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 One-page summary and analysis (250 words) of the Sugar article from The 1619 Project

(It’s Page 70-77)

(It’s due later tonight, around 4am) So technically due March 1st (4am) 

August 18, 2019

The 1619 Project

In August of 1619, a ship appeared on this horizon, near Point Comfort,
a coastal port in the British colony of Virginia. It carried more than
20 enslaved Africans, who were sold to the colonists. America was
not yet America, but this was the moment it began. No aspect of
the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the 250
years of slavery that followed. On the 400th anniversary of this fateful
moment, it is fi nally time to tell our story truthfully.

4

161
Editor’s Note by Jake Silverstein

It is not a year that most Americans know as a notable date in our

country’s history. Those who do are at most a tiny fraction of those who

can tell you that 1776 is the year of our nation’s birth. What if, however,

we were to tell you that this fact, which is taught in our schools and

unanimously celebrated every Fourth of July, is wrong, and that the

country’s true birth date, the moment that its defining contradictions

first came into the world, was in late August of 1619? Though the exact

date has been lost to history (it has come to be observed on Aug. 20),

that was when a ship arrived at Point Comfort in the British colony of

Virginia, bearing a cargo of 20 to 30 enslaved Africans. Their arrival

inaugurated a barbaric system of chattel slavery that would last for

the next 250 years. This is sometimes referred to as the country’s

original sin, but it is more than that: It is the country’s very origin.

Out of slavery — and the anti-black racism it required — grew

nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional: its eco-

nomic might, its industrial power, its electoral system, diet and

popular music, the inequities of its public health and education, its

astonishing penchant for violence, its income inequality, the exam-

ple it sets for the world as a land of freedom and equality, its slang,

its legal system and the endemic racial fears and hatreds that

continue to plague it to this day. The seeds of all that were planted

long before our official birth date, in 1776, when the men known as

our founders formally declared independence from Britain.

The goal of The 1619 Project, a major initiative from The New

York Times that this issue of the magazine inaugurates, is to

reframe American history by considering what it would mean to

5

regard 1619 as our nation’s birth year. Doing so requires us to

place the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black

Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about

who we are as a country.

Perhaps you need some persuading. The issue contains essays on

different aspects of contemporary American life, from mass incar-

ceration to rush-hour traffic, that have their roots in slavery and its

aftermath. Each essay takes up a modern phenomenon, familiar to

all, and reveals its history. The first, by the staff writer Nikole Hannah-

Jones (from whose mind this project sprang), provides the intellectual

framework for the project and can be read as an introduction.

Alongside the essays, you will find 17 literary works that bring

to life key moments in African-American history. These works are

all original compositions by contemporary black writers who were

asked to choose events on a timeline of the past 400 years. The

poetry and fiction they created is arranged chronologically through-

out the issue, and each work is introduced by the history to which

the author is responding.

A word of warning: There is gruesome material in these pages,

material that readers will find disturbing. That is, unfortunately, as

it must be. American history cannot be told truthfully without a clear

vision of how inhuman and immoral the treatment of black Americans

has been. By acknowledging this shameful history, by trying hard to

understand its powerful influence on the present, perhaps we can

prepare ourselves for a more just future.

That is the hope of this project.

19.

6

Page 28 . . . . . . . Clint Smith on the Middle Passage

Page 29 . . . . . . . Yusef Komunyakaa on Crispus Attucks

Page 42 . . . . . . . Eve L. Ewing on Phillis Wheatley

Page 43 . . . . . . . Reginald Dwayne Betts on the Fugitive

Slave Act of 1793

Page 46 . . . . . . . Barry Jenkins on Gabriel’s Rebellion

Page 47 . . . . . . . Jesmyn Ward on the Act Prohibiting

Importation of Slaves

Page 58 . . . . . . . Tyehimba Jess on Black Seminoles

Page 59 . . . . . . . Darryl Pinckney on the Emancipation

Proclamation of 1863

400 Years: A Literary Timeline

Index

Page 59 . . . . . . . ZZ Packer on the New Orleans massacre of 1866

Page 68 . . . . . . . Yaa Gyasi on the Tuskegee syphilis experiment

Page 69 . . . . . . . Jacqueline Woodson on Sgt. Isaac Woodard

Page 78 . . . . . . . Rita Dove and Camille T. Dungy on the 16th Street

Baptist Church bombing

Page 79 . . . . . . . Joshua Bennett on the Black Panther Party

Page 84 . . . . . . . Lynn Nottage on the birth of hip-hop

Page 84 . . . . . . . Kiese Laymon on the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s

“rainbow coalition” speech

Page 85 . . . . . . . Clint Smith on the Superdome after

Hurricane Katrina

T he 1619 Project / Introduction, Pa g
by N kole Hannah-Jones, Page 14 / Ca
Page 30 / A Broken Health Care Sys
Page 44 / raffi c, by Kevin M. Kruse, P
by Jamelle Bouie, Page 50 / Medical I
Page 56 / American Popular Music, b
by Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Page 7
Stevenson, Page 80 / he Wealth Ga p
a photo essay, by Djeneba Aduayom,

7

Behind the Cover

We commissioned the photographer Dannielle Bowman to

photograph the water off the coast of Hampton, Va., at the

site where the first enslaved Africans were recorded being

brought to Britain’s North American colonies. So many of our

national narratives feature the arrival of ships to the New World

(Christopher Columbus, Plymouth Rock), and yet this arrival,

of these “twenty and odd Negroes” in 1619, has generally been

left out of our founding myths. Rarely is the disembarking of

these people treated with grandeur. We wanted to change that.

Photograph by Dannielle Bowman for The New York Times.

Beyond this issue, you’ll also find a special section in today’s

newspaper on the history of slavery, made in partnership with the

Smithsonian, and an article in the Sports section considering

the legacy of slavery in professional sports; on Aug. 20, ‘‘The Daily’’

begins a multipart 1619 audio series; and starting this week,

in partnership with the Pulitzer Center, The Times is introducing

a curriculum and educational outreach effort to bring this

material to students (for information, see the inside back cover).

Look for more #1619project updates in the weeks ahead.

The 1619 Project Continues

a ge 4 / he Idea of America,
Capitalism, by Matthew Desmond,
ystem, by Jeneen Interlandi,
, Page 48 / Undemocratic Democracy,
l Inequality, by L nda Villarosa,
, by Wesl ey Morris, Page 60 / Sugar,

e 70 / Mass Incarceration, by Bryan
a p, by rymai ne Lee, Page 82 / Hope,
, Page 86 / Contributors 10 / Puzzles 94, 96, 97 / Puzzles Answers 97 / Endpaper 98

InternX
The Fund II team learned quickly that mentorships, scholarships

and internships opened the widest doors to prosperity. To that

end, Fund II created internX, a platform to connect students

studying science, technology, engineering or math with companies

searching for STEM talent. internX disproves the notion that quali-

fied black and brown tech interns donít exist, while helping interns

learn skills, find mentors and gather the experience crucial for

developing careers and building wealth.

Changing Lives,
One Grant at a Time

B
usiness leader and philanthropist Robert F. Smith

inspired the world with his 2019 commencement pledge

to pay off the student debt for nearly 400 graduates at

Morehouse College in Atlanta. Smithís pledge was a personal

one, on behalf of his family, which has been part of the American

fabric for eight generations. The gift also focused a public spot-

light on Fund II Foundation, a private charitable organization

founded in 2014 to grant to public charities the assets of a

reserve established when Smithís Vista Equity Partners raised its

first private equity fund in 2000.

Fund II Foundation, which Smith leads as President and Found-

ing Director, has awarded nearly $250 million in grants in nine

disciplines: education, social justice, environment, digitization,

career readiness, health, music and arts appreciation, cultural

preservation and veteransí affairs. Its grantees include non-profits

that train veterans and young adults for technology careers,

promote youth environmental service and teach young people

how to preserve historic and culturally significant landmarks.

Through grants and signature in-house programs, Fund II has

touched more than 1.2 million people nationwide.

Cradle to Greatness
The foundationís signature philosophy, Cradle to Greatness, offers

a framework to measure the success of grantees, determine those

in need of additional help and accelerate access to that help. This

enables Fund II to go deeper, investing in overlooked and underes-

timated communities, considering many pathways to success,

from birth to a career, and even promoting business ownership.

ìOur Cradle to Greatness framework rekindles hope and pros-

perity in communities often besieged by neglect and violence,î says

Smith. ìWhat we want our kids to know in every domain of their

lives ó on this earth, in the home, on the job, at school, everywhere

they turn ó is that they are worthy.î

PHOTOGRAPHY PROVIDED BY FUND II FOUNDATION

PAID FOR AND POSTED BY

FUND II FOUNDATION

$39.5 million
The amount Fund II has spent on

cultural preservation

$24 million
The amount Fund II has awarded in music

& arts appreciation grants

$16.52 million
The amount Fund II has spent on career

readiness

$89.81 million
The amount Fund II has awarded in grants

on education and scholarships

1.2 million
The number of people in the U.S.

touched by Fund II grants and programs

$241 million
The amount of grants awarded by Fund II

PAID FOR AND POSTED BY

FUND II FOUNDATION

This is not only the right thing to do but also smart, says Linda

Wilson, the executive director of Fund II Foundation. A recent

national economics poll determined that black and brown Ameri-

cans hold a combined buying power of $2.8 trillion, and of those

spenders, half in each group are under 35. ìThey are the future and

the most untapped talent force of our nation,î says Ivana Jackson,

the internX program manager.

Started in 2018, internX has a goal of placing 1,000 interns this

year and 10,000 in 2020. But Fund IIís commitment to young people

of color doesnít stop with STEM careers; its attention to music, art

and environmental education is every bit as strong. ìMusic and art

provide balance to young people,î Wilson says, ìinstilling a sense of

peace while increasing aptitude.î

Restoration Retreat
In 2018, Fund II developed yet another signature program, one that

allows young people to commune with nature, while also ìproviding

much needed respite to heal and inspire,î Wilson says. For its inau-

gural event, Restoration Retreat hosted 35 boys of color from tough

circumstances on a retreat to the Colorado Rocky Mountains. They

received life-skills coaching, financial literacy and entrepreneurial

training, as well as instruction in mentorship, yoga and meditation.

They also pursued outdoor adventures like archery, fly fishing,

hiking and horseback riding.

This yearís event included a separate retreat for girls. They each

Programs like Restoration Retreat create inspiring scenes that Fund

II leaders intend to replicate nationwide: children of color participating

and excelling in careers, stewardship and life. ìWe at Fund II are

committed to ensuring African Americans prosper through scientific,

political, cultural and social capital. We are proud of our grantees and

collaborators because their work pays tribute to our ancestors who are

Contributors

With creative works from:

Trymaine Lee, 82

Khalil Gibran Muhammad, 70Wesley Morris, 60

Jesmyn Ward
Rita Dove
Reginald Dwayne Betts
Yusef Komunyakaa

Kiese Laymon
Clint Smith
ZZ Packer

Camille T. Dungy
Yaa Gyasi
Eve L. Ewing
Darryl Pinckney

L ynn Nottage, 84

Jamelle Bouie, 50

Dannielle Bowman, 98 Jeneen Interlandi, 44

L inda Villarosa, 58

Nikole Hannah-Jones, Page 14

is a staff writer for the magazine.

A 2017 MacArthur fellow, she has
won a National Magazine Award,
a Peabody Award and a George
Polk Award.

Lynn Nottage, Page 84

is a playwright and screenwriter.
She has received two Pulitzer
Prizes and a MacArthur fellowship,
and she is currently an associate
professor at Columbia School of
the Arts.

Trymaine Lee, Page 82

is a Pulitzer Prize- and Emmy
Award-winning journalist and a
correspondent for MSNBC.
He covers social-justice issues
and the role of race in politics
and law enforcement.

Dannielle Bowman, Page 98

is a visual artist working with
photography. She is an artist in
residence at Baxter Street Camera
Club of New York, where she
will have a solo show in January.

Jeneen Interlandi, Page 44

is a member of The Times’s
editorial board and a staff writer
for the magazine. Her last
article for the magazine was
about teaching in the age
of school shootings.

Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Page 70

is a Suzanne Young Murray
professor at the Radcliffe Institute
for Advanced Study at Harvard
University and author of ‘‘The
Condemnation of Blackness.’’

Wesley Morris, Page 60

is a staff writer for the magazine,
a critic at large for The New
York Times and a co-host of the
podcast ‘‘Still Processing.’’ He
was awarded the 2012 Pulitzer
Prize for criticism.

Linda Villarosa, Page 58

directs the journalism program at
the City College of New York and is a
contributing writer for the magazine.
Her feature on black infant and
maternal mortality was a finalist for
a National Magazine Award.

10

N kole Hannah-Jones, Page 14

Barry Jenkins
Jacqueline Woodson

Adam Pendleton, 14

Joshua Bennett, 79 Kevin M. Kruse, 48

Bryan Stevenson, 80 Djeneba duayom, 86

Jamelle Bouie, Page 50

is a Washington-based New York
Times opinion columnist and
a political analyst for CBS News.
He covers campaigns, elections,
national affairs and culture.

Djeneba Aduayom, Page 86

is a photographer in Los Angeles
known for her portraiture inspired
by her career as a dancer.

Tyehimba Jess, Page 58

is a poet from Detroit who teaches
at the College of Staten Island.
He is the author of two books of
poetry, ‘‘Leadbelly’’ and ‘‘Olio,’’
for which he received the 2017
Pulitzer Prize.

Kevin M. Kruse, Page 48

is a professor of history at
Princeton University and the author
of ‘‘White Flight: Atlanta and the
Making of Modern Conservatism.’’

Contributors’ bios
continue on Page 95.

Bryan Stevenson, Page 80

is the executive director of the
Equal Justice Initiative and
the author of ‘‘Just Mercy: A Story
of Justice and Redemption.’’

Adam Pendleton, Page 14

is an artist known for conceptually
rigorous and formally inventive
paintings, collages, videos and
installations that address history
and contemporary culture.

Joshua Bennett, Page 79

is an assistant professor of English
and creative writing at Dartmouth
College and the author of ‘‘The
Sobbing School.’’ His poetry book
‘‘Owed’’ will be published in 2020.

Tyehimba Jess, 58

11Photographs by Kathy Ryan

Special thanks: To bring The 1619 Project to non-Times subscribers, we have printed hundreds of thousands of additional copies
of this issue, as well as of today’s special newspaper section, for distribution at libraries, schools and museums.
This would not have been possible without the generous support of donors: Wilson Chandler, John Legend
on behalf of the Show Me Campaign, Ekpe Udoh, Gabrielle Union, Fund II Foundation and the N.A.A.C.P. Legal
Defense and Educational Fund.

Our founding ideals of
liberty and equality
were false when they
were written. Black
Americans fought to
make them true.
Without this struggle,
America would have
no democracy at all.

By Nikole Hannah-Jones

Artwork by Adam Pendleton

August 18, 2019

15

T he 1619 Project

16

My dad always fl ew an American
fl ag in our front yard. The blue
paint on our two- story house was
perennially chipping; the fence, or
the rail by the stairs, or the front
door, existed in a perpetual state of
disrepair, but that fl ag always fl ew
pristine. Our corner lot, which had
been redlined by the federal gov-
ernment, was along the river that
divided the black side from the
white side of our Iowa town. At the
edge of our lawn, high on an alu-
minum pole, soared the fl ag, which
my dad would replace as soon as it
showed the slightest tatter.

My dad was born into a family
of sharecroppers on a white plan-
tation in Greenwood, Miss., where
black people bent over cotton from
can’t- see- in- the- morning to can’t-
see- at- night, just as their enslaved
ancestors had done not long before.
The Mississippi of my dad’s youth
was an apartheid state that subju-
gated its near- majority black pop-
ulation through breathtaking acts
of violence. White residents in Mis-
sissippi lynched more black people
than those in any other state in the
country, and the white people in
my dad’s home county lynched
more black residents than those
in any other county in Mississippi,
often for such ‘‘crimes’’ as entering
a room occupied by white women,
bumping into a white girl or trying
to start a sharecroppers union. My
dad’s mother, like all the black peo-
ple in Greenwood, could not vote,
use the public library or fi nd work
other than toiling in the cotton fi elds
or toiling in white people’s houses.
So in the 1940s, she packed up her
few belongings and her three small
children and joined the fl ood of
black Southerners fl eeing North.
She got off the Illinois Central Rail-
road in Waterloo, Iowa, only to have
her hopes of the mythical Promised
Land shattered when she learned
that Jim Crow did not end at the
Mason- Dixon line.

Grandmama, as we called her,
found a house in a segregated black
neighborhood on the city’s east side
and then found the work that was
considered black women’s work no
matter where black women lived
— cleaning white people’s houses.
Dad, too, struggled to fi nd promise
in this land. In 1962, at age 17, he

signed up for the Army. Like many
young men, he joined in hopes of
escaping poverty. But he went into
the military for another reason as
well, a reason common to black
men: Dad hoped that if he served
his country, his country might fi nal-
ly treat him as an American.

The Army did not end up being
his way out. He was passed over for
opportunities, his ambition stunt-
ed. He would be discharged under
murky circumstances and then
labor in a series of service jobs for
the rest of his life. Like all the black
men and women in my family, he
believed in hard work, but like all
the black men and women in my
family, no matter how hard he
worked, he never got ahead.

So when I was young, that fl ag
outside our home never made sense
to me. How could this black man,
having seen fi rsthand the way his
country abused black Americans,
how it refused to treat us as full citi-
zens, proudly fl y its banner? I didn’t
understand his patriotism. It deeply
embarrassed me.

I had been taught, in school,
through cultural osmosis, that the
fl ag wasn’t really ours, that our his-
tory as a people began with enslave-
ment and that we had contributed
little to this great nation. It seemed
that the closest thing black Amer-
icans could have to cultural pride
was to be found in our vague con-
nection to Africa, a place we had
never been. That my dad felt so
much honor in being an American
felt like a marker of his degradation,
his acceptance of our subordination.

Like most young people, I thought
I understood so much, when in fact I
understood so little. My father knew
exactly what he was doing when he
raised that fl ag. He knew that our
people’s contributions to build-
ing the richest and most powerful
nation in the world were indelible,
that the United States simply would
not exist without us.

In August 1619, just 12 years after
the English settled Jamestown, Va.,
one year before the Puritans land-
ed at Plymouth Rock and some 157
years before the English colonists
even decided they wanted to form
their own country, the Jamestown
colonists bought 20 to 30 enslaved
Africans from English pirates. The

pirates had stolen them from a Por-
tuguese slave ship that had forcibly
taken them from what is now the
country of Angola. Those men and
women who came ashore on that
August day were the beginning of
American slavery. They were among
the 12.5 million Africans who would
be kidnapped from their homes and
brought in chains across the Atlantic
Ocean in the largest forced migra-
tion in human history until the Sec-
ond World War. Almost two million
did not survive the grueling journey,
known as the Middle Passage.

Before the abolishment of the
international slave trade, 400,000
enslaved Africans would be sold into
America. Those individuals and their
descendants transformed the lands
to which they’d been brought into
some of the most successful colonies
in the British Empire. Through back-
breaking labor, they cleared the land
across the Southeast. They taught
the colonists to grow rice. They
grew and picked the cotton that at
the height of slavery was the nation’s
most valuable commodity, account-
ing for half of all American exports
and 66 percent of the world’s supply.
They built the plantations of George
Washington, Thomas Jeff erson and
James Madison, sprawling proper-
ties that today attract thousands of
visitors from across the globe cap-
tivated by the history of the world’s
greatest democracy. They laid the
foundations of the White House and
the Capitol, even placing with their
unfree hands the Statue of Freedom
atop the Capitol dome. They lugged
the heavy wooden tracks of the rail-
roads that crisscrossed the South
and that helped take the cotton
they picked to the Northern textile
mills, fueling the Industrial Revo-
lution. They built vast fortunes for
white people North and South — at
one time, the second- richest man in
the nation was a Rhode Island ‘‘slave
trader.’’ Profi ts from black people’s
stolen labor helped the young nation
pay off its war debts and fi nanced
some of our most prestigious uni-
versities. It was the relentless buy-
ing, selling, insuring and fi nancing
of their bodies and the products of
their labor that made Wall Street
a thriving banking, insurance and
trading sector and New York City
the fi nancial capital of the world.

But it would be historically inac-
curate to reduce the contributions
of black people to the vast materi-
al 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.

The United States is a nation
founded on both an ideal and a lie.
Our Declaration of Independence,
signed on July 4, 1776, proclaims
that ‘‘all men are created equal’’ and
‘‘endowed by their Creator with cer-
tain unalienable rights.’’ But the white
men who drafted those words did not
believe them to be true for the hun-
dreds of thousands of black people
in their midst. ‘‘Life, Liberty and the
pursuit of Happiness’’ did not apply
to fully one-fi fth of the country. Yet
despite being violently denied the
freedom and justice promised to all,
black Americans believed fervently
in the American creed. Through cen-
turies of black resistance and protest,
we have helped the country live up
to its founding ideals. And not only
for ourselves — black rights strug-
gles paved the way for every other
rights struggle, including women’s
and gay rights, immigrant and dis-
ability rights.

Without the idealistic, strenuous
and patriotic eff orts of black Amer-
icans, our democracy today would
most likely look very diff erent — it
might not be a democracy at all.

The very fi rst person to die for
this country in the American Revo-
lution was a black man who himself
was not free. Crispus Attucks was
a fugitive from slavery, yet he gave
his life for a new nation in which
his own people would not enjoy the
liberties laid out in the Declaration
for another century. In every war
this nation has waged since that fi rst
one, black Americans have fought —
today we are the most likely of all
racial groups to serve in the United
States military.

My father, one of those many
black Americans who answered
the call, knew what it would take me
years to understand: that the year
1619 is as important to the American

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August 18, 2019

17

story as 1776. That black Americans,
as much as those men cast in alabas-
ter in the nation’s capital, are this
nation’s true ‘‘founding fathers.’’
And that no people has a greater
claim to that fl ag than us.

In June 1776, Thomas Jeff erson sat
at his portable writing desk in a
rented room in Philadelphia and
penned these words: ‘‘We hold
these truths to be self- evident, that
all men are created equal, that they
are endowed by their Creator with
certain unalienable Rights, that
among these are Life, Liberty and
the pursuit of Happiness.’’ For the
last 243 years, this fi erce assertion
of the fundamental and natural
rights of humankind to freedom
and self- governance has defi ned

our global reputation as a land of
liberty. As Jeff erson composed his
inspiring words, however, a teenage
boy who would enjoy none of those
rights and liberties waited nearby to
serve at his master’s beck and call.
His name was Robert Hemings, and
he was the half brother of Jeff erson’s
wife, born to Martha Jeff erson’s
father and a woman he owned. It
was common for white enslavers
to keep their half-black children
in slavery. Jeff erson had chosen
Hemings, from among about 130
enslaved people that worked on the
forced- labor camp he called Monti-
cello, to accompany him to Philadel-
phia and ensure his every comfort as
he drafted the text making the case
for a new democratic republic based
on the individual rights of men.

At the time, one-fi fth of the pop-
ulation within the 13 colonies strug-
gled under a brutal system of slavery
unlike anything that had existed in
the world before. Chattel slavery
was not conditional but racial. It
was heritable and permanent, not
temporary, meaning generations
of black people were born into it
and passed their enslaved status
onto their children. Enslaved peo-
ple were not recognized as human
beings but as property that could
be mortgaged, traded, bought, sold,
used as collateral, given as a gift and
disposed of violently. Jeff erson’s fel-
low white colonists knew that black
people were human beings, but
they created a network of laws and
customs, astounding for both their
precision and cruelty, that ensured

that enslaved people would never
be treated as such. As the abolition-
ist William Goodell wrote in 1853,
‘‘If any thing founded on falsehood
might be called a science, we might
add the system of American slavery
to the list of the strict sciences.’’

