619 Project about how contemporary American capitalism has been shaped by the history of plantation slavery. Desmond edited the inaugural double issue of the Foundation’s journal, RSF, Severe Deprivation in America, in 2015. Trymaine Lee, writing about the persistent wealth gap between black and white Americans, quotes RSF visiting scholar William A. Darity, Jr. (Duke University): “The origins of the racial wealth gap start with the failure to provide the formerly enslaved with the land grants of 40 acres.” Darity was an RSF visiting scholar during the 2015-2016 academic year. Jeneen Interlandi cites research by former RSF trustee, visiting scholar, author and grantee Ira Katznelson (Columbia University) in her article about how the lack of universal healthcare in the United States is tied to the history of disproportionately poor healthcare treatment and outcomes for African-Americans.
The series is complemented by creative contributions from a plethora of African-American writers, including Jacqueline Woodson, ZZ Packer, Yaa Gyasi, Rita Dove, and Jesmyn Ward. This thorough and provocative series is an important reckoning with American history and its reverberations in contemporary life.