Enslaved people could not legal-
ly marry. They were barred from
learning to read and restricted
from meeting privately in groups.
They had no claim to their own chil-
dren, who could be bought, sold and
traded away from them on auction
blocks alongside furniture and cattle
or behind storefronts that advertised
‘‘Negroes for Sale.’’ Enslavers and the
courts did not honor kinship ties to
mothers, siblings, cousins. In most
courts, they had no legal standing.
Enslavers could rape or murder their

An 1872 portrait of African-Americans serving in Congress (from left): Hiram Revels, the first black man elected to
the Senate; Benjamin S. Turner; Robert C. De Large; Josiah T. Walls; Jefferson H. Long; Joseph H. Rainy; and R. Brown Elliot.

T he 1619 Project

18

property without legal consequence.
Enslaved people could own nothing,
will nothing and inherit nothing.
They were legally tortured, includ-
ing by those working for Jeff erson
himself. They could be worked to
death, and often were, in order to
produce the highest profi ts for the
white people who owned them.

Yet in making the argument
against Britain’s tyranny, one of the
colonists’ favorite rhetorical devic-
es was to claim that they were the
slaves — to Britain. For this duplic-
ity, they faced burning criticism
both at home and abroad. As Sam-
uel Johnson, an English writer and
Tory opposed to American inde-
pendence, quipped, ‘‘How is it that
we hear the loudest yelps for liberty
among the drivers of Negroes?’’

Conveniently left out of our
founding mythology is the fact
that one of the primary reasons the

colonists decided to declare their
independence from Britain was
because they wanted to protect the
institution of slavery. By 1776, Britain
had grown deeply confl icted over its
role in the barbaric institution that
had reshaped the Western Hemi-
sphere. In London, there were grow-
ing calls to abolish the slave trade.
This would have upended the econo-
my of the colonies, in both the North
and the South. The wealth and prom-
inence that allowed Jeff erson, at just
33, and the other founding fathers
to believe they could successfully
break off from one of the mightiest
empires in the world came from the
dizzying profi ts generated by chat-
tel slavery. In other words, we may
never have revolted against Britain
if the founders had not understood
that slavery empowered them to do
so; nor if they had not believed that
independence was required in order

to ensure that slavery would con-
tinue. It is not incidental that 10 of
this nation’s fi rst 12 presidents were
enslavers, and some might argue
that this nation was founded not as
a democracy but as a slavocracy.

Jeff erson and the other founders
were keenly aware of this hypoc-
risy. And so in Jeff erson’s original
draft of the Declaration of Inde-
pendence, he tried to argue that it
wasn’t the colonists’ fault. Instead,
he blamed the king of England for
forcing the institution of slavery on
the unwilling colonists and called
the traffi cking in human beings a
crime. Yet neither Jeff erson nor
most of the founders intended to
abolish slavery, and in the end, they
struck the passage.

There is no mention of slavery
in the fi nal Declaration of Inde-
pendence. Similarly, 11 years later,
when it came time to draft the

Constitution, the framers careful-
ly constructed a document that
preserved and protected slavery
without ever using the word. In the
texts in which they were making the
case for freedom to the world, they
did not want to explicitly enshrine
their hypocrisy, so they sought to
hide it. The Constitution contains
84 clauses. Six deal directly with the
enslaved and their enslavement, as
the historian David Wald streicher
has written, and fi ve more hold
implications for slavery. The Con-
stitution protected the ‘‘property’’
of those who enslaved black peo-
ple, prohibited the federal govern-
ment from intervening to end the
importation of enslaved Africans for
a term of 20 years, allowed Congress
to mobilize the militia to put down
insurrections by the enslaved and
forced states that had outlawed
slavery to turn over enslaved people

A postcard showing the scene at the murder of Allen Brooks, an African-American laborer who was
accused of attempted rape. He was dragged through the streets around the Dallas County Courthouse
and lynched on March 3, 1910. Postcards of lynchings were not uncommon in the early 20th century.

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August 18, 2019

19

be citizens, if they were a caste apart
from all other humans, then they did
not require the rights bestowed by
the Constitution, and the ‘‘we’’ in the
‘‘We the People’’ was not a lie.

On Aug. 14, 1862, a mere fi ve years
after the nation’s highest courts
declared that no black person could

be an American citizen, President
Abraham Lincoln called a group
of fi ve esteemed free black men to
the White House for a meeting. It
was one of the few times that black
people had ever been invited to the
White House as guests. The Civil
War had been raging for more than
a year, and black abolitionists, who

had been increasingly pressuring
Lincoln to end slavery, must have
felt a sense of great anticipation
and pride.

The war was not going well for
Lincoln. Britain was contemplat-
ing whether to intervene on the
Confederacy’s behalf, and Lincoln,
unable to draw enough new white

who had run away seeking refuge.
Like many others, the writer and
abolitionist Samuel Byron called
out the deceit, saying of the Con-
stitution, ‘‘The words are dark and
ambiguous; such as no plain man
of common sense would have
used, [and] are evidently chosen to
conceal from Europe, that in this
enlightened country, the practice
of slavery has its advocates among
men in the highest stations.’’

With independence, the found-
ing fathers could no longer blame
slavery on Britain. The sin became
this nation’s own, and so, too, the
need to cleanse it. The shameful par-
adox of continuing chattel slavery
in a nation founded on individual
freedom, scholars today assert, led
to a hardening of the racial caste
system. This ideology, reinforced
not just by laws but by racist sci-
ence and literature, maintained
that black people were subhuman,
a belief that allowed white Ameri-
cans to live with their betrayal. By
the early 1800s, according to the
legal historians Leland B. Ware,
Robert J. Cottrol and Raymond T.
Diamond, white Americans, wheth-
er they engaged in slavery or not,
‘‘had a considerable psychological
as well as economic investment in
the doctrine of black inferiority.’’
While liberty was the inalienable
right of the people who would be
considered white, enslavement and
subjugation became the natural sta-
tion of people who had any discern-
ible drop of ‘‘black’’ blood.

The Supreme Court enshrined
this thinking in the law in its 1857
Dred Scott decision, ruling that
black people, whether enslaved or
free, came from a ‘‘slave’’ race. This
made them inferior to white people
and, therefore, incompatible with
American democracy. Democracy
was for citizens, and the ‘‘Negro
race,’’ the court ruled, was ‘‘a sep-
arate class of persons,’’ which the
founders had ‘‘not regarded as a
portion of the people or citizens of
the Government’’ and had ‘‘no rights
which a white man was bound to
respect.’’ This belief, that black peo-
ple were not merely enslaved but
were a slave race, became the root
of the endemic racism that we still
cannot purge from this nation to this
day. If black people could not ever

Isaac Woodard and his mother in South Carolina in 1946. In February that year, Woodard,
a decorated Army veteran, was severely beaten by the police, leaving him blind.

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T he 1619 Project

20

volunteers for the war, was forced
to reconsider his opposition to
allowing black Americans to fi ght
for their own liberation. The presi-
dent was weighing a proclamation
that threatened to emancipate all
enslaved people in the states that
had seceded from the Union if the
states did not end the rebellion.
The proclamation would also allow
the formerly enslaved to join the
Union army and fi ght against their
former ‘‘masters.’’ But Lincoln wor-
ried about what the consequences
of this radical step would be. Like
many white Americans, he opposed
slavery as a cruel system at odds
with American ideals, but he also
opposed black equality. He believed
that free black people were a ‘‘trou-
blesome presence’’ incompatible
with a democracy intended only
for white people. ‘‘Free them, and
make them politically and socially
our equals?’’ he had said four years
earlier. ‘‘My own feelings will not
admit of this; and if mine would, we
well know that those of the great
mass of white people will not.’’

That August day, as the men
arrived at the White House, they
were greeted by the towering
Lincoln and a man named James
Mitchell, who eight days before had
been given the title of a newly creat-
ed position called the commission-
er of emigration. This was to be his
fi rst assignment. After exchanging
a few niceties, Lincoln got right to
it. He informed his guests that he
had gotten Congress to appropri-
ate funds to ship black people, once
freed, to another country.

‘‘Why should they leave this
country? This is, perhaps, the fi rst
question for proper consideration,’’
Lincoln told them. ‘‘You and we are
diff erent races. . . . Your race suff er
very greatly, many of them, by liv-
ing among us, while ours suff er from
your presence. In a word, we suff er
on each side.’’

You can imagine the heavy
silence in that room, as the weight
of what the president said momen-
tarily stole the breath of these fi ve
black men. It was 243 years to
the month since the fi rst of their

ancestors had arrived on these
shores, before Lincoln’s family,
long before most of the white peo-
ple insisting that this was not their
country. The Union had not entered
the war to end slavery but to keep
the South from splitting off , yet
black men had signed up to fi ght.
Enslaved people were fl eeing their
forced- labor camps, which we like
to call plantations, trying to join the
eff ort, serving as spies, sabotaging
confederates, taking up arms for his
cause as well as their own. And now
Lincoln was blaming them for the
war. ‘‘Although many men engaged
on either side do not care for you
one way or the other . . . without the
institution of slavery and the col-
ored race as a basis, the war could
not have an existence,’’ the presi-
dent told them. ‘‘It is better for us
both, therefore, to be separated.’’

As Lincoln closed the remarks,
Edward Thomas, the delegation’s
chairman, informed the president,
perhaps curtly, that they would con-
sult on his proposition. ‘‘Take your full
time,’’ Lincoln said. ‘‘No hurry at all.’’

A demonstrator at the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
to fight for black suffrage.

Nearly three years after that
White House meeting, Gen. Rob-
ert E. Lee surrendered at Appomat-
tox. By summer, the Civil War was
over, and four million black Amer-
icans were suddenly free. Contrary
to Lincoln’s view, most were not
inclined to leave, agreeing with the
sentiment of a resolution against
black colonization put forward at a
convention of black leaders in New
York some decades before: ‘‘This
is our home, and this our country.
Beneath its sod lie the bones of our
fathers. . . . Here we were born, and
here we will die.’’

That the formerly enslaved did
not take up Lincoln’s off er to aban-
don these lands is an astounding tes-
tament to their belief in this nation’s
founding ideals. As W.E.B. Du Bois
wrote, ‘‘Few men ever worshiped
Freedom with half such unquestion-
ing faith as did the American Negro
for two centuries.’’ Black Americans
had long called for universal equal-
ity and believed, as the abolitionist
Martin Delany said, ‘‘that God has
made of one blood all the nations
that dwell on the face of the earth.’’
Liberated by war, then, they did not
seek vengeance on their oppres-
sors as Lincoln and so many other
white Americans feared. They did
the opposite. During this nation’s
brief period of Reconstruction,
from 1865 to 1877, formerly enslaved
people zealously engaged with the
democratic process. With federal
troops tempering widespread white
violence, black Southerners started
branches of the Equal Rights League
— one of the nation’s fi rst human
rights organizations — to fi ght dis-
crimination and organize voters;
they headed in droves to the polls,
where they placed other formerly
enslaved people into seats that their
enslavers had once held. The South,
for the fi rst time in the history of
this country, began to resemble a
democracy, with black Americans
elected to local, state and federal
offi ces. Some 16 black men served in
Congress — including Hiram Rev-
els of Mississippi, who became the
fi rst black man elected to the Senate.
(Demonstrating just how brief this
period would be, Revels, along with
Blanche Bruce, would go from being
the fi rst black man elected to the last
for nearly a hundred years, until

August 18, 2019

21

Edward Brooke of Massachusetts
took offi ce in 1967.) More than 600
black men served in Southern state
legislatures and hundreds more in
local positions.

These black officials joined
with white Republicans, some of
whom came down from the North,
to write the most egalitarian state
constitutions the South had ever
seen. They helped pass more equi-
table tax legislation and laws that
prohibited discrimination in pub-
lic transportation, accommodation
and housing. Perhaps their biggest
achievement was the establishment
of that most democratic of Ameri-
can institutions: the public school.
Public education eff ectively did not
exist in the South before Recon-
struction. The white elite sent
their children to private schools,
while poor white children went
without an education. But newly
freed black people, who had been
prohibited from learning to read
and write during slavery, were des-
perate for an education. So black
legislators successfully pushed for
a universal, state- funded system of
schools — not just for their own
children but for white children,
too. Black legislators also helped
pass the fi rst compulsory educa-
tion laws in the region. Southern
children, black and white, were
now required to attend schools
like their Northern counterparts.
Just fi ve years into Reconstruction,
every Southern state had enshrined
the right to a public education for
all children into its constitution.
In some states, like Louisiana and
South Carolina, small numbers of
black and white children, briefl y,
attended schools together.

Led by black activists and a
Republican Party pushed left by
the blatant recalcitrance of white
Southerners, the years directly after
slavery saw the greatest expansion
of human and civil rights this nation
would ever see. In 1865, Congress
passed the 13th Amendment, mak-
ing the United States one of the last
nations in the Americas to outlaw
slavery. The following year, black
Americans, exerting their new
political power, pushed white leg-
islators to pass the Civil Rights Act,
the nation’s fi rst such law and one
of the most expansive pieces of civil

rights legislation Congress has ever
passed. It codifi ed black American
citizenship for the fi rst time, pro-
hibited housing discrimination and
gave all Americans the right to buy
and inherit property, make and
enforce contracts and seek redress
from courts. In 1868, Congress rati-
fi ed the 14th Amendment, ensuring
citizenship to any person born in
the United States. Today, thanks to
this amendment, every child born
here to a European, Asian, African,
Latin American or Middle Eastern
immigrant gains automatic citizen-
ship. The 14th Amendment also,
for the fi rst time, constitutionally
guaranteed equal protection under
the law. Ever since, nearly all other
marginalized groups have used the
14th Amendment in their fi ghts
for equality (including the recent
successful arguments before the
Supreme Court on behalf of same-
sex marriage). Finally, in 1870, Con-
gress passed the 15th Amendment,
guaranteeing the most critical
aspect of democracy and citizen-
ship — the right to vote — to all men
regardless of ‘‘race, color, or previ-
ous condition of servitude.’’

For this fl eeting moment known
as Reconstruction, the majority in
Congress seemed to embrace the
idea that out of the ashes of the Civil
War, we could create the multiracial
democracy that black Americans
envisioned even if our founding
fathers did not.

But it would not last.
Anti- black racism runs in the

very DNA of this country, as does
the belief, so well articulated by
Lincoln, that black people are the
obstacle to national unity. The
many gains of Reconstruction were
met with fi erce white resistance
throughout the South, including
unthinkable violence against the
formerly enslaved, wide-scale voter
suppression, electoral fraud and
even, in some extreme cases, the
overthrow of democratically elect-
ed biracial governments. Faced with
this unrest, the federal government
decided that black people were the
cause of the problem and that for
unity’s sake, it would leave the white
South to its own devices. In 1877,
President Rutherford B. Hayes,
in order to secure a compromise
with Southern Democrats that

would grant him the presidency
in a contested election, agreed to
pull federal troops from the South.
With the troops gone, white South-
erners quickly went about eradi-
cating the gains of Reconstruction.
The systemic white suppression of
black life was so severe that this
period between the 1880s and the
1920 and ’30s became known as the
Great Nadir, or the second slavery.
Democracy would not return to the
South for nearly a century.

White Southerners of all econom-
ic classes, on the other hand, thanks
in signifi cant part to the progres-
sive policies and laws black people
had championed, experienced sub-
stantial improvement in their lives
even as they forced black people
back into a quasi slavery. As Waters
McIntosh, who had been enslaved
in South Carolina, lamented, ‘‘It was
the poor white man who was freed
by the war, not the Negroes.’’

Georgia pines flew past the windows
of the Greyhound bus carrying Isaac
Woodard home to Winnsboro, S.C.
After serving four years in the Army
in World War II, where Woodard
had earned a battle star, he was
given an honorable discharge ear-
lier that day at Camp Gordon and
was headed home to meet his wife.
When the bus stopped at a small
drugstore an hour outside Atlanta,
Woodard got into a brief argument
with the white driver after asking if
he could use the restroom. About
half an hour later, the driver stopped
again and told Woodard to get off
the bus. Crisp in his uniform, Wood-
ard stepped from the stairs and saw
the police waiting for him. Before
he could speak, one of the offi cers
struck him in his head with a billy
club, beating him so badly that
he fell unconscious. The blows to
Woodard’s head were so severe that
when he woke in a jail cell the next
day, he could not see. The beating
occurred just 4½ hours after his
military discharge. At 26, Woodard
would never see again.

There was nothing unusual
about Woodard’s horrifi c maiming.
It was part of a wave of systemic
violence deployed against black
Americans after Reconstruction, in
both the North and the South. As
the egalitarian spirit of post- Civil

War America evaporated under
the desire for national reunifi ca-
tion, black Americans, simply by
existing, served as a problematic
reminder of this nation’s failings.
White America dealt with this
inconvenience by constructing a
savagely enforced system of racial
apartheid that excluded black
people almost entirely from main-
stream American life — a system
so grotesque that Nazi Germany
would later take inspiration from
it for its own racist policies.

Despite the guarantees of equal-
ity in the 14th Amendment, the
Supreme Court’s landmark Plessy v.
Ferguson decision in 1896 declared
that the racial segregation of black
Americans was constitutional. With
the blessing of the nation’s highest
court and no federal will to vindi-
cate black rights, starting in the
late 1800s, Southern states passed
a series of laws and codes meant to
make slavery’s racial caste system
permanent by denying black people
political power, social equality and
basic dignity. They passed literacy
tests to keep black people from vot-
ing and created all-white primaries
for elections. Black people were
prohibited from serving on juries
or testifying in court against a white
person. South Carolina prohibited
white and black textile workers
from using the same doors. Okla-
homa forced phone companies to
segregate phone booths. Memphis
had separate parking spaces for
black and white drivers. Baltimore
passed an ordinance outlawing
black people from moving onto
a block more than half white and
white people from moving onto a
block more than half black. Geor-
gia made it illegal for black and
white people to be buried next to
one another in the same cemetery.
Alabama barred black people from
using public libraries that their own
tax dollars were paying for. Black
people were expected to jump off
the sidewalk to let white people pass
and call all white people by an hon-
orifi c, though they received none
no matter how old they were. In the
North, white politicians implement-
ed policies that segregated black
people into slum neighborhoods
and into inferior all-black schools,
operated whites- only public pools

T he 1619 Project

22

and held white and ‘‘colored’’ days
at the country fair, and white busi-
nesses regularly denied black peo-
ple service, placing ‘‘Whites Only’’
signs in their windows. States like
California joined Southern states in
barring black people from marry-
ing white people, while local school
boards in Illinois and New Jersey
mandated segregated schools for
black and white children.

This caste system was maintained
through wanton racial terrorism.

And black veterans like Woodard,
especially those with the audacity
to wear their uniform, had since
the Civil War been the target of a
particular violence. This intensifi ed
during the two world wars because
white people understood that once
black men had gone abroad and
experienced life outside the suff o-
cating racial oppression of Amer-
ica, they were unlikely to quietly
return to their subjugation at home.
As Senator James K. Vardaman of

Mississippi said on the Senate
fl oor during World War I, black
servicemen returning to the South
would ‘‘inevitably lead to disaster.’’
Giving a black man ‘‘military airs’’
and sending him to defend the fl ag
would bring him ‘‘to the conclu-
sion that his political rights must
be respected.’’

Many white Americans saw black
men in the uniforms of America’s
armed services not as patriotic but
as exhibiting a dangerous pride.

Hundreds of black veterans were
beaten, maimed, shot and lynched.
We like to call those who lived
during World War II the Greatest
Generation, but that allows us to
ignore the fact that many of this
generation fought for democracy
abroad while brutally suppressing
democracy for millions of Ameri-
can citizens. During the height of
racial terror in this country, black
Americans were not merely killed
but castrated, burned alive and

Slavery leapt out of the East

and into the interior lands of

the Old Southwest in the 1820s

and 1830s. Cotton began to soar

as the most lucrative product in

the global marketplace just as

the slaveholding societies of

the Southeast and Mid- Atlantic

were reaching limits in soil fertili-

ty. To land speculators, planters,

ambitious settlers and Northern

investors, the fertile lands to the

west now looked irresistible.

The Native American nations

that possessed the bulk of those

lands stood in the way of this

imagined progress. President

Andrew Jackson, an enslaver

from Tennessee famous for brutal

‘‘Indian’’ fighting in Georgia and

Florida, swooped in on the side

of fellow enslavers, championing

the Indian Removal Act of 1830.

When Congress passed the bill

by a breathtakingly slim margin,

Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws,

Chickasaws and Seminoles in the

South as well as Potawatomis,

Wyandots, Odawas, Delawares,

Shawnees and Senecas in the

Midwest were relocated to an

uncharted space designated

as Indian Territory (including

present- day Oklahoma and Kan-

sas). ‘‘Removal,’’ as the historian

Claudio Saunt argues in a forth-

coming book on the topic, was far

too quiet a word to capture the

violation of this mass ‘‘expulsion’’

of 80,000 people.

As new lands in the Old South-

west were pried open, white

enslavers back east realized

that their most profitable export

was no longer tobacco or rice. A

complex interstate slave trade

became an industry of its own.

This extractive system, together

with enslavers moving west with

human property, resulted in the

relocation of approximately one

million enslaved black people to

a new region. The entrenched

practice of buying, selling,

owning, renting and mortgag-

ing humans stretched into the

American West along with the

white settler- colonial popula-

tion that now occupied former

indigenous lands.

Slaveholding settlers who

had pushed into Texas from

the American South wanted

to extend cotton agriculture

and increase the numbers of

white arrivals. ‘‘It was slavery

that seemed to represent the

soft underbelly of the Texas

unrest,’’ the historian Steven

Hahn asserts in ‘‘A Nation With-

out Borders.’’ Armed conflict

between American- identified

enslavers and a Mexican state

that outlawed slavery in 1829

was among the causes of the

Mexican- American War, which

won for the United States much

of the Southwest and California.

Texas became the West’s

cotton slavery stronghold, with

enslaved black people making

up 30 percent of the state’s

population in 1860. ‘‘Indian Ter-

ritory’’ also held a large popu-

lation of enslaved black people.

Mormons, too, kept scores of

enslaved laborers in Utah. The

small number of black people

who arrived in California, New

Mexico and Oregon before mid-

century usually came as proper-

ty. Even as most Western states

banned slavery in their new

constitutions, individual enslav-

ers held onto their property- in-

people until the Civil War.

Enslaved men who had served

in the Union Army were among the

first wave of African- Americans

to move west of their own free

will. They served as soldiers, and

together with wives and children

they formed pocket communi-

ties in Montana, Colorado, New

Mexico and Texas. It is a painful

paradox that the work of black

soldiers centered on what the

historian Quintard Taylor has

called ‘‘settler protection’’ in his

classic 1998 study of African-

Americans in the West, ‘‘In Search

of the Racial Frontier.’’ Even while

bearing slavery’s scars, black

men found themselves carrying

out orders to secure white res-

idents of Western towns, track

down ‘‘outlaws’’ (many of whom

were people of color), police the

federally imposed boundaries

of Indian reservations and quell

labor strikes. ‘‘This small group

of black men,’’ Taylor observes,

‘‘paid a dear price in their bid to

earn the respect of the nation.’’

Chained Migration:
How Slavery Made Its Way West

By Tiya Miles

Mineola • 1.866.WINTHROP • nyuwinthrop.org

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T he 1619 Project

24

dismembered with their body parts
displayed in storefronts. This vio-
lence was meant to terrify and con-
trol black people, but perhaps just as
important, it served as a psycholog-
ical balm for white supremacy: You
would not treat human beings this
way. The extremity of the violence
was a symptom of the psychologi-
cal mechanism necessary to absolve
white Americans of their country’s
original sin. To answer the ques-
tion of how they could prize liberty
abroad while simultaneously deny-
ing liberty to an entire race back
home, white Americans resorted to
the same racist ideology that Jeff er-
son and the framers had used at the
nation’s founding.

This ideology — that black people
belonged to an inferior, subhuman

race — did not simply disappear
once slavery ended. If the former-
ly enslaved and their descendants
became educated, if we thrived in
the jobs white people did, if we
excelled in the sciences and arts,
then the entire justifi cation for how
this nation allowed slavery would
collapse. Free black people posed a
danger to the country’s idea of itself
as exceptional; we held up the mir-
ror in which the nation preferred
not to peer. And so the inhumanity
visited on black people by every
generation of white America justi-
fi ed the inhumanity of the past.

Just as white Americans feared,
World War II ignited what became
black Americans’ second sustained
eff ort to make democracy real. As
the editorial board of the black

newspaper The Pittsburgh Courier
wrote, ‘‘We wage a two- pronged
attack against our enslavers at home
and those abroad who will enslave
us.’’ Woodard’s blinding is largely
seen as one of the catalysts for the
decades- long rebellion we have
come to call the civil rights move-
ment. But it is useful to pause and
remember that this was the second
mass movement for black civil rights,
the fi rst being Reconstruction. As the
centennial of slavery’s end neared,
black people were still seeking the
rights they had fought for and won
after the Civil War: the right to be
treated equally by public institutions,
which was guaranteed in 1866 with
the Civil Rights Act; the right to be
treated as full citizens before the
law, which was guaranteed in 1868

by the 14th Amendment; and the
right to vote, which was guaranteed
in 1870 by the 15th Amendment. In
response to black demands for these
rights, white Americans strung them
from trees, beat them and dumped
their bodies in muddy rivers, assas-
sinated them in their front yards,
fi rebombed them on buses, mauled
them with dogs, peeled back their
skin with fi re hoses and murdered
their children with explosives set off
inside a church.

For the most part, black Amer-
icans fought back alone. Yet we
never fought only for ourselves.
The bloody freedom struggles of
the civil rights movement laid the
foundation for every other mod-
ern rights struggle. This nation’s
white founders set up a decidedly

Ieshia Evans being detained by law enforcement officers at a Black Lives Matter protest in
2016 outside the headquarters of the Baton Rouge Police Department.

Come, come, whoever you are. Wanderer,

worshiper, lover of leaving. It doesn’t matter.

Ours is not a caravan of despair. Come, even if

you have broken your vows a thousand times.

Come, yet again, come, come.

– Rumi

The Possible Plan

Join us as we elevate the communities and individuals whose lives have

been adversely impacted by cannabis prohibition.

POSSIBLEPLAN.ORG

T he 1619 Project

26

undemocratic Constitution that
excluded women, Native Ameri-
cans and black people, and did not
provide the vote or equality for
most Americans. But the laws born
out of black resistance guarantee
the franchise for all and ban dis-
crimination based not just on race
but on gender, nationality, religion
and ability. It was the civil rights
movement that led to the passage
of the Immigration and Nation-
ality Act of 1965, which upended
the racist immigration quota sys-
tem intended to keep this country
white. Because of black Americans,
black and brown immigrants from
across the globe are able to come to
the United States and live in a coun-
try in which legal discrimination
is no longer allowed. It is a truly
American irony that some Asian-
Americans, among the groups able
to immigrate to the United States
because of the black civil rights
struggle, are now suing universities
to end programs designed to help
the descendants of the enslaved.

No one cherishes freedom more
than those who have not had it. And
to this day, black Americans, more
than any other group, embrace the
democratic ideals of a common
good. We are the most likely to
support programs like universal
health care and a higher minimum
wage, and to oppose programs
that harm the most vulnerable. For
instance, black Americans suff er
the most from violent crime, yet
we are the most opposed to capital
punishment. Our unemployment
rate is nearly twice that of white
Americans, yet we are still the most
likely of all groups to say this nation
should take in refugees.

The truth is that as much democ-
racy as this nation has today, it has
been borne on the backs of black
resistance. Our founding fathers
may not have actually believed in
the ideals they espoused, but black
people did. As one scholar, Joe R.
Feagin, put it, ‘‘Enslaved African-
Americans have been among the
foremost freedom- fighters this
country has produced.’’ For genera-
tions, we have believed in this coun-
try with a faith it did not deserve.
Black people have seen the worst
of America, yet, somehow, we still
believe in its best.

They say our people were born on
the water.

When it occurred, no one can
say for certain. Perhaps it was in
the second week, or the third, but
surely by the fourth, when they had
not seen their land or any land for
so many days that they lost count.
It was after fear had turned to
despair, and despair to resigna-
tion, and resignation to an abiding
understanding. The teal eternity
of the Atlantic Ocean had severed
them so completely from what had
once been their home that it was as
if nothing had ever existed before,
as if everything and everyone they
cherished had simply vanished
from the earth. They were no longer
Mbundu or Akan or Fulani. These
men and women from many diff er-
ent nations, all shackled together in
the suff ocating hull of the ship, they
were one people now.

Just a few months earlier, they
had families, and farms, and lives
and dreams. They were free. They
had names, of course, but their
enslavers did not bother to record
them. They had been made black by
those people who believed that they
were white, and where they were
heading, black equaled ‘‘slave,’’ and
slavery in America required turn-
ing human beings into property by
stripping them of every element
that made them individuals. This
process was called seasoning, in
which people stolen from western
and central Africa were forced,
often through torture, to stop speak-
ing their native tongues and practic-
ing their native religions.

But as the sociologist Glenn Brac-
ey wrote, ‘‘Out of the ashes of white
denigration, we gave birth to our-
selves.’’ For as much as white people
tried to pretend, black people were
not chattel. And so the process of
seasoning, instead of erasing iden-
tity, served an opposite purpose: In
the void, we forged a new culture
all our own.

Today, our very manner of speak-
ing recalls the Creole languages that
enslaved people innovated in order
to communicate both with Afri-
cans speaking various dialects and
the English- speaking people who
enslaved them. Our style of dress,
the extra fl air, stems back to the
desires of enslaved people — shorn

of all individuality — to exert their
own identity. Enslaved people would
wear their hat in a jaunty manner or
knot their head scarves intricately.
Today’s avant- garde nature of black
hairstyles and fashion displays a
vibrant refl ection of enslaved peo-
ple’s determination to feel fully
human through self- expression. The
improvisational quality of black art
and music comes from a culture that
because of constant disruption could
not cling to convention. Black nam-
ing practices, so often impugned by
mainstream society, are themselves
an act of resistance. Our last names
belong to the white people who once
owned us. That is why the insistence
of many black Americans, particular-
ly those most marginalized, to give
our children names that we create,
that are neither European nor from
Africa, a place we have never been,
is an act of self- determination. When
the world listens to quintessential
American music, it is our voice they
hear. The sorrow songs we sang in
the fi elds to soothe our physical
pain and fi nd hope in a freedom
we did not expect to know until
we died became American gospel.
Amid the devastating violence and
poverty of the Mississippi Delta, we
birthed jazz and blues. And it was in
the deeply impoverished and segre-
gated neighborhoods where white
Americans forced the descendants
of the enslaved to live that teenag-
ers too poor to buy instruments used
old records to create a new music
known as hip-hop.

Our speech and fashion and the
drum of our music echoes Africa but
is not African. Out of our unique iso-
lation, both from our native cultures
and from white America, we forged
this nation’s most signifi cant origi-
nal culture. In turn, ‘‘mainstream’’
society has coveted our style, our
slang and our song, seeking to
appropriate the one truly Ameri-
can culture as its own. As Langston
Hughes wrote in 1926, ‘‘They’ll see
how beautiful I am/And be ashamed
—/I, too, am America.’’

For centuries, white Ameri-
cans have been trying to solve the
‘‘Negro problem.’’ They have ded-
icated thousands of pages to this
endeavor. It is common, still, to
point to rates of black poverty, out-
of- wedlock births, crime and college

attendance, as if these conditions in
a country built on a racial caste sys-
tem are not utterly predictable. But
crucially, you cannot view those sta-
tistics while ignoring another: that
black people were enslaved here
longer than we have been free.

At 43, I am part of the fi rst gen-
eration of black Americans in the
history of the United States to be
born into a society in which black
people had full rights of citizenship.
Black people suff ered under slavery
for 250 years; we have been legally
‘‘free’’ for just 50. Yet in that brief-
est of spans, despite continuing to
face rampant discrimination, and
despite there never having been a
genuine eff ort to redress the wrongs
of slavery and the century of racial
apartheid that followed, black
Americans have made astounding
progress, not only for ourselves but
also for all Americans.

What if America understood,
fi nally, in this 400th year, that we
have never been the problem but
the solution?

When I was a child — I must
have been in fi fth or sixth grade — a
teacher gave our class an assignment
intended to celebrate the diversity
of the great American melting pot.
She instructed each of us to write a
short report on our ancestral land
and then draw that nation’s fl ag. As
she turned to write the assignment
on the board, the other black girl in
class locked eyes with me. Slavery
had erased any connection we had
to an African country, and even if we
tried to claim the whole continent,
there was no ‘‘African’’ fl ag. It was
hard enough being one of two black
kids in the class, and this assignment
would just be another reminder of
the distance between the white kids
and us. In the end, I walked over to
the globe near my teacher’s desk,
picked a random African country
and claimed it as my own.

I wish, now, that I could go back
to the younger me and tell her that
her people’s ancestry started here,
on these lands, and to boldly, proud-
ly, draw the stars and those stripes
of the American fl ag.

We were told once, by virtue of
our bondage, that we could never
be American. But it was by virtue
of our bondage that we became the
most American of all.�

R A N D O M H O U S E I S P R O U D TO P U B L I S H
authors who challenge us to understand our past

so we can all strive for a better future.

C O M I N G S E P T E M B E R 2 4 , 2 0 1 9

The literary event a decade in the making, the debut
novel from the #1 New York Times bestselling author
of Between the World and Me.

From 1619 Project contributor and MacArthur
“genius” Bryan Stevenson, a journey into
America’s broken criminal justice system.

A bracingly original approach to understanding
and uprooting racism, from National Book

Award-winning author Ibram X. Kendi.

Available in print, ebook, and audio formats, wherever books are sold.

P E N G U I N R A N D O M H O U S E , C H A N G I N G T H E W O R L D , O N E B O O K AT A T I M E .

so we can all strive for a bet

C O M I N G S E P T E M B E R 2 4 , 2 0 1 9

The literary event a decade in the making the debut

True stories of resilience compiled by an
Underground Railroad conductor.

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T he 1619 Project

28

Over the course of 350 years,
36,000 slave ships crossed the Atlantic
Ocean. I walk over to the globe & move

my finger back & forth between
the fragile continents. I try to keep
count how many times I drag

my hand across the bristled
hemispheres, but grow weary of chasing
a history that swallowed me.

For every hundred people who were
captured & enslaved, forty died before they
ever reached the New World.

Featured in chronological order throughout this issue are

17 literary works that bring to life consequential moments in

African-American history. All are original compositions by

contemporary black writers who were asked to create brief

explorations of important events or people.

⬤ August 1619: A ship arrives in Point Comfort, Va., carrying more than 20
enslaved Africans, the first on record to be brought to the English colony of Virginia.
They are among the 12.5 million Africans forced into the trans-Atlantic slave trade,
their journey to the New World today known as the Middle Passage.

By Clint Smith

I pull my index finger from Angola
to Brazil & feel the bodies jumping from
the ship.

I drag my thumb from Ghana
to Jamaica & feel the weight of dysentery
make an anvil of my touch.

I slide my ring finger from Senegal
to South Carolina & feel the ocean
separate a million families.

The soft hum of history spins
on its tilted axis. A cavalcade of ghost ships
wash their hands of all they carried.

T he 1619 Project

28 Photo illustrations by Jon Key

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August 18, 2019

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⬤ March 5, 1770: Crispus Attucks, a fugitive from slavery who works as dockworker,
becomes the first American to die for the cause of independence after being shot in
a clash with British troops.

By Yusef Komunyakaa

African & Natick blood-born
known along paths up & down
Boston Harbor, escaped slave,

harpooner & rope maker,
he never dreamt a pursuit of happiness
or destiny, yet rallied

beside patriots who hurled a fury
of snowballs, craggy dirt-frozen
chunks of ice, & oyster shells

at the stout flank of redcoats,
as the 29th Regiment of Foot
aimed muskets, waiting for fire!

How often had he walked, gazing
down at gray timbers of the wharf,
as if to find a lost copper coin?

Wind deviled cold air as he stood
leaning on his hardwood stick,
& then two lead bullets

tore his chest, blood reddening snow
on King Street, March 5, 1770,
first to fall on captain’s command.

Five colonists lay for calling hours
in Faneuil Hall before sharing a grave
at the Granary Burying Ground.

They had laid a foundering stone
for the Minutemen at Lexington
& Concord, first to defy & die,

& an echo of the future rose over
the courtroom as John Adams
defended the Brits, calling the dead

a ‘‘motley rabble of saucy boys,
negroes & mulattoes, Irish
teagues & outlandish jacktars,’’

who made soldiers fear for their lives,
& at day’s end only two would pay
with the branding of their thumbs.

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In order to understand
the brutality of
American capitalism,
you have to start
on the plantation.

By Matthew Desmond

Photograph by L yle Ashton Harris

August 18, 2019

31

T he 1619 Project

32

A couple of years before he was
convicted of securities fraud, Mar-
tin Shkreli was the chief executive
of a pharmaceutical company that
acquired the rights to Daraprim, a
lifesaving antiparasitic drug. Previ-
ously the drug cost $13.50 a pill, but
in Shkreli’s hands, the price quickly
increased by a factor of 56, to $750
a pill. At a health care conference,
Shkreli told the audience that he
should have raised the price even
higher. ‘‘No one wants to say it, no
one’s proud of it,’’ he explained. ‘‘But
this is a capitalist society, a capitalist
system and capitalist rules.’’

Th is is a capitalist society. It’s a
fatalistic mantra that seems to get
repeated to anyone who questions
why America can’t be more fair or
equal. But around the world, there
are many types of capitalist soci-
eties, ranging from liberating to
exploitative, protective to abusive,
democratic to unregulated. When
Americans declare that ‘‘we live in
a capitalist society’’ — as a real estate
mogul told The Miami Herald last
year when explaining his feelings
about small-business owners being
evicted from their Little Haiti store-
fronts — what they’re often defend-
ing is our nation’s peculiarly brutal
economy. ‘‘Low-road capitalism,’’
the University of Wisconsin-Mad-
ison sociologist Joel Rogers has
called it. In a capitalist society that
goes low, wages are depressed as
businesses compete over the price,
not the quality, of goods; so-called
unskilled workers are typically
incentivized through punishments,
not promotions; inequality reigns
and poverty spreads. In the Unit-
ed States, the richest 1 percent of
Americans own 40 percent of the
country’s wealth, while a larger
share of working-age people (18-
65) live in poverty than in any other
nation belonging to the Organiza-
tion for Economic Cooperation and
Development (O.E.C.D.).

Or consider worker rights in
different capitalist nations. In
Iceland, 90 percent of wage and
salaried workers belong to trade
unions authorized to fi ght for liv-
ing wages and fair working condi-
tions. Thirty-four percent of Italian
workers are unionized, as are 26
percent of Canadian workers. Only
10 percent of American wage and

salaried workers carry union cards.
The O.E.C.D. scores nations along a
number of indicators, such as how
countries regulate temporary work
arrangements. Scores run from 5
(‘‘very strict’’) to 1 (‘‘very loose’’).
Brazil scores 4.1 and Thailand, 3.7,
signaling toothy regulations on
temp work. Further down the list
are Norway (3.4), India (2.5) and
Japan (1.3). The United States scored
0.3, tied for second to last place
with Malaysia. How easy is it to fi re
workers? Countries like Indonesia
(4.1) and Portugal (3) have strong
rules about severance pay and rea-
sons for dismissal. Those rules relax
somewhat in places like Denmark
(2.1) and Mexico (1.9). They virtual-
ly disappear in the United States,
ranked dead last out of 71 nations
with a score of 0.5.

Those searching for reasons the
American economy is uniquely
severe and unbridled have found
answers in many places (religion,
politics, culture). But recently, his-
torians have pointed persuasively
to the gnatty fi elds of Georgia and
Alabama, to the cotton houses
and slave auction blocks, as the
birthplace of America’s low-road
approach to capitalism.

Slavery was undeniably a font of
phenomenal wealth. By the eve of
the Civil War, the Mississippi Val-
ley was home to more millionaires
per capita than anywhere else in the
United States. Cotton grown and
picked by enslaved workers was the
nation’s most valuable export. The
combined value of enslaved people
exceeded that of all the railroads and
factories in the nation. New Orleans
boasted a denser concentration of
banking capital than New York City.
What made the cotton economy
boom in the United States, and not
in all the other far-fl ung parts of the
world with climates and soil suit-
able to the crop, was our nation’s
unfl inching willingness to use vio-
lence on nonwhite people and to
exert its will on seemingly endless
supplies of land and labor. Given
the choice between modernity and
barbarism, prosperity and poverty,
lawfulness and cruelty, democracy
and totalitarianism, America chose
all of the above.

Nearly two average American
lifetimes (79 years) have passed

At the start of the Civil War,

only states could charter

banks. It wasn’t until the

National Currency Act of

1863 and the National Bank

Act of 1864 passed at the

height of the Civil War that

banks operated in this coun-

try on a national scale, with

federal oversight. And even

then, it was only law in the

North. The Union passed

the bills so it could establish

a national currency in order

to finance the war. The legis-

lation also created the Office

of the Comptroller of the Cur-

rency (O.C.C.), the first feder-

al bank regulator. After the

war, states were allowed to

keep issuing bank charters

of their own. This byzantine

infrastructure remains to

this day and is known as the

dual banking system. Among

all nations in the world, only

the United States has such

a fragmentary, overlapping

and inefficient system — a

direct relic of the conflict

between federal and state

power over maintenance of

the slave-based economy of

the South.

Both state regulators

and the O.C.C., one of the

largest federal regulators,

are funded by fees from

the banks they regulate.

Moreover, banks are effec-

tively able to choose reg-

ulators — either federal

or state ones, depending

on their charter. They can

even change regulators if

they become unsatisfied

with the one they’ve cho-

sen. Consumer-protection

laws, interest-rate caps and

basic-soundness regulations

have often been rendered

ineffectual in the process —

and deregulation of this sort

tends to lead to crisis.

In the mid-2000s, when

subprime lenders start-

ed appearing in certain

low-income neighborhoods,

many of them majority

black and Latino, several

state banking regulators

took note. In Michigan,

the state insurance reg-

ulator tried to enforce its

consumer-protection laws

on Wachovia Mortgage,

a subsidiary of Wachovia

Bank. In response, Wacho-

via’s national regulator, the

O.C.C., stepped in, claiming

that banks with a nation-

al charter did not have to

comply with state law. The

Supreme Court agreed with

the O.C.C., and Wachovia

continued to engage in risky

subprime activity.

Eventually loans like those

blew up the banking system

and the investments of many

Americans — especially the

most vulnerable. Black com-

munities lost 53 percent of

their wealth because of the

crisis, a loss that a former

congressman, Brad Miller,

said ‘‘has almost been an

extinction event.’’

Mortgaging the Future:
The North-South rift led
to a piecemeal system of
bank regulation — with
dangerous consequences.

By Mehrsa Baradaran

August 18, 2019

33

since the end of slavery, only two.
It is not surprising that we can
still feel the looming presence
of this institution, which helped
turn a poor, fl edgling nation into
a fi nancial colossus. The surprising
bit has to do with the many eerily
specifi c ways slavery can still be
felt in our economic life. ‘‘Ameri-
can slavery is necessarily imprint-
ed on the DNA of American cap-
italism,’’ write the historians Sven
Beckert and Seth Rockman. The
task now, they argue, is ‘‘cataloging
the dominant and recessive traits’’
that have been passed down to us,
tracing the unsettling and often
unrecognized lines of descent by
which America’s national sin is
now being visited upon the third
and fourth generations.

They picked in long rows, bent bod-
ies shuff ling through cotton fi elds

white in bloom. Men, women and
children picked, using both hands
to hurry the work. Some picked
in Negro cloth, their raw product
returning to them by way of New
England mills. Some picked com-
pletely naked. Young children ran
water across the humped rows,
while overseers peered down from
horses. Enslaved workers placed
each cotton boll into a sack slung
around their necks. Their haul
would be weighed after the sun-
light stalked away from the fi elds
and, as the freedman Charles Ball
recalled, you couldn’t ‘‘distinguish
the weeds from the cotton plants.’’
If the haul came up light, enslaved
workers were often whipped. ‘‘A
short day’s work was always pun-
ished,’’ Ball wrote.

Cotton was to the 19th century
what oil was to the 20th: among
the world’s most widely traded

commodities. Cotton is everywhere,
in our clothes, hospitals, soap. Before
the industrialization of cotton, peo-
ple wore expensive clothes made of
wool or linen and dressed their beds
in furs or straw. Whoever mastered
cotton could make a killing. But cot-
ton needed land. A fi eld could only
tolerate a few straight years of the
crop before its soil became deplet-
ed. Planters watched as acres that
had initially produced 1,000 pounds
of cotton yielded only 400 a few sea-
sons later. The thirst for new farm-
land grew even more intense after
the invention of the cotton gin in the
early 1790s. Before the gin, enslaved
workers grew more cotton than they
could clean. The gin broke the bot-
tleneck, making it possible to clean
as much cotton as you could grow.

The United States solved its land
shortage by expropriating millions
of acres from Native Americans,

Above: Women and children in a cotton field in the 1860s. Opening pages: The New York Stock Exchange, July 2019

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often with military force, acquir-
ing Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee
and Florida. It then sold that land
on the cheap — just $1.25 an acre in
the early 1830s ($38 in today’s dol-
lars) — to white settlers. Naturally,
the fi rst to cash in were the land
speculators. Companies operating
in Mississippi fl ipped land, selling
it soon after purchase, commonly
for double the price.

Enslaved workers felled trees by
ax, burned the underbrush and lev-
eled the earth for planting. ‘‘Whole
forests were literally dragged out by
the roots,’’ John Parker, an enslaved
worker, remembered. A lush, twist-
ed mass of vegetation was replaced
by a single crop. An origin of Amer-
ican money exerting its will on the
earth, spoiling the environment
for profi t, is found in the cotton
plantation. Floods became big-
ger and more common. The lack

T he 1619 Project

34

of biodiversity exhausted the soil
and, to quote the historian Wal-
ter Johnson, ‘‘rendered one of the
richest agricultural regions of the
earth dependent on upriver trade
for food.’’

As slave labor camps spread
throughout the South, production
surged. By 1831, the country was
delivering nearly half the world’s
raw cotton crop, with 350 million
pounds picked that year. Just four
years later, it harvested 500 million
pounds. Southern white elites grew
rich, as did their counterparts in the
North, who erected textile mills to
form, in the words of the Massa-
chusetts senator Charles Sumner,

an ‘‘unhallowed alliance between
the lords of the lash and the lords
of the loom.’’ The large-scale cul-
tivation of cotton hastened the
invention of the factory, an insti-
tution that propelled the Industrial
Revolution and changed the course
of history. In 1810, there were 87,000
cotton spindles in America. Fifty
years later, there were fi ve million.
Slavery, wrote one of its defend-
ers in De Bow’s Review, a widely
read agricultural magazine, was the
‘‘nursing mother of the prosperity
of the North.’’ Cotton planters,
millers and consumers were fash-
ioning a new economy, one that
was global in scope and required

A photograph taken at a medical examination of a man known as
Gordon, who escaped from Mississippi and made his way to a Union
Army encampment in Baton Rouge, La., in 1863.

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the movement of capital, labor and
products across long distances. In
other words, they were fashioning
a capitalist economy. ‘‘The beating
heart of this new system,’’ Beckert
writes, ‘‘was slavery.’’

Perhaps you’re reading this at work,
maybe at a multinational corpora-
tion that runs like a soft-purring
engine. You report to someone, and
someone reports to you. Everything
is tracked, recorded and analyzed,
via vertical reporting systems,
double- entry record-keeping and
precise quantifi cation. Data seems
to hold sway over every operation.
It feels like a cutting-edge approach
to management, but many of these
techniques that we now take for
granted were developed by and for
large plantations.

When an accountant depreci-
ates an asset to save on taxes or
when a midlevel manager spends
an afternoon fi lling in rows and
columns on an Excel spreadsheet,
they are repeating business pro-
cedures whose roots twist back to
slave-labor camps. And yet, despite
this, ‘‘slavery plays almost no role
in histories of management,’’ notes
the historian Caitlin Rosenthal in
her book ‘‘Accounting for Slavery.’’
Since the 1977 publication of Alfred
Chandler’s classic study, ‘‘The Vis-
ible Hand,’’ historians have tended
to connect the development of
modern business practices to the
19th-century railroad industry,
viewing plantation slavery as pre-
capitalistic, even primitive. It’s a
more comforting origin story, one
that protects the idea that Ameri-
ca’s economic ascendancy devel-
oped not because of, but in spite
of, millions of black people toiling
on plantations. But management
techniques used by 19th-century
corporations were implemented
during the previous century by
plantation owners.

Planters aggressively expanded
their operations to capitalize on
economies of scale inherent to cot-
ton growing, buying more enslaved
workers, investing in large gins and
presses and experimenting with dif-
ferent seed varieties. To do so, they
developed complicated workplace
hierarchies that combined a cen-
tral offi ce, made up of owners and

lawyers in charge of capital alloca-
tion and long-term strategy, with
several divisional units, responsible
for diff erent operations. Rosenthal
writes of one plantation where the
owner supervised a top lawyer,
who supervised another lawyer,
who supervised an overseer, who
supervised three bookkeepers,
who supervised 16 enslaved head
drivers and specialists (like brick-
layers), who supervised hundreds
of enslaved workers. Everyone was
accountable to someone else, and
plantations pumped out not just
cotton bales but volumes of data
about how each bale was produced.
This organizational form was very
advanced for its time, displaying
a level of hierarchal complexity
equaled only by large government
structures, like that of the British
Royal Navy.

Like today’s titans of industry,
planters understood that their prof-
its climbed when they extracted
maximum eff ort out of each work-
er. So they paid close attention to
inputs and outputs by developing
precise systems of record-keeping.
Meticulous bookkeepers and over-
seers were just as important to the
productivity of a slave-labor camp
as fi eld hands. Plantation entrepre-
neurs developed spreadsheets,
like Thomas Aff leck’s ‘‘Plantation
Record and Account Book,’’ which
ran into eight editions circulated
until the Civil War. Aff leck’s book
was a one-stop-shop accounting
manual, complete with rows and
columns that tracked per-worker
productivity. This book ‘‘was real-
ly at the cutting edge of the infor-
mational technologies available
to businesses during this period,’’
Rosenthal told me. ‘‘I have never
found anything remotely as com-
plex as Affleck’s book for free
labor.’’ Enslavers used the book to
determine end-of-the-year balanc-
es, tallying expenses and revenues
and noting the causes of their big-
gest gains and losses. They quan-
tifi ed capital costs on their land,
tools and enslaved workforces,
applying Aff leck’s recommend-
ed interest rate. Perhaps most
remarkable, they also developed
ways to calculate depreciation, a
breakthrough in modern manage-
ment procedures, by assessing the

August 18, 2019

35

market value of enslaved workers
over their life spans. Values gen-
erally peaked between the prime
ages of 20 and 40 but were indi-
vidually adjusted up or down based
on sex, strength and temperament:
people reduced to data points.

This level of data analysis also
allowed planters to anticipate rebel-
lion. Tools were accounted for on a
regular basis to make sure a large
number of axes or other potential
weapons didn’t suddenly go miss-
ing. ‘‘Never allow any slave to lock or
unlock any door,’’ advised a Virgin-
ia enslaver in 1847. In this way, new
bookkeeping techniques developed
to maximize returns also helped to
ensure that violence fl owed in one
direction, allowing a minority of
whites to control a much larger group
of enslaved black people. American
planters never forgot what happened
in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) in
1791, when enslaved workers took
up arms and revolted. In fact, many
white enslavers overthrown during
the Haitian Revolution relocated to
the United States and started over.

Overseers recorded each enslaved
worker’s yield. Accountings took
place not only after nightfall, when
cotton baskets were weighed, but
throughout the workday. In the
words of a North Carolina plant-
er, enslaved workers were to be
‘‘followed up from day break until
dark.’’ Having hands line-pick in
rows sometimes longer than fi ve
football fi elds allowed overseers
to spot anyone lagging behind.
The uniform layout of the land had
a logic; a logic designed to domi-
nate. Faster workers were placed at
the head of the line, which encour-
aged those who followed to match
the captain’s pace. When enslaved
workers grew ill or old, or became
pregnant, they were assigned to
lighter tasks. One enslaver estab-
lished a ‘‘sucklers gang’’ for nursing
mothers, as well as a ‘‘measles gang,’’
which at once quarantined those
struck by the virus and ensured that
they did their part to contribute to
the productivity machine. Bodies
and tasks were aligned with rigor-
ous exactitude. In trade magazines,
owners swapped advice about the
minutiae of planting, including slave
diets and clothing as well as the
kind of tone a master should use. In

1846, one Alabama planter advised
his fellow enslavers to always give
orders ‘‘in a mild tone, and try to
leave the impression on the mind
of the negro that what you say is the
result of refl ection.’’ The devil (and
his profi ts) were in the details.

The uncompromising pursuit
of measurement and scientif-
ic accounting displayed in slave
plantations predates industrial-
ism. Northern factories would not
begin adopting these techniques
until decades after the Emanci-
pation Proclamation. As the large
slave-labor camps grew increas-
ingly effi cient, enslaved black peo-
ple became America’s fi rst mod-
ern workers, their productivity
increasing at an astonishing pace.
During the 60 years leading up to
the Civil War, the daily amount of
cotton picked per enslaved worker
increased 2.3 percent a year. That
means that in 1862, the average
enslaved fi eldworker picked not 25
percent or 50 percent as much but
400 percent as much cotton than his
or her counterpart did in 1801.

Today modern technology has
facilitated unremitting workplace
supervision, particularly in the ser-
vice sector. Companies have devel-
oped software that records work-
ers’ keystrokes and mouse clicks,
along with randomly capturing
screenshots multiple times a day.
Modern-day workers are subject-
ed to a wide variety of surveillance
strategies, from drug tests and
closed-circuit video monitoring
to tracking apps and even devic-
es that sense heat and motion. A
2006 survey found that more than a
third of companies with work forc-
es of 1,000 or more had staff mem-
bers who read through employees’
outbound emails. The technology
that accompanies this workplace
supervision can make it feel futur-
istic. But it’s only the technology
that’s new. The core impulse
behind that technology pervaded
plantations, which sought inner-
most control over the bodies of
their enslaved work force.

The cotton plantation was Amer-
ica’s first big business, and the
nation’s fi rst corporate Big Brother
was the overseer. And behind every
cold calculation, every rational

The Constitution is riddled

with compromises made

between the North and

South over the issue of slav-

ery — the Electoral College,

the three-fifths clause —

but paper currency was too

contentious an issue for the

framers, so it was left out

entirely. Thomas Jeffer-

son, like many Southerners,

believed that a national

currency would make the

federal government too

powerful and would also

favor the Northern trade-

based economy over the

plantation economy. So, for

much of its first century, the

United States was without

a national bank or a uniform

currency, leaving its econo-

my prone to crisis, bank runs

and instability.

At the height of the war,

Lincoln understood that he

could not feed the troops

without more money, so he

issued a national currency,

backed by the full faith and

credit of the United States

Treasury — but not by gold.

(These bills were known

derisively as ‘‘greenbacks,’’

a word that has lived on.)

The South had a patchwork

currency that was backed

by the holdings of private

banks — the same banks

that helped finance the

entire Southern economy,

from the plantations to the

people enslaved on them.

Some Confederate bills even

had depictions of enslaved

people on their backs.

In a sense, the war over

slavery was also a war over

the future of the econo-

my and the essentiality of

value. By issuing fiat curren-

cy, Lincoln bet the future on

the elasticity of value. This

was the United States’ first

formal experiment with fiat

money, and it was a resound-

ing success. The currency

was accepted by national

and international creditors

— such as private creditors

from London, Amsterdam

and Paris — and funded the

feeding and provisioning of

Union troops. In turn, the

success of the Union Army

fortified the new currency.

Lincoln assured critics that

the move would be tempo-

rary, but leaders who fol-

lowed him eventually made

it permanent — first Franklin

Roosevelt during the Great

Depression and then, for-

mally, Richard Nixon in 1971.

Good as Gold: In Lincoln’s
wartime ‘‘greenbacks,’’ a
preview of the 20th-century
rise of fi at currency.

By Mehrsa Baradaran

T he 1619 Project

36

fi ne-tuning of the system, violence
lurked. Plantation owners used a
combination of incentives and pun-
ishments to squeeze as much as pos-
sible out of enslaved workers. Some
beaten workers passed out from the
pain and woke up vomiting. Some
‘‘danced’’ or ‘‘trembled’’ with every
hit. An 1829 fi rst-person account
from Alabama recorded an over-
seer’s shoving the faces of women
he thought had picked too slow into
their cotton baskets and opening up
their backs. To the historian Edward
Baptist, before the Civil War, Amer-
icans ‘‘lived in an economy whose
bottom gear was torture.’’

There is some comfort, I think,
in attributing the sheer brutality of
slavery to dumb racism. We imag-
ine pain being infl icted somewhat
at random, doled out by the ste-
reotypical white overseer, free but
poor. But a good many overseers
weren’t allowed to whip at will.
Punishments were authorized by
the higher-ups. It was not so much
the rage of the poor white South-
erner but the greed of the rich
white planter that drove the lash.
The violence was neither arbitrary
nor gratuitous. It was rational, cap-
italistic, all part of the plantation’s
design. ‘‘Each individual having a
stated number of pounds of cot-
ton to pick,’’ a formerly enslaved
worker, Henry Watson, wrote in
1848, ‘‘the defi cit of which was
made up by as many lashes being
applied to the poor slave’s back.’’
Because overseers closely moni-
tored enslaved workers’ picking
abilities, they assigned each work-
er a unique quota. Falling short of
that quota could get you beaten,
but overshooting your target could
bring misery the next day, because
the master might respond by rais-
ing your picking rate.

Profits from heightened pro-
ductivity were harnessed through
the anguish of the enslaved. This
was why the fastest cotton pick-
ers were often whipped the most.
It was why punishments rose and
fell with global market fl uctuations.
Speaking of cotton in 1854, the fugi-
tive slave John Brown remembered,
‘‘When the price rises in the English
market, the poor slaves immediate-
ly feel the eff ects, for they are harder
driven, and the whip is kept more

constantly going.’’ Unrestrained
capitalism holds no monopoly on
violence, but in making possible the
pursuit of near limitless personal
fortunes, often at someone else’s
expense, it does put a cash value
on our moral commitments.

Slavery did supplement white
workers with what W. E. B. Du Bois
called a ‘‘public and psychological
wage,’’ which allowed them to roam
freely and feel a sense of entitle-
ment. But this, too, served the inter-
ests of money. Slavery pulled down
all workers’ wages. Both in the cit-
ies and countryside, employers had
access to a large and fl exible labor
pool made up of enslaved and free
people. Just as in today’s gig econ-
omy, day laborers during slavery’s
reign often lived under conditions
of scarcity and uncertainty, and
jobs meant to be worked for a few
months were worked for lifetimes.
Labor power had little chance when
the bosses could choose between
buying people, renting them, con-
tracting indentured servants, taking
on apprentices or hiring children
and prisoners.

This not only created a stark-
ly uneven playing fi eld, dividing
workers from themselves; it also
made ‘‘all nonslavery appear as
freedom,’’ as the economic histo-
rian Stanley Engerman has written.
Witnessing the horrors of slavery
drilled into poor white workers
that things could be worse. So they
generally accepted their lot, and
American freedom became broadly
defi ned as the opposite of bondage.
It was a freedom that understood
what it was against but not what it
was for; a malnourished and mean
kind of freedom that kept you out
of chains but did not provide bread
or shelter. It was a freedom far too
easily pleased.

In recent decades, America has
experienced the fi nancialization
of its economy. In 1980, Congress
repealed regulations that had been
in place since the 1933 Glass-Steagall
Act, allowing banks to merge and
charge their customers higher inter-
est rates. Since then, increasingly
profi ts have accrued not by trading
and producing goods and services
but through fi nancial instruments.
Between 1980 and 2008, more

Cotton produced under

slavery created a worldwide

market that brought togeth-

er the Old World and the

New: the industrial textile

mills of the Northern states

and England, on the one

hand, and the cotton planta-

tions of the American South

on the other. Textile mills in

industrial centers like Lan-

cashire, England, purchased

a majority of cotton exports,

which created worldwide

trade hubs in London and

New York where merchants

could trade in, invest in,

insure and speculate on the

cotton- commodity market.

Though trade in other com-

modities existed, it was cot-

ton (and the earlier trade in

slave-produced sugar from

the Caribbean) that accel-

erated worldwide com-

mercial markets in the 19th

century, creating demand

for innovative contracts,

novel financial products and

modern forms of insurance

and credit.

Like all agricultural goods,

cotton is prone to fluctua-

tions in quality depending

on crop type, location and

environmental conditions.

Treating it as a commodi-

ty led to unique problems:

How would damages be

calculated if the wrong

crop was sent? How would

you assure that there was no

misunderstanding between

two parties on time of deliv-

ery? Legal concepts we still

have to this day, like ‘‘mutu-

al mistake’’ (the notion that

contracts can be voided

if both parties relied on

a mistaken assumption),

were developed to deal

with these issues. Textile

merchants needed to pur-

chase cotton in advance of

their own production, which

meant that farmers need-

ed a way to sell goods they

had not yet grown; this led

to the invention of futures

contracts and, arguably, the

commodities markets still in

use today.

From the first decades

of the 1800s, during the

height of the trans-Atlantic

cotton trade, the sheer size

of the market and the esca-

lating number of disputes

between counterparties

was such that courts and

lawyers began to articulate

and codify the common-law

standards regarding con-

tracts. This allowed inves-

tors and traders to mit-

igate their risk through

contractual arrangement,

which smoothed the flow

of goods and money. Today

law students still study

some of these pivotal cases

as they learn doctrines like

forseeability, mutual mis-

take and damages.

Fabric of Modernity:
How Southern cotton
became the cornerstone
of a new global
commodities trade.

By Mehrsa Baradaran

August 18, 2019

37

than $6.6 trillion was transferred
to fi nancial fi rms. After witnessing
the successes and excesses of Wall
Street, even nonfi nancial companies
began fi nding ways to make money
from fi nancial products and activi-
ties. Ever wonder why every major
retail store, hotel chain and airline
wants to sell you a credit card? This
fi nancial turn has trickled down into
our everyday lives: It’s there in our
pensions, home mortgages, lines of
credit and college-savings portfo-
lios. Americans with some means
now act like ‘‘enterprising subjects,’’
in the words of the political scientist
Robert Aitken.

As it’s usually narrated, the story
of the ascendancy of American
fi nance tends to begin in 1980, with
the gutting of Glass-Steagall, or in

1944 with Bretton Woods, or per-
haps in the reckless speculation of
the 1920s. But in reality, the story
begins during slavery.

Consider, for example, one
of the most popular mainstream
fi nancial instruments: the mort-
gage. Enslaved people were used as
collateral for mortgages centuries
before the home mortgage became
the defi ning characteristic of middle
America. In colonial times, when
land was not worth much and banks
didn’t exist, most lending was based
on human property. In the early
1700s, slaves were the dominant
collateral in South Carolina. Many
Americans were fi rst exposed to the
concept of a mortgage by traffi cking
in enslaved people, not real estate,
and ‘‘the extension of mortgages to

slave property helped fuel the devel-
opment of American (and global)
capitalism,’’ the historian Joshua
Rothman told me.

Or consider a Wall Street fi nan-
cial instrument as modern- sounding
as collateralized debt obligations
(C.D.O.s), those ticking time bombs
backed by infl ated home prices in
the 2000s. C.D.O.s were the grand-
children of mortgage-backed secu-
rities based on the infl ated value of
enslaved people sold in the 1820s
and 1830s. Each product created
massive fortunes for the few before
blowing up the economy.

Enslavers were not the fi rst ones
to securitize assets and debts in
America. The land companies that
thrived during the late 1700s relied
on this technique, for instance. But

African-Americans preparing cotton for the gin at a plantation on Port Royal Island, S.C., in the 1860s.

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enslavers did make use of securi-
ties to such an enormous degree
for their time, exposing stakehold-
ers throughout the Western world
to enough risk to compromise the
world economy, that the historian
Edward Baptist told me that this
can be viewed as ‘‘a new moment
in international capitalism, where
you are seeing the development of
a globalized fi nancial market.’’ The
novel thing about the 2008 foreclo-
sure crisis was not the concept of
foreclosing on a homeowner but
foreclosing on millions of them.
Similarly, what was new about
securitizing enslaved people in the
fi rst half of the 19th century was not
the concept of securitization itself
but the crazed level of rash specu-
lation on cotton that selling slave
debt promoted.

As America’s cotton sector
expanded, the value of enslaved
workers soared. Between 1804 and
1860, the average price of men ages
21 to 38 sold in New Orleans grew to
$1,200 from roughly $450. Because
they couldn’t expand their cotton
empires without more enslaved
workers, ambitious planters needed
to fi nd a way to raise enough capi-
tal to purchase more hands. Enter
the banks. The Second Bank of the
United States, chartered in 1816,
began investing heavily in cotton.
In the early 1830s, the slaveholding
Southwestern states took almost
half the bank’s business. Around the
same time, state- chartered banks
began multiplying to such a degree
that one historian called it an ‘‘orgy
of bank-creation.’’

When seeking loans, planters
used enslaved people as collateral.
Thomas Jeff erson mortgaged 150
of his enslaved workers to build
Monticello. People could be sold
much more easily than land, and
in multiple Southern states, more
than eight in 10 mortgage-secured
loans used enslaved people as full
or partial collateral. As the historian
Bonnie Martin has written, ‘‘slave
owners worked their slaves fi nan-
cially, as well as physically from
colonial days until emancipation’’
by mortgaging people to buy more
people. Access to credit grew fast-
er than Mississippi kudzu, leading
one 1836 observer to remark that
in cotton country ‘‘money, or what

T he 1619 Project

38

passed for money, was the only
cheap thing to be had.’’

Planters took on immense
amounts of debt to fi nance their
operations. Why wouldn’t they?
The math worked out. A cotton
plantation in the fi rst decade of
the 19th century could leverage
their enslaved workers at 8 per-
cent interest and record a return
three times that. So leverage they
did, sometimes volunteering the
same enslaved workers for mul-
tiple mortgages. Banks lent with
little restraint. By 1833, Mississippi
banks had issued 20 times as much
paper money as they had gold in

their coff ers. In several Southern
counties, slave mortgages injected
more capital into the economy than
sales from the crops harvested by
enslaved workers.

Global fi nancial markets got in on
the action. When Thomas Jeff erson
mortgaged his enslaved workers,
it was a Dutch fi rm that put up the
money. The Louisiana Purchase,
which opened millions of acres to
cotton production, was fi nanced
by Baring Brothers, the well-heeled
British commercial bank. A major-
ity of credit powering the Ameri-
can slave economy came from the
London money market. Years after

abolishing the African slave trade in
1807, Britain, and much of Europe
along with it, was bankrolling slavery
in the United States. To raise capital,
state-chartered banks pooled debt
generated by slave mortgages and
repackaged it as bonds promising
investors annual interest. During
slavery’s boom time, banks did swift
business in bonds, fi nding buyers in
Hamburg and Amsterdam, in Bos-
ton and Philadelphia.

Some historians have claimed
that the British abolition of the slave
trade was a turning point in moder-
nity, marked by the development of
a new kind of moral consciousness
when people began considering
the suff ering of others thousands
of miles away. But perhaps all that
changed was a growing need to
scrub the blood of enslaved work-
ers off American dollars, British
pounds and French francs, a need
that Western fi nancial markets fast
found a way to satisfy through the
global trade in bank bonds. Here
was a means to profi t from slavery
without getting your hands dirty. In
fact, many investors may not have
realized that their money was being
used to buy and exploit people, just
as many of us who are vested in mul-
tinational textile companies today are
unaware that our money subsidizes
a business that continues to rely on
forced labor in countries like Uzbeki-
stan and China and child workers in
countries like India and Brazil. Call
it irony, coincidence or maybe cause
— historians haven’t settled the mat-
ter — but avenues to profi t indirectly
from slavery grew in popularity as the
institution of slavery itself grew more
unpopular. ‘‘I think they go togeth-
er,’’ the historian Calvin Schermer-
horn told me. ‘‘We care about fellow
members of humanity, but what do
we do when we want returns on an
investment that depends on their
bound labor?’’ he said. ‘‘Yes, there is
a higher consciousness. But then it
comes down to: Where do you get
your cotton from?’’

Banks issued tens of millions of
dollars in loans on the assumption
that rising cotton prices would go on
forever. Speculation reached a fever
pitch in the 1830s, as businessmen,
planters and lawyers convinced
themselves that they could amass
real treasure by joining in a risky

game that everyone seemed to be
playing. If planters thought them-
selves invincible, able to bend the
laws of fi nance to their will, it was
most likely because they had been
granted authority to bend the laws
of nature to their will, to do with the
land and the people who worked it
as they pleased. Du Bois wrote: ‘‘The
mere fact that a man could be, under
the law, the actual master of the
mind and body of human beings had
to have disastrous eff ects. It tended
to infl ate the ego of most planters
beyond all reason; they became
arrogant, strutting, quarrelsome
kinglets.’’ What are the laws of eco-
nomics to those exercising godlike
power over an entire people?

We know how these stories end.
The American South rashly over-
produced cotton thanks to an
abundance of cheap land, labor and
credit, consumer demand couldn’t
keep up with supply, and prices fell.
The value of cotton started to drop
as early as 1834 before plunging like
a bird winged in midfl ight, setting
off the Panic of 1837. Investors and
creditors called in their debts, but
plantation owners were underwa-
ter. Mississippi planters owed the
banks in New Orleans $33 million
in a year their crops yielded only $10
million in revenue. They couldn’t
simply liquidate their assets to
raise the money. When the price
of cotton tumbled, it pulled down
the value of enslaved workers and
land along with it. People bought
for $2,000 were now selling for $60.
Today, we would say the planters’
debt was ‘‘toxic.’’

Because enslavers couldn’t repay
their loans, the banks couldn’t make
interest payments on their bonds.
Shouts went up around the Western
world, as investors began demanding
that states raise taxes to keep their
promises. After all, the bonds were
backed by taxpayers. But after a swell
of populist outrage, states decided
not to squeeze the money out of
every Southern family, coin by coin.
But neither did they foreclose on
defaulting plantation owners. If they
tried, planters absconded to Texas
(an independent republic at the time)
with their treasure and enslaved work
force. Furious bondholders mount-
ed lawsuits and cashiers committed

An 1850 inventory of enslaved people from the Pleasant Hill
Plantation in Mississippi.

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VOL. COC…No. 55,727 © 2019 COLOR OF CHANGE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 2019

BLACK PEOPLE ARE FREE

COLOROFCHANGE.ORG

BY COLOR OF CHANGE

CORRECTION: IN NEW YORK AND NATIONALLY, BLACK AND BROWN PEOPLE

BEAR A DISPROPORTIONATE BURDEN FOR AN UNJUST CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM.

THIS IS NOT FREEDOM, BUT YOU CAN FIGHT FOR THE CHANGE WE NEED TO SEE.

JOIN US TO BE

PART OF HISTORY.

Color Of Change is
fighting for an America
that values Black lives.

CORRUPT PROSECUTORS

ARE SELLING OFF THE

FREEDOM OF BLACK PEOPLE

WITH THE PREDATORY

MONEY BAIL SYSTEM,

FUELING MASS

INCARCERATION.

BLACK AND BROWN

IMMIGRANTS ARE BEING

RIPPED FROM THEIR

FAMILIES.

200K BLACK AND BROWN

KIDS ARE CAUGHT UP IN THE

ADULT CRIMINAL JUSTICE

SYSTEM EVERY YEAR.

Through 2020, and beyond, we are

building and using our collective

power to hold prosecutors

accountable to transform the

criminal justice system.

Join our fight, make your voice

heard and be part of history

Illustrated by Simon Ampel

The Daily Lies
Advertisement

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T he 1619 Project

40

While ‘‘Main Street’’ might be

anywhere and everywhere, as

the historian Joshua Freeman

points out, ‘‘Wall Street’’ has

only ever been one specific place

on the map. New York has been

a principal center of American

commerce dating back to the

colonial period — a centrality

founded on the labor extracted

from thousands of indigenous

American and African slaves.

Desperate for hands to build

towns, work wharves, tend farms

and keep households, colonists

across the American Northeast

— Puritans in Massachusetts Bay,

Dutch settlers in New Netherland

and Quakers in Pennsylvania —

availed themselves of slave labor.

Native Americans captured in

colonial wars in New England

were forced to work, and African

people were imported in greater

and greater numbers. New York

City soon surpassed other slaving

towns of the Northeast in scale as

well as impact.

Founded by the Dutch as New

Amsterdam in 1625, what would

become the City of New York first

imported 11 African men in 1626.

The Dutch West India Company

owned these men and their fam-

ilies, directing their labors to com-

mon enterprises like land clearing

and road construction. After the

English Duke of York acquired

authority over the colony and

changed its name, slavery grew

harsher and more comprehen-

sive. As the historian Leslie Har-

ris has written, 40 percent of New

York households held enslaved

people in the early 1700s.

New Amsterdam’s and New

York’s enslaved put in place

much of the local infrastructure,

including Broad Way and the

Bowery roads, Governors Island,

and the first municipal buildings

and churches. The unfree popu-

lation in New York was not small,

and their experience of exploita-

tion was not brief. In 1991, con-

struction workers uncovered an

extensive 18th-century African

burial ground in Lower Manhat-

tan, the final resting place of

approximately 20,000 people.

And New York City’s investment

in slavery expanded in the 19th

century. In 1799 the state of New

York passed the first of a series of

laws that would gradually abolish

slavery over the coming decades,

but the investors and financiers

of the state’s primary metropolis

doubled down on the business

of slavery. New Yorkers invested

heavily in the growth of Southern

plantations, catching the wave of

the first cotton boom. Southern

planters who wanted to buy more

land and black people borrowed

funds from New York bankers and

protected the value of bought

bodies with policies from New

York insurance companies. New

York factories produced the agri-

cultural tools forced into South-

ern slaves’ hands and the rough

fabric called ‘‘Negro Cloth’’ worn

on their backs. Ships originating

in New York docked in the port

of New Orleans to service the

trade in domestic and (by then,

illegal) international slaves. As

the historian David Quigley has

demonstrated, New York City’s

phenomenal economic con-

solidation came as a result of

its dominance in the Southern

cotton trade, facilitated by the

construction of the Erie Canal. It

was in this moment — the early

decades of the 1800s — that

New York City gained its status

as a financial behemoth through

shipping raw cotton to Europe

and bankrolling the boom indus-

try that slavery made.

In 1711, New York City officials

decreed that ‘‘all Negro and

Indian slaves that are let out to

hire . . . be hired at the Market

house at the Wall Street Slip.’’

It is uncanny, but perhaps pre-

dictable, that the original wall

for which Wall Street is named

was built by the enslaved at

a site that served as the city’s

first organized slave auction.

The capital profits and financial

wagers of Manhattan, the Unit-

ed States and the world still flow

through this place where black

and red people were traded and

where the wealth of a region was

built on slavery.

suicide , but the bankrupt states
refused to pay their debts. Cotton
slavery was too big to fail. The South
chose to cut itself out of the global
credit market, the hand that had fed
cotton expansion, rather than hold
planters and their banks accountable
for their negligence and avarice.

Even academic historians, who
from their very fi rst graduate course
are taught to shun presentism and
accept history on its own terms,
haven’t been able to resist drawing
parallels between the Panic of 1837
and the 2008 fi nancial crisis. All the
ingredients are there: mystifying

fi nancial instruments that hide risk
while connecting bankers, inves-
tors and families around the globe;
fantastic profi ts amassed overnight;
the normalization of speculation
and breathless risk-taking; stacks
of paper money printed on the
myth that some institution (cotton,
housing) is unshakable; considered
and intentional exploitation of black
people; and impunity for the prof-
iteers when it all falls apart — the
borrowers were bailed out after
1837, the banks after 2008.

During slavery, ‘‘Americans built
a culture of speculation unique in

its abandon,’’ writes the historian
Joshua Rothman in his 2012 book,
‘‘Flush Times and Fever Dreams.’’
That culture would drive cotton
production up to the Civil War, and
it has been a defi ning characteristic
of American capitalism ever since.
It is the culture of acquiring wealth
without work, growing at all costs
and abusing the powerless. It is the
culture that brought us the Panic
of 1837, the stock-market crash of
1929 and the recession of 2008. It
is the culture that has produced
staggering inequality and undigni-
fi ed working conditions. If today

America promotes a particular
kind of low-road capitalism — a
union-busting capitalism of pov-
erty wages, gig jobs and normal-
ized insecurity; a winner-take-all
capitalism of stunning disparities
not only permitting but awarding
financial rule-bending; a racist
capitalism that ignores the fact
that slavery didn’t just deny black
freedom but built white fortunes,
originating the black-white wealth
gap that annually grows wider —
one reason is that American capi-
talism was founded on the lowest
road there is.�

Municipal Bonds:
How Slavery Built Wall Street

By Tiya Miles

T he 1619 Project

42

⬤ Late 1773: A publishing house in London releases ‘‘Poems on Various Subjects,
Religious and Moral,’’ by Phillis Wheatley, a 20-year-old enslaved woman in Boston,
making her the first African-American to publish a book of poetry.

Pretend I wrote this at your grave.
Pretend the grave is marked. Pretend we know where it is.
Copp’s Hill, say. I have been there and you might be.
Foremother, your name is the boat that brought you.
Pretend I see it in the stone, with a gruesome cherub.
Children come with thin paper and charcoal to touch you.
Pretend it drizzles and a man in an ugly plastic poncho
circles the Mathers, all but sniffing the air warily.
We don’t need to pretend for this part.
There is a plaque in the grass for Increase, and Cotton.
And Samuel, dead at 78, final son, who was there
on the day when they came looking for proof.
Eighteen of them watched you and they signed to say:
the Poems specified in the following Page, were (as we verily believe)
written by Phillis, a young Negro Girl, who was but a few Years since,
brought an uncultivated Barbarian from Africa
and the abolitionists cheered at the blow to Kant
the Negroes of Africa have by nature no feeling that rises above the trifling
and the enlightened ones bellowed at the strike against Hume
no ingenious manufacturers amongst them, no arts, no sciences

Pretend I was there with you, Phillis, when you asked in a letter to no one:
How many iambs to be a real human girl?
Which turn of phrase evidences a righteous heart?
If I know of Ovid may I keep my children?

Pretend that on your grave there is a date
and it is so long before my heroes came along to call you a coon
for the praises you sang of your captors
who took you on discount because they assumed you would die
that it never ever hurt your feelings.
Or pretend you did not love America.
Phillis, I would like to think that after you were released unto the world,
when they jailed your husband for his debts
and you lay in the maid’s quarters at night,
a free and poor woman with your last living boy,
that you thought of the Metamorphoses,
making the sign of Arachne in the tangle of your fingers.
And here, after all, lay the proof:
The man in the plastic runs a thumb over stone. The gray is slick and tough.
Phillis Wheatley: thirty-one. Had misery enough.

By Eve L. Ewing

August 18, 2019

43

⬤ Feb. 12, 1793: George Washington signs into law the fi rst Fugitive Slave
Act, which requires United States citizens to return runaway enslaved people
to the state from which they came.

By Reginald Dwayne Betts

By Jeneen Interlandi

Why doesn’t the United States have
universal health care? he answer begins
with policies enacted after the Civil War.

August 18, 2019

45

The smallpox virus hopscotched
across the post-Civil War South,
invading the makeshift camps
where many thousands of newly
freed African-Americans had taken
refuge but leaving surrounding
white communities comparatively
unscathed. This pattern of aff liction
was no mystery: In the late 1860s,
doctors had yet to discover viruses,
but they knew that poor nutrition
made people more susceptible to
illness and that poor sanitation con-
tributed to the spread of disease.
They also knew that quarantine and
vaccination could stop an outbreak
in its tracks; they had used those very
tools to prevent a smallpox outbreak
from ravaging the Union Army.

Smallpox was not the only health
disparity facing the newly emanci-
pated, who at the close of the Civil
War faced a considerably higher
mortality rate than that of whites.
Despite their urgent pleas for assis-
tance, white leaders were deeply
ambivalent about intervening. They
worried about black epidemics spill-
ing into their own communities and
wanted the formerly enslaved to be
healthy enough to return to planta-
tion work. But they also feared that
free and healthy African-Americans
would upend the racial hierarchy,
the historian Jim Downs writes in
his 2012 book, ‘‘Sick From Freedom.’’

Federal policy, he notes, refl ect-
ed white ambivalence at every turn.
Congress established the medical
division of the Freedmen’s Bureau —
the nation’s fi rst federal health care
program — to address the health cri-
sis, but offi cials deployed just 120 or
so doctors across the war-torn South,
then ignored those doctors’ pleas
for personnel and equipment. They
erected more than 40 hospitals but
prematurely shuttered most of them.

White legislators argued that
free assistance of any kind would
breed dependence and that when it
came to black infi rmity, hard labor
was a better salve than white med-
icine. As the death toll rose, they
developed a new theory: Blacks
were so ill suited to freedom that
the entire race was going extinct.
‘‘No charitable black scheme can
wash out the color of the Negro,
change his inferior nature or save
him from his inevitable fate,’’ an
Ohio congressman said.

One of the most eloquent rejoin-
ders to the theory of black extinction
came from Rebecca Lee Crumpler,
the nation’s fi rst black female doctor.
Crumpler was born free and trained
and practiced in Boston. At the close
of the war, she joined the Freedmen’s
Bureau and worked in the freed peo-
ple’s communities of Virginia. In
1883, she published one of the fi rst
treatises on the burden of disease in
black communities. ‘‘They seem to
forget there is a cause for every ail-
ment,’’ she wrote. ‘‘And that it may be
in their power to remove it.’’

In the decades following Recon-
struction, the former slave states
came to wield enormous congres-
sional power through a voting bloc
that was uniformly segregationist and
overwhelmingly Democratic. That
bloc preserved the nation’s racial
stratifi cation by securing local control
of federal programs under a mantra of
‘‘states’ rights’’ and, in some cases, by
adding qualifi cations directly to fed-
eral laws with discriminatory intent.

As the Columbia University histo-
rian Ira Katznelson and others have
documented, it was largely at the
behest of Southern Democrats that
farm and domestic workers — more
than half the nation’s black work
force at the time — were excluded
from New Deal policies, including
the Social Security and Wagner Acts
of 1935 (the Wagner Act ensured
the right of workers to collective
bargaining), and the Fair Labor
Standards Act of 1938, which set a
minimum wage and established the
eight-hour workday. The same voting
bloc ensured states controlled cru-
cial programs like Aid to Dependent
Children and the 1944 Servicemen’s
Readjustment Act, better known as
the G.I. Bill, allowing state leaders
to eff ectively exclude black people.

In 1945, when President Truman
called on Congress to expand the
nation’s hospital system as part of
a larger health care plan, Southern
Democrats obtained key conces-
sions that shaped the American
medical landscape for decades to
come. The Hill-Burton Act provid-
ed federal grants for hospital con-
struction to communities in need,
giving funding priority to rural areas
(many of them in the South). But it
also ensured that states controlled

the disbursement of funds and could
segregate resulting facilities.

Professional societies like the
American Medical Association
barred black doctors; medical
schools excluded black students,
and most hospitals and health clin-
ics segregated black patients. Feder-
al health care policy was designed,
both implicitly and explicitly, to
exclude black Americans. As a result,
they faced an array of inequities —
including statistically shorter, sicker
lives than their white counterparts.
What’s more, access to good medical
care was predicated on a system of
employer-based insurance that was
inherently diffi cult for black Ameri-
cans to get. ‘‘They were denied most
of the jobs that off ered coverage,’’
says David Barton Smith, an emeri-
tus historian of health care policy at
Temple University. ‘‘And even when
some of them got health insurance,
as the Pullman porters did, they
couldn’t make use of white facilities.’’

In the shadows of this exclu-
sion, black communities created
their own health systems. Lay black
women began a national community
health care movement that included
fund-raising for black health facili-
ties; campaigns to educate black
communities about nutrition, sani-
tation and disease prevention; and
programs like National Negro Health
Week that drew national attention
to racial health disparities. Black
doctors and nurses — most of them
trained at one of two black medical
colleges, Meharry and Howard —
established their own professional
organizations and began a concerted
war against medical apartheid. By the
1950s, they were pushing for a federal
health care system for all citizens.

That fi ght put the National Med-
ical Association (the leading black
medical society) into direct confl ict
with the A.M.A., which was opposed
to any nationalized health plan. In the
late 1930s and the 1940s, the group
helped defeat two such proposals
with a vitriolic campaign that informs
present-day debates: They called the
idea socialist and un-American and
warned of government intervention
in the doctor-patient relationship.
The group used the same arguments
in the mid-’60s, when proponents of
national health insurance introduced
Medicare. This time, the N.M.A.

developed a countermessage: Health
care was a basic human right.

Medicare and Medicaid were part
of a broader plan that fi nally brought
the legal segregation of hospitals to
an end: The 1964 Civil Rights Act
outlawed segregation for any entity
receiving federal funds, and the new
health care programs soon placed
every hospital in the country in that
category. But they still excluded mil-
lions of Americans. Those who did
not fi t into specifi c age, employment
or income groups had little to no
access to health care.

In 2010, the Aff ordable Care Act
brought health insurance to near-
ly 20 million previously uninsured
adults. The biggest benefi ciaries
of this boon were people of color,
many of whom obtained coverage
through the law’s Medicaid expan-
sion. That coverage contributed to a
measurable decrease in some racial
health disparities, but the success
was neither as enduring nor as wide-
spread as it might have been. Several
states, most of them in the former
Confederacy, refused to participate
in Medicaid expansion. And sever-
al are still trying to make access to
the program contingent on onerous
new work requirements. The results
of both policies have been unequiv-
ocal. States that expanded Medicaid
saw a drop in disease-related deaths,
according to the National Bureau of
Economic Research. But in Arkan-
sas, the fi rst state to implement work
requirements, nearly 20,000 people
were forced off the insurance plan.

One hundred and fifty years
after the freed people of the South
fi rst petitioned the government for
basic medical care, the United States
remains the only high-income coun-
try in the world where such care is
not guaranteed to every citizen. In
the United States, racial health dis-
parities have proved as foundational
as democracy itself. ‘‘There has never
been any period in American histo-
ry where the health of blacks was
equal to that of whites,’’ Evelynn
Hammonds, a historian of science at
Harvard University, says. ‘‘Disparity
is built into the system.’’ Medicare,
Medicaid and the Aff ordable Care
Act have helped shrink those dis-
parities. But no federal health policy
yet has eradicated them.�

Photograph by D’Angelo Lovell Williams

T he 1619 Project

46

As he approached the Brook Swamp beneath the city of Richmond,
Va., Gabriel Prosser looked to the sky. Up above, the clouds coalesced
into an impenetrable black, bringing on darkness and a storm the fe-
rocity of which the region had scarcely seen. He may have cried and
he may have prayed but the thing Gabriel did not do was turn back. He
was expecting fire on this night and would make no concessions for the
coming rain.

And he was not alone. A hundred men; 500 men; a thousand men had
gathered from all over the state on this 30th day of August 1800. Black
men, African men — men from the fields and men from the house, men
from the church and the smithy — men who could be called many things
but after this night would not be called slaves gathered in the flooding
basin armed with scythes, swords, bayonets and smuggled guns.

One of the men tested the rising water, citing the Gospel of John:
‘‘For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled
the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped
in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.’’ But the water would
not abate. As the night wore on and the storm persisted, Gabriel was
overcome by a dawning truth: The Gospel would not save him. His army
could not pass.

Gov. James Monroe was expecting them. Having returned from his
appointment to France and built his sweeping Highland plantation on
the periphery of Charlottesville, Monroe wrote to his mentor Thomas
Jefferson seeking advice on his ‘‘fears of a negro insurrection.’’ When

⬤ Aug. 30, 1800: Gabriel Prosser, a 24-year-old literate blacksmith, organizes one
of the most extensively planned slave rebellions, with the intention of forming an
independent black state in Virginia. After other enslaved people share details of his
plot, Gabriel’s Rebellion is thwarted. He is later tried, found guilty and hanged.

the Negroes Tom and Pharoah of the Sheppard plantation betrayed
Gabriel’s plot on a Saturday morning, Monroe was not surprised. By
virtue of the privilege bestowed upon him as his birthright, he was ex-
pecting them.

Gabriel Prosser was executed Oct. 10, 1800. Eighteen hundred; the
year Denmark Vesey bought his freedom, the year of John Brown’s and
Nat Turner’s births. As he awaited the gallows near the foot of the James
River, Gabriel could see all that was not to be — the first wave of men
tasked to set fire to the city perimeter, the second to fell a city weakened
by the diversion; the governor’s mansion, James Monroe brought to heel
and served a lash for every man, woman and child enslaved on his High-
land plantation; the Quakers, Methodists, Frenchmen and poor whites
who would take up with his army and create a more perfect union from
which they would spread the infection of freedom — Gabriel saw it all.

He even saw Tom and Pharoah, manumitted by the government of Vir-
ginia, a thousand dollars to their master as recompense; a thousand dol-
lars for the sabotage of Gabriel’s thousand men. He did not see the other
25 men in his party executed. Instead, he saw Monroe in an audience he
wanted no part of and paid little notice to. For Gabriel Prosser the black-
smith, leader of men and accepting no master’s name, had stepped into
the troubled water. To the very last, he was whole. He was free.

By Barry Jenkins Ho
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.

August 18, 2019

47

⬤ Jan. 1, 1808: The Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves goes into eff ect, banning
the importation of enslaved people from abroad. But more than one million enslaved
people who can be bought and sold are already in the country, and the breaking up
of black families continues.

The whisper run through the quarters like a river swelling to flood. We
passed the story to each other in the night in our pallets, in the day over
the well, in the fields as we pulled at the fallow earth. Th ey ain’t stealing us
from over the water no more. We dreamed of those we was stolen from: our
mothers who oiled and braided our hair to our scalps, our fathers who cut
our first staffs, our sisters and brothers who we pinched for tattling on us,
and we felt a cool light wind move through us for one breath. Felt like ease
to imagine they remained, had not been stolen, would never be.

That be a foolish thing. We thought this later when the first Georgia
Man come and roped us. Grabbed a girl on her way for morning water.
Snatched a boy running to the stables. A woman after she left her babies
blinking awake in their sack blankets. A man sharpening a hoe. They al-
ways came before dawn for us chosen to be sold south.

We didn’t understand what it would be like, couldn’t think beyond the
panic, the prying, the crying, the begging and the screaming, the endless
screaming from the mouth and beyond. Sounding through the whole
body, breaking the heart with its volume. A blood keen. But the ones that
owned and sold us was deaf to it. Was unfeeling of the tugging the children
did on their fathers’ arms or the glance of a sister’s palm over her sold sis-
ter’s face for the last time. But we was all feeling, all seeing, all hearing, all
smelling: We felt it for the terrible dying it was. Knowed we was walking
out of one life and into another. An afterlife in a burning place.

The farther we marched, the hotter it got. Our skin grew around the
rope. Our muscles melted to nothing. Our fat to bone. The land rolled to a

flat bog, and in the middle of it, a city called New Orleans. When we shuf-
fled into that town of the dead, they put us in pens. Fattened us. Tried to
disguise our limps, oiled the pallor of sickness out of our skins, raped us
to assess our soft parts, then told us lies about ourselves to make us into
easier sells. Was told to answer yes when they asked us if we were mas-
ter seamstresses, blacksmiths or lady’s maids. Was told to disavow the
wives we thought we heard calling our names when we first woke in the
morning, the husbands we imagined lying with us, chest to back, while
the night’s torches burned, the children whose eyelashes we thought we
could still feel on our cheeks when the rain turned to a fine mist while we
stood in lines outside the pens waiting for our next hell to take legs and
seek us out.

Trade our past lives for new deaths.

By Jesmyn Ward

Photo illustrations by Jon Key

C
re

d
it

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y
N

a
m

e
S

u
rn

a
m

e

A traffi c jam in tlanta would seem
to have nothing to do with slavery.
But look closer. …

By Kevin M. Kruse

August 18, 2019

49

Atlanta has some of the worst
traffi c in the United States. Driv-
ers there average two hours each
week mired in gridlock, hung up
at countless spots, from the con-
stantly clogged Georgia 400 to a
complicated cluster of overpass-
es at Tom Moreland Interchange,
better known as ‘‘Spaghetti Junc-
tion.’’ The Downtown Connector
— a 12-to-14-lane megahighway
that in theory connects the city’s
north to its south — regularly has
three-mile-long traffi c jams that last
four hours or more. Commuters
might assume they’re stuck there
because some city planner made a
mistake, but the heavy congestion
actually stems from a great success.
In Atlanta, as in dozens of cities
across America, daily congestion is
a direct consequence of a century-
long eff ort to segregate the races.

For much of the nation’s histo-
ry, the campaign to keep African-
Americans ‘‘in their place’’ socially
and politically manifested itself in
an eff ort to keep them quite liter-
ally in one place or another. Before
the Civil War, white masters kept
enslaved African-Americans close
at hand to coerce their labor and
guard against revolts. But with the
abolition of slavery, the spatial
relationship was reversed. Once
they had no need to keep constant
watch over African-Americans,
whites wanted them out of sight.
Civic planners pushed them into
ghettos, and the segregation we
know today became the rule.

At fi rst the rule was overt, as
Southern cities like Baltimore and
Louisville enacted laws that man-
dated residential racial segrega-
tion. Such laws were eventually
invalidated by the Supreme Court,
but later measures achieved the
same eff ect by more subtle means.
During the New Deal, federal
agencies like the Home Owners’
Loan Corporation and the Federal
Housing Administration encour-
aged redlining practices that
explicitly marked minority neigh-
borhoods as risky investments
and therefore discouraged bank
loans, mortgages and insurance
there. Other policies simply tar-
geted black communities for iso-
lation and demolition. The postwar
programs for urban renewal, for

instance, destroyed black neigh-
borhoods and displaced their
residents with such regularity
that African-Americans came to
believe, in James Baldwin’s mem-
orable phrase, that ‘‘urban renewal
means Negro removal.’’

This intertwined history of infra-
structure and racial inequality
extended into the 1950s and 1960s
with the creation of the Interstate
highway system. The federal gov-
ernment shouldered nine-tenths of
the cost of the new Interstate high-
ways, but local offi cials often had a
say in selecting the path. As in most
American cities in the decades after
the Second World War, the new
highways in Atlanta — local express-
ways at fi rst, then Interstates — were
steered along routes that bull-
dozed ‘‘blighted’’ neighborhoods
that housed its poorest residents,
almost always racial minorities. This
was a common practice not just in
Southern cities like Jacksonville,
Miami, Nashville, New Orleans,
Richmond and Tampa, but in count-
less metropolises across the coun-
try, including Chicago, Cincinnati,
Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, Los
Angeles, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, St.
Louis, Syracuse and Washington.

While Interstates were regular-
ly used to destroy black neighbor-
hoods, they were also used to keep
black and white neighborhoods
apart. Today, major roads and high-
ways serve as stark dividing lines
between black and white sections
in cities like Buff alo, Hartford, Kan-
sas City, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and
St. Louis. In Atlanta, the intent to
segregate was crystal clear. Inter-
state 20, the east-west corridor
that connects with I-75 and I-85 in
Atlanta’s center, was deliberately
plotted along a winding route in
the late 1950s to serve, in the words
of Mayor Bill Hartsfi eld, as ‘‘the
boundary between the white and
Negro communities’’ on the west
side of town. Black neighborhoods,
he hoped, would be hemmed in on
one side of the new expressway,
while white neighborhoods on the
other side of it would be protect-
ed. Racial residential patterns have
long since changed, of course, but
the awkward path of I-20 remains
in place.

By razing impoverished areas
downtown and segregating the
races in the western section, Atlan-
ta’s leaders hoped to keep down-
town and its surroundings a desir-
able locale for middle-class whites.
Articulating a civic vision of racial
peace and economic progress,
Hartsfi eld bragged that Atlanta was
the ‘‘City Too Busy to Hate.’’ But the
so-called urban renewal and the
new Interstates only helped speed
white fl ight from Atlanta. Over
the 1960s, roughly 60,000 whites
left the city, with many of them
relocating in the suburbs along
the northern rim. When another
100,000 whites left the city in the
1970s, it became a local joke that
Atlanta had become ‘‘The City Too
Busy Moving to Hate.’’

As the new suburbs ballooned
in size, traffi c along the poorly
placed highways became worse
and worse. The obvious solution
was mass transit — buses, light
rail and trains that would more effi –
ciently link the suburbs and the city
— but that, too, faced opposition,
largely for racial reasons. The white
suburbanites had purposefully left
the problems of the central city
behind and worried that mass tran-
sit would bring them back.

Accordingly, suburbanites
waged a sustained campaign
against the Metropolitan Atlanta
Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA)
from its inception. Residents of
the nearly all-white Cobb County
resoundingly rejected the system
in a 1965 vote. In 1971, Gwinnett
and Clayton Counties, which were
then also overwhelmingly white,
followed suit, voting down a pro-
posal to join MARTA by nearly 4-1
margins, and keeping MARTA out
became the default position of
many local politicians. (Emmett
Burton, a Cobb County commis-
sioner, won praise for promis-
ing to ‘‘stock the Chattahoochee
with piranha’’ if that were need-
ed to keep MARTA away.) David
Chesnut, the white chairman of
MARTA, insisted in 1987 that sub-
urban opposition to mass tran-
sit had been ‘‘90 percent a racial
issue.’’ Because of that resistance,
MARTA became a city-only service
that did little to relieve commut-
er traffi c. By the mid-1980s, white

racists were joking that MARTA,
with its heavily black ridership,
stood for ‘‘Moving Africans Rap-
idly Through Atlanta.’’

Even as the suburbs became more
racially diverse, they remained
opposed to MARTA. After Gwin-
nett voted the system down again
in 1990, a former Republican leg-
islator later marveled at the argu-
ments given by opponents. ‘‘They
will come up with 12 diff erent ways
of saying they are not racist in pub-
lic,’’ he told a reporter. ‘‘But you get
them alone, behind a closed door,
and you see this old blatant racism
that we have had here for quite
some time.’’

Earlier this year, Gwinnett Coun-
ty voted MARTA down for a third
time. Proponents had hoped that
changes in the county’s racial com-
position, which was becoming less
white, might make a diff erence. But
the March initiative still failed by
an eight-point margin. Offi cials
discovered that some nonwhite
suburbanites shared the isolation-
ist instincts of earlier white subur-
banites. One white property man-
ager in her late 50s told a reporter
that she voted against mass transit
because it was used by poorer res-
idents and immigrants, whom she
called ‘‘illegals.’’ ‘‘Why should we
pay for it?’’ she asked. ‘‘Why sub-
sidize people who can’t manage
their money and save up a dime to
buy a car?’’

In the end, Atlanta’s traffi c is at a
standstill because its attitude about
transit is at a standstill, too. Fifty
years after its Interstates were set
down with an eye to segregation
and its rapid-transit system was
stunted by white fl ight, the city is
still stalled in the past.�

Photograph by Humza Deas

American democracy
has never shed an
undemocratic
assumption present
at its founding:
that some people
are inherently
entitled to more power
than others.

By Jamelle Bouie

51

August 18, 2019

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T he 1619 Project

52

If you want to understand Ameri-
can politics in 2019 and the strain
of reactionary extremism that has
taken over the Republican Party, a
good place to start is 2011: the year
after a backlash to Barack Obama’s
presidency swept Tea Party insur-
gents into Congress, fl ipping con-
trol of the House.

It was clear, at the start of that
year, that Congress would have to
lift the debt ceiling — the limit on
bonds and other debt instruments
the government issues when it
doesn’t have the revenues to fulfi ll
spending obligations. These votes
were often opportunities for grand-
standing and occasionally brink-
manship by politicians from both
parties. But it was understood that,
when push came to shove, Congress
would lift the limit and the govern-
ment would pay its obligations.

2011 was diff erent. Congressio-
nal Republicans, led by the new
Tea Party conservatives, wanted
to repeal the Aff ordable Care Act
and make other sharp cuts to the
social safety net. But Democrats
controlled the Senate and the
White House. So House Republi-
cans decided to take a hostage. ‘‘I’m
asking you to look at a potential
increase in the debt limit as a lever-
age moment when the White House
and President Obama will have to
deal with us,’’ said the incoming
majority leader, Eric Cantor, at a
closed-door retreat days before
the session began, according to The
Washington Post. Either the White
House would agree to harsh auster-
ity measures or Republicans would
force the United States to default on
its debt obligations, precipitating
an economic crisis just as the coun-
try, and the world, was beginning to
recover from the Great Recession.

The debt-limit standoff was a
case study of a fundamental change
within the Republican Party after
Obama took offi ce in 2009. Repub-
licans would either win total victo-
ry or they would wreck the system
itself. The Senate Republican lead-
er, Mitch McConnell, used a variety
of pro cedural tactics to eff ective-
ly nullify the president’s ability to
nominate federal judges and fill
vacancies in the executive branch.
In the minority, he used the fi libuster
to an unprecedented degree. In the

majority, after Republicans won the
Senate in the 2010 midterm elections,
he led an extraordinary blockade of
the Supreme Court, stopping the
Senate from even considering the
president’s nominee for the bench.

Where did this destructive, sec-
tarian style of partisan politics come
from? Conventional wisdom traces
its roots to the ‘‘Gingrich Revolu-
tion’’ of the 1990s, whose architect
pioneered a hardball, insurgent
style of political combat, under-
mining norms and dismantling
congressional institutions for the
sake of power. This is true enough,
but the Republican Party of the
Obama years didn’t just recycle its
Gingrich-era excesses; it also pur-
sued a policy of total opposition,
not just blocking Obama but also
casting him as fundamentally ille-
gitimate and un-American. He may
have been elected by a majority of
the voting public, but that majority
didn’t count. It didn’t represent the
‘‘real’’ America.

Obama’s election reignited a fi ght
about democratic legitimacy — about
who can claim the country as their
own, and who has the right to act as
a citizen — that is as old as American
democracy itself. And the reactionary
position in this confl ict, which seeks
to narrow the scope of participation
and arrest the power of majorities
beyond the limits of the Constitu-
tion, has its own peculiar history:
not just in the ideological battles of
the founding but also in the institu-
tion that defi ned the early American
republic as much as any other.

The plantations that dotted the land-
scape of the antebellum South pro-
duced the commodities that fueled
the nation’s early growth. Enslaved
people working in glorifi ed labor
camps picked cotton, grew indigo,
harvested resin from trees for tur-
pentine and generated additional
capital in the form of their chil-
dren, bought, sold and securitized
on the open market. But plantations
didn’t just produce goods; they pro-
duced ideas too. Enslaved laborers
developed an understanding of the
society in which they lived. The
people who enslaved them, like-
wise, constructed elaborate sets
of beliefs, customs and ideologies
meant to justify their positions in

this economic and social hierarchy.
Those ideas permeated the entire
South, taking deepest root in places
where slavery was most entrenched.

South Carolina was a paradig-
matic slave state. Although the
majority of enslavers resided in the
‘‘low country,’’ with its large rice and
cotton plantations, nearly the entire
state participated in plantation agri-
culture and the slave economy. By
1820 most South Carolinians were
enslaved Africans. By midcentury,
the historian Manisha Sinha notes in
‘‘The Counterrevolution of Slavery,’’
it was the fi rst Southern state where
a majority of the white population
held slaves.

Not surprisingly, enslavers domi-
nated the state’s political class.
‘‘Carolinian rice aristocrats and the
cotton planters from the hinterland,’’
Sinha writes, ‘‘formed an intersec-
tional ruling class, bound together

by kinship, economic, political and
cultural ties.’’ The government they
built was the most undemocratic in
the Union. The slave-rich districts of
the coasts enjoyed nearly as much
representation in the Legislature as
more populous regions in the inte-
rior of the state. Statewide offi ce was
restricted to wealthy property own-
ers. To even qualify for the governor-
ship, you needed a large, debt-free
estate. Rich enslavers were essen-
tially the only people who could
participate in the highest levels of
government. To the extent that there
were popular elections, they were
for the lowest levels of government,
because the State Legislature tended
to decide most high-level offi ces.

But immense power at home could
not compensate for declining power
in national politics. The growth of the
free Northwest threatened Southern
dominance in Congress. And the

John C. Calhoun, perhaps the most prominent political theorist of the
slaveholding South and an influence on modern right-wing thinking.

August 18, 2019

53

slaveholding planter class would wit-
ness the rise of an organized move-
ment to stop the expansion of slavery
and curb the power enslavers held
over key institutions like the Senate
and the Supreme Court.

Out of this atmosphere of fear
and insecurity came a number of
thinkers and politicians who set
their minds to protecting South
Carolina and the rest of the slave-
holding South from a hostile
North. Arguably the most promi-
nent and accomplished of these
planter-politicians was John C. Cal-
houn. Vice president under John
Quincy Adams and Andrew Jack-
son, secretary of state under John
Tyler and eventually a United States
senator representing the state, Cal-
houn was a deep believer in the sys-
tem of slavery — which he called
a ‘‘positive good’’ that ‘‘forms the
most solid and durable foundation

on which to rear free and stable
institutions’’— and a committed
advocate for the slave-owning
planter class. He was an astute
politician, but he made his most
important mark as a theoretician
of reaction: a man who, realizing
that democracy could not protect
slavery in perpetuity, set out to
limit democracy.

Calhoun popularized the con-
cept of ‘‘nullifi cation’’: the theory
that any state subject to federal
law was entitled to invalidate it. He
fi rst advanced the idea in an anon-
ymous letter, written when he was
vice president, protesting the Tar-
iff of 1828, which sought to protect
Northern industry and agriculture
from foreign competitors. Calhoun
condemned it as an unconstitution-
al piece of regional favoritism.

The South may have been part of
the pro-Andrew Jackson majorities

in Congress, but that wasn’t enough
for Calhoun, who wanted absolute
security for the region and its eco-
nomic interests. Demographic and
political change doomed it to be a
‘‘permanent minority’’: ‘‘Our geo-
graphical position, our industry,
pursuits and institutions are all
peculiar.’’ Against a domineering
North, he argued, ‘‘representation
aff ords not the slightest protection.’’

‘‘It is, indeed, high time for the
people of the South to be roused to
a sense of impending calamities —
on an early and full knowledge of
which their safety depends,’’ Cal-
houn wrote in an 1831 report to the
South Carolina Legislature. ‘‘It is
time that they should see and feel
that . . . they are in a permanent and
hopeless minority on the great and
vital connected questions.’’

His solution lay in the states. To
Calhoun, there was no ‘‘union’’ per
se. Instead, the United States was
simply a compact among sover-
eigns with distinct, and often com-
peting, sectional interests. This
compact could only survive if all
sides had equal say on the meaning
of the Constitution and the shape
and structure of the law. Individu-
al states, Calhoun thought, should
be able to veto federal laws if they
thought the federal government
was favoring one state or section
over another. The union could only
act with the assent of the entire
whole — what Calhoun called ‘‘the
concurrent majority’’ — as opposed
to the Madisonian idea of rule by
numeri cal majority, albeit mediated
by compromise and consensus.

Calhoun initially lost the tariff
fi ght, which pitted him against an
obstinate Andrew Jackson, but he
did not give up on nullifi cation. He
expanded on the theory at the end
of his life, proposing an alternative
system of government that gave
political minorities a fi nal say over
majority action. In this ‘‘concurrent
government,’’ each ‘‘interest or por-
tion of the community’’ has an equal
say in approving the actions of the
state. Full agreement would be nec-
essary to ‘‘put the government in
motion.’’ Only through this, Calhoun
argued, would the ‘‘diff erent inter-
ests, orders, classes, or portions,
into which the community may be
divided, can be protected.’’

The government Calhoun envi-
sioned would protect ‘‘liberty’’:
not the liberty of the citizen but
the liberty of the master, the liber-
ty of those who claimed a right to
property and a position at the top
of a racial and economic hierarchy.
This liberty, Calhoun stated, was ‘‘a
reward to be earned, not a bless-
ing to be gratuitously lavished on
all alike — a reward reserved for
the intelligent, the patriotic, the
virtuous and deserving — and not
a boon to be bestowed on a people
too ignorant, degraded and vicious,
to be capable either of appreciating
or of enjoying it.’’ It is striking how
much this echoes contemporary
arguments against the expansion
of democracy. In 2012, for exam-
ple, a Tea Party congressional
candidate from Florida said that
voting is a ‘‘privilege’’ and seemed
to endorse property requirements
for participation.

Calhoun died in 1850. Ten years
later, following the idea of nullifi –
cation to its conclusion, the South
seceded from the Union after Abra-
ham Lincoln won the White House
without a single Southern state.
War came a few months later, and
four years of fi ghting destroyed the
system of slavery Calhoun fought to
protect. But parts of his legacy sur-
vived. His deep suspicion of majori-
tarian democracy — his view that
government must protect interests,
defi ned by their unique geograph-
ic and economic characteristics,
more than people — would inform
the sectional politics of the South in
the 20th century, where solid blocs
of Southern lawmakers worked
collectively to stifl e any attempt to
regulate the region.

Despite insurgencies at home
— the Populist Party, for example,
swept through Georgia and North
Carolina in the 1890s — reaction-
ary white leaders were able to
maintain an iron grip on federal
offi ces until the Voting Rights Act
of 1965. And even then, the last
generation of segregationist sena-
tors held on through the 1960s into
the early 2000s. United, like their
predecessors, by geography and
their stake in Jim Crow segrega-
tion, they were a powerful force in
national politics, a bloc that vetoed

Southern college students at the Southern Democratic Convention in
1948, the year that segregationists began to break with the national
Democratic Party over civil rights.

T he 1619 Project

54

anything that touched their region-
al prerogatives.

Anti-lynching laws and some
pro-labor legislation died at the
hands of lawmakers from the
‘‘Solid South’’ who took advantage
of Senate rules like the fi libuster to
eff ectively enact Calhoun’s idea of
a concurrent majority against leg-
islation that threatened the South-
ern racial status quo; the spirit of
nullifi cation lived on. When North-
ern liberal Democrats added a civil
rights plank to the party platform
at the 1948 presidential convention,
in an eff ort to break the Southern
conservatives’ hold on the party,
35 delegates from Mississippi and
Alabama walked out in protest: the
prologue to the ‘‘Dixiecrat Revolt’’
that began the conservative migra-
tion into the eventual embrace of
the Republican Party.

Calhoun’s idea that states could
veto the federal government would
return as well following the decision
in Brown v. Board of Education, as
segregationists announced ‘‘massive
resistance’’ to federal desegregation
mandates and sympathizers defend-
ed white Southern actions with ideas
and arguments that cribbed from Cal-
houn and recapitulated enslaver ide-
ology for modern American politics.
‘‘The central question that emerges,’’
the National Review founding editor
William F. Buckley Jr. wrote in 1957,
amid congressional debate over the
fi rst Civil Rights Act, ‘‘is whether the
white community in the South is
entitled to take such measures as are
necessary to prevail, politically and
culturally, in areas which it does not
predominate numerically? The sober-
ing answer is yes — the white com-
munity is so entitled because, for the
time being, it is the advanced race.’’
He continued: ‘‘It is more important
for any community, anywhere in
the world, to affi rm and live by civ-
ilized standards, than to bow to the
demands of the numerical majority.’’

It is a strikingly blunt defense of
Jim Crow and affi rmation of white
supremacy from the father of the
conservative movement. Conser-
vatives drove the groundswell that
made Senator Barry Goldwater of
Arizona, an opponent of the Civil
Rights Act, the 1964 Republican
Party nominee for president. He
lost in a landslide but won the Deep

South (except for Florida), where the
white people of the region — among
the most conservative in the coun-
try, a direct legacy of slavery and the
society it built — fl ocked to the candi-
date who stood against the constitu-
tional demands of the black-freedom
movement. Goldwater may have
insisted that there are ‘‘some rights
that are clearly protected by valid
laws and are therefore ‘civil rights,’ ’’
but he also declared that ‘‘states’
rights’’ were ‘‘disappearing under
the piling sands of absolutism’’ and
called Brown v. Board an ‘‘unconsti-
tutional trespass into the legislative
sphere of government.’’ ‘‘I therefore
support all eff orts by the States,
excluding violence, of course,’’ Gold-
water wrote in ‘‘The Conscience of
a Conservative,’’ ‘‘to preserve their
rightful powers over education.’’

Later, when key civil rights
questions had been settled by law,
Buckley would essentially renounce
these views, praising the movement
and criticizing race-baiting dema-
gogues like George C. Wallace. Still,
his initial impulse — to give political
minorities a veto not just over policy
but over democracy itself — refl ect-
ed a tendency that would express
itself again and again in the con-
servative politics he ushered into
the mainstream, emerging when
political, cultural and demographic
change threatened a narrow, exclu-
sionary vision of American democ-
racy. Writing in the 1980s and ’90s,
Samuel Francis — a polemicist who
would eventually migrate to the very
far right of American conservatism
— identifi ed this dynamic in the con-
text of David Duke’s campaign for
governor of Louisiana:

‘‘Reagan conservatism, in its
innermost meaning, had little to
do with supply-side economics
and spreading democracy. It had
to do with the awakening of a peo-
ple who face political, cultural and
economic dispossession, who are
slowly beginning to glimpse the
fact of dispossession and what dis-
possession will mean for them and
their descendants, and who also are
starting to think about reversing the
processes and powers responsible
for their dispossession.’’

There is a homegrown ideology
of reaction in the United States,

inextricably tied to our system of
slavery. And while the racial content
of that ideology has attenuated over
time, the basic framework remains:
fear of rival political majorities; of
demographic ‘‘replacement’’; of a
government that threatens privilege
and hierarchy.

The past 10 years of Republican
extremism is emblematic. The Tea
Party billed itself as a reaction to
debt and spending, but a close look
shows it was actually a reaction to an
ascendant majority of black people,
Latinos, Asian-Americans and liberal
white people. In their survey-based
study of the movement, the political
scientists Christopher S. Parker and
Matt A. Barreto show that Tea Party
Republicans were motivated ‘‘by the
fear and anxiety associated with the
perception that ‘real’ Americans are
losing their country.’’

The scholars Theda Skocpol and
Vanessa Williamson came to a simi-
lar conclusion in their contempora-
neous study of the movement, based
on an ethnographic study of Tea
Party activists across the country.
‘‘Tea Party resistance to giving more
to categories of people deemed
undeserving is more than just an
argument about taxes and spend-
ing,’’ they note in ‘‘The Tea Party
and the Remaking of Republican
Conservatism’’; ‘‘it is a heartfelt cry
about where they fear ‘their coun-
try’ may be headed.’’ And Tea Party
adherents’ ‘‘worries about racial and
ethnic minorities and overly entitled
young people,’’ they write, ‘‘signal a
larger fear about generational social
change in America.’’

To stop this change and its
political consequences, right-wing
conservatives have embarked
on a project to nullify oppo-
nents and restrict the scope of
democracy. Mitch McConnell’s
hyper-obstructionist rule in the Sen-
ate is the most high-profi le example
of this strategy, but it’s far from the
most egregious.

In 2012, North Carolina Republi-
cans won legislative and executive
power for the fi rst time in more than a
century. They used it to gerrymander
the electoral map and impose new
restrictions on voting, specifi cally
aimed at the state’s African-American
voters. One such restriction, a
strict voter-identifi cation law, was

designed to target black North Caro-
linians with ‘‘almost surgical preci-
sion,’’ according to the federal judges
who struck the law down. When, in
2016, Democrats overcame these
obstacles to take back the governor’s
mansion, the Republican-controlled
Legislature tried to strip power from
the offi ce, to prevent Democrats
from reversing their eff orts to rig
the game.

A similar thing happened in
Wisconsin. Under Scott Walker,
the governor at the time, Wiscon-
sin Republicans gave themselves
a structural advantage in the State
Legislature through aggressive gerry-
mandering. After the Democratic
candidate toppled Walker in the
2018 governor’s race, the Republican
majority in the Legislature rapidly
moved to limit the new governor’s
power and weaken other statewide
offices won by Democrats. They
restricted the governor’s ability to
run public-benefi t programs and set
rules on the implementation of state
laws. And they robbed the governor
and the attorney general of the power
to continue, or end, legal action
against the Aff ordable Care Act.

Michigan Republicans took an
almost identical course of action after
Democrats in that state managed
to win executive offi ce, using their
gerry mandered legislative majority
to weaken the new Democratic gov-
ernor and attorney general. One pro-
posed bill, for example, would have
shifted oversight of campaign-fi nance
law from the secretary of state to a
six-person commission with mem-
bers nominated by the state Repub-
lican and Democratic parties, a move
designed to produce deadlock and
keep elected Democrats from revers-
ing previous decisions.

The Republican rationale for tilt-
ing the fi eld in their permanent favor
or, failing that, nullifying the results
and limiting Democrats’ power as
much as possible, has a familiar ring
to it. ‘‘Citizens from every corner of
Wisconsin deserve a strong legis-
lative branch that stands on equal
footing with an incoming adminis-
tration that is based almost solely in
Madison,’’ one Wisconsin Republi-
can said following the party’s lame-
duck power grab. The speaker of the
State Assembly, Robin Vos, made
his point more explicit. ‘‘If you took

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August 18, 2019

55

Madison and Milwaukee out of the
state election formula, we would
have a clear majority — we would
have all fi ve constitutional offi cers,
and we would probably have many
more seats in the Legislature.’’ The
argument is straightforward: Some
voters, their voters, count. Others
— the liberals, black people and
other people of color who live in
cities — don’t.

Senate Republicans played
with similar ideas just before the
2016 election, openly announcing
their plans to block Hillary Clin-
ton from nominating anyone to
the Supreme Court, should she
become president. ‘‘I promise

you that we will be united against
any Supreme Court nominee that
Hillary Clinton, if she were presi-
dent, would put up,’’ declared
Senator John McCain of Arizo-
na just weeks before voting. And
President Trump, of course, has
repeatedly and falsely denounced
Clinton’s popular-vote victory as
illegitimate, the product of fraud
and illegal voting. ‘‘In addition to
winning the Electoral College in a
landslide,’’ he declared on Twitter
weeks after the election, ‘‘I won the
popular vote if you deduct the mil-
lions of people who voted illegally.’’

The larger implication is clear
enough: A majority made up of

liberals and people of color isn’t a real
majority. And the solution is clear,
too: to write those people out of the
polity, to use every available tool to
weaken their infl uence on American
politics. The recent attempt to place
a citizenship question on the census
was an important part of this eff ort.
By asking for this information, the
administration would suppress the
number of immigrant respondents,
worsening their representation in
the House and the Electoral College,
reweighting power to the white,
rural areas that back the president
and the Republican Party.

You could make the case that
none of this has anything to do with

Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican who was then the House majority leader, speaks to reporters in April 2011 during the lead-up to a
standoff with President Obama over raising the debt ceiling.

slavery and slaveholder ideology.
You could argue that it has nothing
to do with race at all, that it’s simply
an aggressive eff ort to secure con-
servative victories. But the tenor of
an argument, the shape and nature
of an opposition movement —
these things matter. The goals may
be color blind, but the methods of
action — the attacks on the legitima-
cy of nonwhite political actors, the
casting of rival political majorities as
unrepresentative, the drive to nulli-
fy democratically elected governing
coalitions — are clearly downstream
of a style of extreme political combat
that came to fruition in the defense
of human bondage.�

By Linda Villarosa

Myths about physical racial diff erences
were used to justify slavery — and are
still believed by doctors today.

August 18, 2019

57

The excruciatingly painful medical
experiments went on until his body
was disfi gured by a network of scars.
John Brown, an enslaved man on a
Baldwin County, Ga., plantation in
the 1820s and ’30s, was lent to a phy-
sician, Dr. Thomas Hamilton, who
was obsessed with proving that phys-
iological diff erences between black
and white people existed. Hamilton
used Brown to try to determine how
deep black skin went, believing it
was thicker than white skin. Brown,
who eventually escaped to England,
recorded his experiences in an
autobiography, published in 1855 as
‘‘Slave Life in Georgia: A Narrative
of the Life, Suff erings, and Escape of
John Brown, a Fugitive Slave, Now
in England.’’ In Brown’s words, Ham-
ilton applied ‘‘blisters to my hands,
legs and feet, which bear the scars to
this day. He continued until he drew
up the dark skin from between the
upper and the under one. He used
to blister me at intervals of about
two weeks.’’ This went on for nine
months, Brown wrote, until ‘‘the Doc-
tor’s experiments had so reduced me
that I was useless in the fi eld.’’

Hamilton was a courtly South-
ern gentleman, a respected phy-
sician and a trustee of the Medi-
cal Acad emy of Georgia. And like
many other doctors of the era in the
South, he was also a wealthy planta-
tion owner who tried to use science
to prove that diff erences between
black people and white people went
beyond culture and were more than
skin deep, insisting that black bod-
ies were composed and functioned
diff erently than white bodies. They
believed that black people had large
sex organs and small skulls — which
translated to promiscuity and a lack
of intelligence — and higher toler-
ance for heat, as well as immunity to
some illnesses and susceptibility to
others. These fallacies, presented as
fact and legitimized in medical jour-
nals, bolstered society’s view that
enslaved people were fi t for little
outside forced labor and provided
support for racist ideology and dis-
criminatory public policies.

Over the centuries, the two most
persistent physiological myths — that
black people were impervious to
pain and had weak lungs that could
be strengthened through hard work
— wormed their way into scientifi c

consensus, and they remain rooted in
modern-day medical education and
practice. In the 1787 manual ‘‘A Trea-
tise on Tropical Diseases; and on The
Climate of the West-Indies,’’ a British
doctor, Benjamin Moseley, claimed
that black people could bear surgi-
cal operations much more than white
people, noting that ‘‘what would be
the cause of insupportable pain to a
white man, a Negro would almost
disregard.’’ To drive home his point,
he added, ‘‘I have amputated the legs
of many Negroes who have held the
upper part of the limb themselves.’’

These misconceptions about pain
tolerance, seized upon by pro-slavery
advocates, also allowed the physician
J. Marion Sims — long celebrated as
the father of modern gynecology —
to use black women as subjects in
experiments that would be uncon-
scionable today, practicing painful
operations (at a time before anesthe-
sia was in use) on enslaved women
in Montgomery, Ala., between 1845
and 1849. In his autobiography, ‘‘The
Story of My Life,’’ Sims described the
agony the women suff ered as he cut
their genitals again and again in an
attempt to perfect a surgical tech-
nique to repair vesico-vaginal fi stula,
which can be an extreme complica-
tion of childbirth.

Thomas Jeff erson, in ‘‘Notes on
the State of Virginia,’’ published
around the same time as Moseley’s
treatise, listed what he proposed
were ‘‘the real distinctions which
nature has made,’’ including a lack
of lung capacity. In the years that
followed, physicians and scientists
embraced Jeff erson’s unproven the-
ories, none more aggressively than
Samuel Cartwright, a physician and
professor of ‘‘diseases of the Negro’’
at the University of Louisiana, now
Tulane University. His widely cir-
culated paper, ‘‘Report on the Dis-
eases and Physical Peculiarities of
the Negro Race,’’ published in the
May 1851 issue of The New Orleans
Medical and Surgical Journal, cata-
loged supposed physical diff erences
between whites and blacks, includ-
ing the claim that black people had
lower lung capacity. Cartwright,
conveniently, saw forced labor as
a way to ‘‘vitalize’’ the blood and
correct the problem. Most out-
rageous, Cartwright maintained
that enslaved people were prone

to a ‘‘disease of the mind’’ called
drapetomania, which caused them
to run away from their enslavers.
Willfully ignoring the inhumane
conditions that drove desper-
ate men and women to attempt
escape, he insisted, without irony,
that enslaved people contracted this
ailment when their enslavers treated
them as equals, and he prescribed
‘‘whipping the devil out of them’’ as
a preventive measure.

Today Cartwright’s 1851 paper reads
like satire, Hamilton’s supposedly
scientifi c experiments appear sim-
ply sadistic and, last year, a statue
commemorating Sims in New York’s
Central Park was removed after pro-
longed protest that included women
wearing blood-splattered gowns in
memory of Anarcha, Betsey, Lucy
and the other enslaved women he
brutalized. And yet, more than 150
years after the end of slavery, falla-
cies of black immunity to pain and
weakened lung function continue
to show up in modern-day medical
education and philosophy.

Even Cartwright’s footprint
remains embedded in current med-
ical practice. To validate his the-
ory about lung inferiority in Afri-
can-Americans, he became one of
the fi rst doctors in the United States
to measure pulmonary function
with an instrument called a spiro-
meter. Using a device he designed
himself, Cartwright calculated that
‘‘the defi ciency in the Negro may
be safely estimated at 20 percent.’’
Today most commercially available
spirometers, used around the world
to diagnose and monitor respiratory
illness, have a ‘‘race correction’’ built
into the software, which controls
for the assumption that blacks have
less lung capacity than whites. In her
2014 book, ‘‘Breathing Race Into the
Machine: The Surprising Career of
the Spirometer from Plantation to
Genetics,’’ Lundy Braun, a Brown
University professor of medical
science and Africana studies, notes
that ‘‘race correction’’ is still taught
to medical students and described
in textbooks as scientifi c fact and
standard practice.

Recent data also shows that
present-day doctors fail to suffi cient-
ly treat the pain of black adults and
children for many medical issues.

A 2013 review of studies examining
racial disparities in pain manage-
ment published in The American
Medical Association Journal of Ethics
found that black and Hispanic people
— from children with appendicitis
to elders in hospice care — received
inadequate pain management com-
pared with white counterparts.

A 2016 survey of 222 white medi-
cal students and residents published
in The Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences showed that
half of them endorsed at least one
myth about physiological diff erences
between black people and white
people, including that black people’s
nerve endings are less sensitive than
white people’s. When asked to imag-
ine how much pain white or black
patients experienced in hypothetical
situations, the medical students and
residents insisted that black people
felt less pain. This made the provid-
ers less likely to recommend appro-
priate treatment. A majority of these
doctors to be also still believed the
lie that Thomas Hamilton tortured
John Brown to prove nearly two cen-
turies ago: that black skin is thicker
than white skin.

This disconnect allows scientists,
doctors and other medical provid-
ers — and those training to fi ll their
positions in the future — to ignore
their own complicity in health care
inequality and gloss over the inter-
nalized racism and both conscious
and unconscious bias that drive
them to go against their very oath
to do no harm.

The centuries-old belief in racial
diff erences in physiology has con-
tinued to mask the brutal eff ects
of discrimination and structural
in equities, instead placing blame
on individuals and their commu-
nities for statistically poor health
outcomes. Rather than conceptual-
izing race as a risk factor that pre-
dicts disease or disability because
of a fi xed susceptibility conceived
on shaky grounds centuries ago,
we would do better to understand
race as a proxy for bias, disadvan-
tage and ill treatment. The poor
health outcomes of black people,
the targets of discrimination over
hundreds of years and numerous
generations, may be a harbinger for
the future health of an increasingly
diverse and unequal America.�

I llustration by Diana Ejaita

T he 1619 Project

58

⬤ July 27, 1816: American troops attack Negro Fort, a stockade in Spanish Florida
established by the British and left to the Black Seminoles, a Native American
nation of Creek refugees, free black people and fugitives from slavery. Nearly all
the soldiers, women and children in the fort are killed.

By Tyehimba Jess

They weren’t headed north to freedom —
They fled away from the North Star,
turned their back on the Mason-Dixon line,
put their feet to freedom by fleeing
further south to Florida.
Ran to where ’gator and viper roamed
free in the mosquito swarm of Suwannee.
They slipped out deep after sunset,
shadow to shadow, shoulder to shoulder,
stealthing southward, stealing themselves,
steeling their souls to run steel
through any slave catcher who’d dare
try stealing them back north.
They billeted in swamp mud,
saw grass and cypress —
they waded through waves
of water lily and duckweed.
They thinned themselves in thickets
and thorn bush hiding their young
from thieves of black skin marauding
under moonlight and cloud cover.
Many once knew another shore
an ocean away, whose language,
songs, stories were outlawed

on plantation ground. In swampland,
they raised flags of their native tongues
above whisper smoke
into billowing bonfires
of chant, drum and chatter.
They remembered themselves
with their own words
bleeding into English,
bonding into Spanish,
singing in Creek and Creole.
With their sweat
forging farms in
unforgiving heat,
never forgetting scars
of the lash, fighting
battle after battle
for generations.
Creeks called them Seminole
when they bonded with renegade Creeks.
Spaniards called them cimarrones,
runaways — escapees from Carolina
plantation death-prisons.
English simply called them maroons,
flattening the Spanish to make them

seem alone, abandoned, adrift —
but they were bonded,
side by side,
Black and Red,
in a blood red hue —
maroon.
Sovereignty soldiers,
Black refugees,
self-abolitionists, fighting
through America’s history,
marooned in a land
they made their own,
acre after acre,
plot after plot,
war after war,
life after life.
They fought only
for America to let them be
marooned — left alone —
in their own unchained,
singing,
worthy
blood.

Photo illustration by Jon Key

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August 18, 2019

59

⬤ July 30, 1866: During a constitutional
convention called for by abolitionist
leaders, in response to the Louisiana
Legislature’s refusal to give black men
the vote, armed white people attack
a crowd. More than 35 people die, mostly
black men.

By ZZ Packer

The bodies all around began to cook and swell in the heat: fingers
the size of pickles, forearms rising like loaves until as big and gamy as
hams festering in the noontime sun. When the Secesh police began their
rounds, Lazarus got to crouching, then creeping, until — at last — he had
to lie down among the dead, coffining himself between two fallen neigh-
bors, readying himself for the shot to the head.

Just hours earlier, all of colored New Orleans in their finest had come
out: veterans from the Louisiana Native Guards had amassed at the pro-
cession’s front, joined by one or more bands that began to blaze and
bray their trumpets and trombones once struck up by some hidden con-
certmaster. Seamstresses, maids, cooks, bricklayers and longshoremen:
They’d all come out at the behest of Roudanez, owner of the black folks’
paper, as well as Dostie, the radical Republican dentist Democrats de-
clared a race traitor and nigger lover. The white Republicans could not get
votes over the Confederate Democrats without colored men, nor could
the colored man get the vote without the whites who fought against the
Confederate Redeemer cause.

‘‘Thirty- seven niggers dead,’’ Lazarus had heard someone say while he
played possum. ‘‘And that fella Dostie.’’

Such a pus and rot he’d never smelled before. Needling choruses of
galli nippers hiving above yards of bursting flesh. Rodents hurrying forth
with their ratchet scratching at wounds. Midges inspecting tonsils on
display. Then there was the nearly silent sound of worms at work, under-
world missionaries unsewing men from their souls.

It wasn’t until 3 o’clock that the military finally came and gave orders as
to what should be done; the wounded were to go to the Freedmen’s Hos-
pital, which had once been Marine Hospital. The dead were to lie out in
the hundred- degree heat until another wagon became available, and there
was to be martial law for the rest of the night, lasting who knew until when.

The ride to the Freedmen’s Hospital killed a few who weren’t yet dead.
A jolting ride over cobblestones, banquettes, undone roads, bricks from
the riot left in the middle of the street, while the whole hospital was filled
with big moans, the smell of grease and camphor, wet wool and kerosene.

They rolled him onto a flat cot, then put yet another man on top of him
and jostled them both through a dark corridor. The blood from the man
on top of him seeped into Lazarus’s eyes, ran in thin tickling trickles into
his ears, clumped in thick waxy clots in his nose, his hair.

It scared him to death to be so in the dark, and try as he might to push
the dead man off him, he could not. They carried him into a room, a place
that was even more foul- smelling than the stench of bodies swelling in
the sun. When his cot passed the threshold, the men who’d been carrying
it dropped it, sending the dead man falling to the floor, only the sound
didn’t sound like Lazarus expected it to, but more like a clank and clatter,
as though the heavy doors of an armoire or chifforobe had been banged
shut. The men who’d been holding the cot retched, one, then the other.

an. 1, 1863: President Abraham
Lincoln issues the Emancipation
Proclamation, freeing enslaved African-
Americans in rebelling states.
The text is read aloud at thousands of
gatherings, including at a Union Army
encampment in Port Royal, S.C.

By Darryl Pinckney

Imagine the scene I cannot write. The Colonel steps onto the plat-
form, reciting to himself: I’ll tell you how the sun rose, a ribbon at a time.
It is New Year’s Day. The president has signed the historic war measure.

The Colonel was not alone in his feeling that after the disgrace of Bull
Run, the Union needed to take Port Royal Island, and after the slaughter
at Fredericksburg, Port Royal needs this convocation. White women in
bonnets and white men in vests crowd the platform. The Colonel studies
the First South Carolina Volunteers arrayed before him. It is the first black
unit. The men of his regiment adore campfires, spelling books and tobac-
co, but none of them drink. Most have freed themselves. Take a ride on a
federal gunboat and join the Cause. Everywhere, the Colonel sees black
women in their Sunday kerchiefs. God’s blessings are on dress parade.

The Colonel hands the Emancipation Proclamation to a penitent
white man who used to be called Master over in Beaufort. The Colonel
said Oof when he first got his copy. The orderly’s breathing told him
that he, too, had read the Proclamation, had felt power naked, actual
armed- rebellion naked, suppressing said rebellion naked, shall be free
naked, maintain freedom of said persons naked.

The prayer is over. The former master of cotton is no orator, but the
Colonel is where power and freedom are forging God’s naked sword. He
marvels at the Lord’s invention, the sheer darkness of his men. Is it not
glorious to be handsome.

The Colonel receives regimental colors and the Union flag from a
New Yorker who will not cease addressing him. Ten cows revolve on
spits, and the New Yorker will not be still. The Colonel fights to remain
in this sacred place where every heart desires the same thing. Beyond
the live oaks, another steamer arrives on the blue water.

Seated nearby are the camp’s brilliant surgeon and its most beautiful
schoolteacher, the Colonel’s friends from home, Boston. The Surgeon
reads his wife’s letters to the Schoolteacher. It is not that she is a black
woman and he a white man. A free black woman whose family is richer
than either of theirs, the Colonel did not say. The Surgeon’s beard is
shining, and the Schoolteacher’s head is uncovered.

The New Yorker will not yield the flag. The Colonel’s wife is an inval-
id, and the Surgeon’s wife is plain. The Schoolteacher is an unfair qua-
droon beauty, the Colonel has told his friend. She and the Surgeon love
to talk of their love for horses, moonlight and the Cause.

The Colonel has the flag in the silence. He slowly waves the flag,
thinking this is the first time it may hold true meaning for them. An
elderly black voice begins, My country, ’tis of thee. A few black women
add their voices. Suddenly, many. The Colonel quiets the white people
so that only black people are singing.

The Schoolteacher continues to sing, and so does the Surgeon. Let
freedom ring. This is war, the Colonel smiles.

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T he 1619 Project

60

For centuries,
black music, forged
in bondage, has
been the sound of
complete artistic
freedom. No wonder
everybody is
always stealing it.

By Wesley Morris

Photo illustration by Michael Paul Britto

August 18, 2019

61

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T he 1619 Project

62

and one Saturday while we were
making dinner, he found a station
called Yacht Rock. ‘‘A tongue-in-
cheek name for the breezy sounds
of late ’70s/early ’80s soft rock’’ is
Pandora’s defi nition, accompanied
by an exhortation to ‘‘put on your
Dockers, pull up a deck chair and
relax.’’ With a single exception,
the passengers aboard the yacht
were all dudes. With two excep-
tions, they were all white. But as
the hours passed and dozens of
songs accrued, the sound gravitat-
ed toward a familiar quality that I
couldn’t give language to but could
practically taste: an earnest Chris-
tian yearning that would reach, for a
moment, into Baptist rawness, into
a known warmth. I had to laugh —
not because as a category Yacht
Rock is absurd, but because what
I tasted in that absurdity was black.

I started putting each track under
investigation. Which artists would
saunter up to the racial border?
And which could do their saunter-
ing without violating it? I could hear
degrees of blackness in the choir-loft

certitude of Doobie Brothers-era
Michael McDonald on ‘‘What a Fool
Believes’’; in the rubber-band soul
of Steely Dan’s ‘‘Do It Again’’; in the
malt-liquor misery of Ace’s ‘‘How
Long’’ and the toy-boat wistfulness
of Little River Band’s ‘‘Reminiscing.’’

Then Kenny Loggins’s ‘‘This Is It’’
arrived and took things far beyond
the line. ‘‘This Is It’’ was a hit in 1979
and has the requisite smoothness to
keep the yacht rocking. But Loggins
delivers the lyrics in a desperate
stage whisper, like someone deter-
mined to make the kind of love that
doesn’t wake the baby. What bowls
you over is the intensity of his yearn-
ing — teary in the verses, snarling
during the chorus. He sounds as if
he’s baring it all yet begging to wring
himself out even more.

Playing black-music detective that
day, I laughed out of baff lement and
embarrassment and exhilaration. It’s
the confl ation of pride and chagrin
I’ve always felt anytime a white per-
son inhabits blackness with gusto. It’s:
You have to hand it to her. It’s: Go, white
boy. Go, white boy. Go. But it’s also: Here

I’ve got a friend
who’s an incurable
Pandora guy,

we go again. The problem is rich. If
blackness can draw all of this ornate
literariness out of Steely Dan and all
this psychotic origami out of Emi-
nem; if it can make Teena Marie sing
everything — ‘‘Square Biz,’’ ‘‘Revolu-
tion,’’ ‘‘Portuguese Love,’’ ‘‘Lovergirl’’
— like she knows her way around a
pack of Newports; if it can turn the
chorus of Carly Simon’s ‘‘You Belong
to Me’’ into a gospel hymn; if it can
animate the swagger in the sardonic
vulnerabilities of Amy Winehouse; if
it can surface as unexpectedly as it
does in the angelic angst of a singer
as seemingly green as Ben Platt; if
it’s the reason Nu Shooz’s ‘‘I Can’t
Wait’’ remains the whitest jam at the
blackest parties, then it’s proof of how
deeply it matters to the music of being
alive in America, alive to America.

It’s proof, too, that American
music has been fated to thrive in an
elaborate tangle almost from the
beginning. Americans have made
a political investment in a myth of
racial separateness, the idea that
art forms can be either ‘‘white’’ or
‘‘black’’ in character when aspects
of many are at least both. The purity
that separation struggles to main-
tain? This country’s music is an
advertisement for 400 years of the
opposite: centuries of ‘‘amalgama-
tion’’ and ‘‘miscegenation’’ as they
long ago called it, of all manner of
interracial collaboration conducted
with dismaying ranges of consent.

‘‘White,’’ ‘‘Western,’’ ‘‘classical’’
music is the overarching basis for
lots of American pop songs. Chro-
matic-chord harmony, clean tim-
bre of voice and instrument: These
are the ingredients for some of the
hugely singable harmonies of the
Beatles, the Eagles, Simon and Fleet-
wood Mac, something choral, ‘‘pure,’’
largely ungrained. Black music is a
completely diff erent story. It brims
with call and response, layers of syn-
copation and this rougher element
called ‘‘noise,’’ unique sounds that
arise from the particular hue and tim-
bre of an instrument — Little Rich-
ard’s woos and knuckled keyboard
zooms. The dusky heat of Miles
Davis’s trumpeting. Patti LaBelle’s
emotional police siren. DMX’s
scorched-earth bark. The visceral
stank of Etta James, Aretha Franklin,
live-in-concert Whitney Houston and
Prince on electric guitar.

But there’s something even more
fundamental, too. My friend Delvyn
Case, a musician who teaches at
Wheaton College, explained in an
email that improvisation is one of
the most crucial elements in what
we think of as black music: ‘‘The rais-
ing of individual creativity/expres-
sion to the highest place within the
aesthetic world of a song.’’ Without
improvisation, a listener is seduced
into the composition of the song
itself and not the distorting or devi-
ating elements that noise creates.
Particular to black American music
is the architecture to create a means
by which singers and musicians can
be completely free, free in the only
way that would have been possible
on a plantation: through art, through
music — music no one ‘‘composed’’
(because enslaved people were
denied literacy), music born of feel-
ing, of play, of exhaustion, of hope.

What you’re hearing in black
music is a miracle of sound, an
experience that can really happen
only once — not just melisma, glis-
sandi, the rasp of a sax, breakbeats
or sampling but the mood or inspi-
ration from which those moments
arise. The attempt to rerecord it
seems, if you think about it, like a
fool’s errand. You’re not capturing
the arrangement of notes, per se.
You’re catching the spirit.

And the spirit travels from host to
host, racially indiscriminate about
where it settles, selective only about
who can withstand being possessed
by it. The rockin’ backwoods blues
so bewitched Elvis Presley that he
believed he’d been called by black-
ness. Chuck Berry sculpted rock ’n’
roll with uproarious guitar riff s and
lascivious winks at whiteness. Mick
Jagger and Robert Plant and Steve
Winwood and Janis Joplin and the
Beatles jumped, jived and wailed
the black blues. Tina Turner wrest-
ed it all back, tripling the octane
in some of their songs. Since the
1830s, the historian Ann Douglas
writes in ‘‘Terrible Honesty,’’ her
history of popular culture in the
1920s, ‘‘American entertainment,
whatever the state of American
society, has always been integrated,
if only by theft and parody.’’ What
we’ve been dealing with ever since
is more than a catchall word like
‘‘appropriation’’ can approximate.

August 18, 2019

63

The truth is more bounteous and
more spiritual than that, more con-
fused. That confusion is the DNA of
the American sound.

It’s in the wink-wink costume
funk of Beck’s ‘‘Midnite Vultures’’
from 1999, an album whose kicky
nonsense deprecations circle back
to the popular culture of 150 years
earlier. It’s in the dead-serious,
nostalgic dance-floor schmaltz
of Bruno Mars. It’s in what we
once called ‘‘blue-eyed soul,’’ a
term I’ve never known what to do
with, because its most convinc-
ing practitioners — the Bee-Gees,
Michael McDonald, Hall & Oates,
Simply Red, George Michael, Tay-
lor Dayne, Lisa Stansfi eld, Adele
— never winked at black people,
so black people rarely batted an
eyelash. Flaws and all, these are
homeowners as opposed to rent-
ers. No matter what, though, a
kind of gentrifi cation tends to set

in, underscoring that black people
have often been rendered unnec-
essary to attempt blackness. Take
Billboard’s Top 10 songs of 2013:
It’s mostly nonblack artists strongly
identifi ed with black music, for real
and for kicks: Robin Thicke, Miley
Cyrus, Justin Timberlake, Mack-
lemore and Ryan Lewis, the dude
who made ‘‘The Harlem Shake.’’

Sometimes all the inexorable
mixing leaves me longing for some-
thing with roots that no one can rip
all the way out. This is to say that
when we’re talking about black
music, we’re talking about horns,
drums, keyboards and guitars doing
the unthinkable together. We’re also
talking about what the borrowers
and collaborators don’t want to or
can’t lift — centuries of weight, of
atrocity we’ve never suffi ciently
worked through, the blackness you
know is beyond theft because it’s
too real, too rich, too heavy to steal.

Blackness was on the move before
my ancestors were legally free to
be. It was on the move before my
ancestors even knew what they
had. It was on the move because
white people were moving it. And
the white person most frequently
identifi ed as its prime mover is
Thomas Dartmouth Rice, a New
Yorker who performed as T. D.
Rice and, in acclaim, was lusted
after as ‘‘Daddy’’ Rice, ‘‘the negro
par excellence.’’ Rice was a min-
strel, which by the 1830s, when
his stardom was at its most reful-
gent, meant he painted his face
with burned cork to approximate
those of the enslaved black people
he was imitating.

In 1830, Rice was a nobody actor
in his early 20s, touring with a
theater company in Cincinnati (or
Louisville; historians don’t know for
sure), when, the story goes, he saw
a decrepit, possibly disfi gured old

black man singing while grooming
a horse on the property of a white
man whose last name was Crow.
On went the light bulb. Rice took
in the tune and the movements but
failed, it seems, to take down the old
man’s name. So in his song based
on the horse groomer, he renamed
him: ‘‘Weel about and turn about jus
so/Ebery time I weel about, I jump
Jim Crow.’’ And just like that, Rice
had invented the fellow who would
become the mascot for two centu-
ries of legalized racism.

That night, Rice made himself up
to look like the old black man — or
something like him, because Rice’s
get-up most likely concocted skin
blacker than any actual black per-
son’s and a gibberish dialect meant
to imply black speech. Rice had
turned the old man’s melody and
hobbled movements into a song-
and-dance routine that no white
audience had ever experienced

Sheet music of ‘‘Jim Crow Jubilee: A Collection of Negro Melodies,’’
published in 1847.

The blackface performer Thomas Dartmouth Rice (T. D. Rice), who
pioneered the ‘‘Jim Crow’’ character, in a portrait from the mid-1800s.

T he 1619 Project

64

before. What they saw caused a
permanent sensation. He report-
edly won 20 encores.

Rice repeated the act again,
night after night, for audiences
so profoundly rocked that he was
frequently mobbed during perfor-
mances. Across the Ohio River, not
an arduous distance from all that
adulation, was Boone County, Ky.,
whose population would have been
largely enslaved Africans. As they
were being worked, sometimes
to death, white people, desperate
with anticipation, were paying to
see them depicted at play.

Other performers came and con-
quered, particularly the Virginia
Minstrels, who exploded in 1843,
burned brightly then burned out
after only months. In their wake,
P. T. Barnum made a habit of book-
ing other troupes for his American
Museum; when he was short on
performers, he blacked up himself.
By the 1840s, minstrel acts were

taking over concert halls, doing
wildly clamored-for residencies in
Boston, New York and Philadelphia.

A blackface minstrel would sing,
dance, play music, give speeches
and cut up for white audiences,
almost exclusively in the North,
at least initially. Blackface was
used for mock operas and politi-
cal monologues (they called them
stump speeches), skits, gender par-
odies and dances. Before the min-
strel show gave it a reliable home,
blackface was the entertainment
between acts of conventional plays.
Its stars were the Elvis, the Beatles,
the ’NSync of the 19th century. The
performers were beloved and so,
especially, were their songs.

During minstrelsy’s heyday, white
songwriters like Stephen Foster
wrote the tunes that minstrels sang,
tunes we continue to sing. Edwin
Pearce Christy’s group the Christy
Minstrels formed a band — banjo,
fi ddle, bone castanets, tambourine

— that would lay the groundwork
for American popular music, from
bluegrass to Motown. Some of
these instruments had come from
Africa; on a plantation, the banjo’s
body would have been a desiccated
gourd. In ‘‘Doo-Dah!’’ his book on
Foster’s work and life, Ken Emer-
son writes that the fi ddle and banjo
were paired for the melody, while
the bones ‘‘chattered’’ and the tam-
bourine ‘‘thumped and jingled a beat
that is still heard ’round the world.’’

But the sounds made with these
instruments could be only imagined
as black, because the fi rst wave of
minstrels were Northerners who’d
never been meaningfully South.
They played Irish melodies and
used Western choral harmonies,
not the proto-gospel call-and-re-
sponse music that would make
life on a plantation that much
more bearable. Black artists were
on the scene, like the pioneer
bandleader Frank Johnson and

the borderline-mythical Old Corn
Meal, who started as a street ven-
dor and wound up the fi rst black
man to perform, as himself, on a
white New Orleans stage. His stuff
was copied by George Nichols, who
took up blackface after a start in
plain-old clowning. Yet as often as
not, blackface minstrelsy tethered
black people and black life to white
musical structures, like the polka,
which was having a moment in
1848. The mixing was already well
underway: Europe plus slavery plus
the circus, times harmony, comedy
and drama, equals Americana.

And the muses for so many of the
songs were enslaved Americans,
people the songwriters had never
met, whose enslavement they rare-
ly opposed and instead sentimen-
talized. Foster’s minstrel-show sta-
ple ‘‘Old Uncle Ned,’’ for instance,
warmly if disrespectfully eulogizes
the enslaved the way you might a
salaried worker or an uncle:

Ma Rainey, an early blues singer who performed in black minstrel shows, with her band.

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August 18, 2019

65

Den lay down de shubble
and de hoe,

Hang up de fi ddle and de
bow:

No more hard work for
poor Old Ned —

He’s gone whar de good
Niggas go,

No more hard work for
poor Old Ned —

He’s gone whar de good
Niggas go.

Such an aff ectionate showcase
for poor old (enslaved, soon-to-be-
dead) Uncle Ned was as essential
as ‘‘air,’’ in the white critic Bayard
Taylor’s 1850 assessment; songs
like this were the ‘‘true expres-
sions of the more popular side of
the national character,’’ a force
that follows ‘‘the American in all
its emigrations, colonizations
and conquests, as certainly as the
Fourth of July and Thanksgiving
Day.’’ He’s not wrong. Minstrelsy’s
peak stretched from the 1840s to
the 1870s, years when the country
was as its most violently and leg-
islatively ambivalent about slavery
and Negroes; years that included
the Civil War and Reconstruction,
the ferocious rhetorical ascent of
Frederick Douglass, John Brown’s
botched instigation of a black insur-
rection at Harpers Ferry and the
assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

Minstrelsy’s ascent also coincid-
ed with the publication, in 1852, of
‘‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin,’’ a polarizing
landmark that minstrels adapted
for the stage, arguing for and, in
simply remaining faithful to Har-
riet Beecher Stowe’s novel, against
slavery. These adaptations, known
as U.T.C.s, took over the art form
until the end of the Civil War. Per-
haps minstrelsy’s popularity could
be (generously) read as the urge to
escape a reckoning. But a good time
predicated upon the presentation
of other humans as stupid, docile,
dangerous with lust and enamored
of their bondage? It was an escape
into slavery’s fun house.

What blackface minstrelsy gave
the country during this period was
an entertainment of skill, ribaldry
and polemics. But it also lent rac-
ism a stage upon which existen-
tial fear could become jubilation,
contempt could become fantasy.

Paradoxically, its dehumanizing
bent let white audiences feel more
human. They could experience
loathing as desire, contempt as
adoration, repulsion as lust. They
could weep for overworked Uncle
Ned as surely as they could ignore
his lashed back or his body as it
swung from a tree.

But where did this leave a black
performer? If blackface was the
country’s cultural juggernaut,
who would pay Negroes money

to perform as themselves? When
they were hired, it was only in a
pinch. Once, P. T. Barnum needed a
replacement for John Diamond, his
star white minstrel. In a New York
City dance hall, Barnum found a
boy, who, it was reported at the
time, could outdo Diamond (and
Diamond was good). The boy, of
course, was genuinely black. And
his being actually black would
have rendered him an outrageous
blight on a white consumer’s nar-
row presumptions. As Thomas

Low Nichols would write in his
1864 compendium, ‘‘Forty Years of
American Life,’’ ‘‘There was not an
audience in America that would not
have resented, in a very energetic
fashion, the insult of being asked to
look at the dancing of a real negro.’’
So Barnum ‘‘greased the little ‘nig-
ger’s’ face and rubbed it over with
a new blacking of burned cork,
painted his thick lips vermilion,
put on a woolly wig over his tight
curled locks and brought him out
as ‘the champion nigger-dancer of

Tina Turner performing at a festival in Lake Amador, Calif., on Oct. 4, 1969.

T he 1619 Project

66

the world.’ ’’ This child might have
been William Henry Lane, whose
stage name was Juba. And, as Juba,
Lane was persuasive enough that
Barnum could pass him off as a
white person in blackface. He
ceased being a real black boy in
order to become Barnum’s min-
strel Pinocchio.

After the Civil War, black per-
formers had taken up minstrelsy, too,
corking themselves, for both white
and black audiences — with a straight
face or a wink, depending on who
was looking. Black troupes invented
important new dances with blue-rib-
bon names (the buck-and-wing, the
Virginia essence, the stop-time). But
these were unhappy innovations.
Custom obligated black performers
to fulfi ll an audience’s expectations,
expectations that white performers
had established. A black minstrel was
impersonating the impersonation of
himself. Think, for a moment, about
the talent required to pull that off .
According to Henry T. Sampson’s
book, ‘‘Blacks in Blackface,’’ there
were no sets or eff ects, so the black
blackface minstrel show was ‘‘a
developer of ability because the art-
ist was placed on his own.’’ How’s
that for being twice as good? Yet
that no-frills excellence could cur-
dle into an entirely other, utterly
degrading double consciousness,
one that predates, predicts and prob-
ably informs W. E. B. DuBois’s more
self-consciously dignifi ed rendering.

American popular culture was
doomed to cycles not only of
questioned ownership, challenged
authenticity, dubious propriety and
legitimate cultural self-preserva-
tion but also to the prison of black
respectability, which, with brutal
irony, could itself entail a kind of
appropriation. It meant comport-
ment in a manner that seemed less
black and more white. It meant the
appearance of refi nement and pol-
ish. It meant the cognitive disso-
nance of, say, Nat King Cole’s being
very black and sounding — to white
America, anyway, with his friction-
less baritone and diction as crisp as
a hospital corner — suitably white.
He was perfect for radio, yet when
he got a TV show of his own, it was
abruptly canceled, his brown skin
being too much for even the black
and white of a 1955 television set.

There was, perhaps, not a white
audience in America, particularly
in the South, that would not have
resented, in a very energetic fash-
ion, the insult of being asked to
look at the majestic singing of a
real Negro.

The modern conundrum of the
black performer’s seeming respect-
able, among black people, began, in
part, as a problem of white black-
face minstrels’ disrespectful black-
ness. Frederick Douglass wrote that
they were ‘‘the fi lthy scum of white
society.’’ It’s that scum that’s given
us pause over everybody from Bert
Williams and Bill ‘‘Bojangles’’ Robin-
son to Flavor Flav and Kanye West. Is
their blackness an act? Is the act under
white control? Just this year, Harold
E. Doley Jr., an aff luent black Repub-
lican in his 70s, was quoted in The
Times lamenting West and his align-
ment with Donald Trump as a ‘‘bad
and embarrassing minstrel show’’
that ‘‘served to only drive black peo-
ple away from the G.O.P.’’

But it’s from that scum that a
robust, post-minstrel black Ameri-
can theater sprung as a new, black
audience hungered for actual,
uncorked black people. Without that
scum, I’m not sure we get an event
as shatteringly epochal as the reign
of Motown Records. Motown was
a full-scale integration of Western,
classical orchestral ideas (strings,
horns, woodwinds) with the instincts
of both the black church (rhythm
sections, gospel harmonies, hand
claps) and juke joint Saturday nights
(rhythm sections, guitars, vigor).
Pure yet ‘‘noisy.’’ Black men in Arma-
ni. Black women in ball gowns. Sta-
bles of black writers, producers and
musicians. Backup singers solving
social equations with geometric cho-
reography. And just in time for the
hegemony of the American teenager.

Even now it feels like an assault
on the music made a hundred years
before it. Motown specialized
in love songs. But its stars, those
songs and their performance of
them were declarations of war on
the insults of the past and present.
The scratchy piccolo at the start
of a Four Tops hit was, in its way,
a raised fi st. Respectability wasn’t
a problem with Motown; respect-
ability was its point. How radically
optimistic a feat of antiminstrelsy,

for it’s as glamorous a blackness
as this country has ever mass-pro-
duced and devoured.

The proliferation of black music
across the planet — the prolifera-
tion, in so many senses, of being
black — constitutes a magnifi cent
joke on American racism. It also
confi rms the attraction that some-
one like Rice had to that black man
grooming the horse. But some-
thing about that desire warps and
perverts its source, lampoons and
cheapens it even in adoration. Lov-
ing black culture has never meant
loving black people, too. Loving
black culture risks loving the life
out of it.

And yet doesn’t that attraction
make sense? This is the music of a
people who have survived, who not
only won’t stop but also can’t be
stopped. Music by a people whose
major innovations — jazz, funk, hip-
hop — have been about progress,
about the future, about getting as
far away from nostalgia as time will
allow, music that’s thought deeply
about the allure of outer space and
robotics, music whose promise and
possibility, whose rawness, humor
and carnality call out to everybody
— to other black people, to kids in
working class England and mid-
dle-class Indonesia. If freedom’s
ringing, who on Earth wouldn’t also
want to rock the bell?

In 1845, J. K. Kennard, a critic for
the newspaper The Knickerbocker,
hyperventilated about the black-
ening of America. Except he was
talking about blackface minstrels
doing the blackening. Nonetheless,
Kennard could see things for what
they were:

‘‘Who are our true rulers?
The negro poets, to be sure!
Do they not set the fashion,
and give laws to the public
taste? Let one of them, in the
swamps of Carolina, compose
a new song, and it no sooner
reaches the ear of a white ama-
teur, than it is written down,
amended, (that is, almost
spoilt,) printed, and then put
upon a course of rapid dissem-
ination, to cease only with the
utmost bounds of Anglo-Sax-
ondom, perhaps of the world.’’

What a panicked clairvoyant!
The fear of black culture — or
‘‘black culture’’ — was more than a
fear of black people themselves. It
was an anxiety over white obsoles-
cence. Kennard’s anxiety over black
infl uence sounds as ambivalent as
Lorde’s, when, all the way from her
native New Zealand, she tsk-ed rap
culture’s extravagance on ‘‘Royals,’’
her hit from 2013, while recogniz-
ing, both in the song’s hip-hop pro-
duction and its appetite for a partic-
ular sort of blackness, that maybe
she’s too far gone:

Every song’s like gold teeth,
Grey Goose, trippin’ in the
bathroom

Bloodstains, ball gowns,
trashin’ the hotel room

We don’t care, we’re driving
Cadillacs in our dreams

But everybody’s like Cristal,
Maybach, diamonds on your
timepiece

Jet planes, islands, tigers on
a gold leash

We don’t care, we aren’t
caught up in your love aff air

Beneath Kennard’s warnings
must have lurked an awareness
that his white brethren had already
fallen under this spell of blackness,
that nothing would stop its spread to
teenage girls in 21st-century Auck-
land, that the men who ‘‘infest our
promenades and our concert halls
like a colony of beetles’’ (as a contem-
porary of Kennard’s put it) weren’t
black people at all but white people
just like him — beetles and, eventu-
ally, Beatles. Our fi rst most original
art form arose from our original sin,
and some white people have always
been worried that the primacy of
black music would be a kind of kar-
mic punishment for that sin. The
work has been to free this country
from paranoia’s bondage, to truly
embrace the amplitude of integra-
tion. I don’t know how we’re doing.

Last spring, ‘‘Old Town Road,’’
a silly, drowsy ditty by the Atlanta
songwriter Lil Nas X, was essen-
tially banished from country radio.
Lil Nas sounds black, as does the
trap beat he’s droning over. But
there’s defi nitely a twang to him
that goes with the opening bars of
faint banjo and Lil Nas’s lil’ cowboy

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67

fantasy. The song snowballed into
a phenomenon. All kinds of people
— cops, soldiers, dozens of dapper
black promgoers — posted dances
to it on YouTube and TikTok. Then
a crazy thing happened. It chart-
ed — not just on Billboard’s Hot
100 singles chart, either. In April, it
showed up on both its Hot R&B/
Hip-Hop Songs chart and its Hot
Country Songs chart. A fi rst. And,
for now at least, a last.

The gatekeepers of country
radio refused to play the song; they
didn’t explain why. Then, Billboard
determined that the song failed
to ‘‘embrace enough elements of
today’s country music to chart in
its current version.’’ This doesn’t

warrant translation, but let’s be
thorough, anyway: Th e song is too
black for certain white people.

But by that point it had already
captured the nation’s imagination
and tapped into the confused thrill
of integrated culture. A black kid
hadn’t really merged white music
with black, he’d just taken up the
American birthright of cultural syn-
thesis. The mixing feels historical.
Here, for instance, in the song’s
sample of a Nine Inch Nails track
is a banjo, the musical spine of the
minstrel era. Perhaps Lil Nas was
too American. Other country artists
of the genre seemed to sense this.
White singers recorded pretty trib-
utes in support, and one, Billy Ray

Cyrus, performed his on a remix
with Lil Nas X himself.

The newer version lays Cyrus’s
casual grit alongside Lil Nas’s lack-
adaisical wonder. It’s been No. 1 on
Billboard’s all-genre Hot 100 singles
chart since April, setting a record.
And the bottomless glee over the
whole thing makes me laugh, too
— not in a surprised, yacht-rock
way but as proof of what a fi ne mess
this place is. One person’s sign of
progress remains another’s symbol
of encroachment. Screw the history.
Get off my land.

Four hundred years ago, more
than 20 kidnapped Africans arrived
in Virginia. They were put to work
and put through hell. Twenty became

millions, and some of those people
found — somehow — deliverance in
the power of music. Lil Nas X has
descended from those millions and
appears to be a believer in deliver-
ance. The verses of his song fl irt with
Western kitsch, what young black
internetters branded, with adorable
idiosyncrasy and a deep sense of
history, the ‘‘yee-haw agenda.’’ But
once the song reaches its chorus
(‘‘I’m gonna take my horse to the
Old Town Road, and ride til I can’t
no more’’), I don’t hear a kid in an
outfi t. I hear a cry of ancestry. He’s
a westward-bound refugee; he’s an
Exoduster. And Cyrus is down for
the ride. Musically, they both know:
This land is their land.�

Lil Nas X, left, and Billy Ray Cyrus perform in Indio, Calif., in 2019.

T he 1619 Project

68

⬤ 1932: The United States Public Health Service begins the Tuskegee Study of
Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male, with 600 subjects, approximately two-thirds
of whom have syphilis. The subjects are told only that they are being treated
for ‘‘bad blood.’’ Approximately 100 die from the disease. It is later revealed that for
research purposes, the men were denied drugs that could have saved them.

Upon closer inspection, the leaf her 2-year-old was attempting to put
in his mouth in the middle of the playground on that lovely fall day was in
fact a used tampon. She snatched it from him and Purelled both of their
hands before rushing them back to their apartment on Dean. She put him
in the bath and scrubbed, and by the time her husband found them, they
were both crying.

‘‘We have to leave New York,’’ she said after he put the baby to bed.
‘‘Let’s move back home.’’

‘‘There are tampons in Alabama,’’ he said, and then, ‘‘What’s the worst
that could happen?’’

It was the question they’d played out since graduate school, when her
hypochondria had been all-consuming. Back then, leaning into her fears,
describing them, had given her some comfort, but then they had Booker
and suddenly the worst looked so much worse.

‘‘He could get an S.T.D., and then we’d be the black parents at the hos-
pital with a baby with an S.T.D., and the pediatrician would call social ser-
vices, and they would take him away, and we’d end up in jail.’’

‘‘O.K.,’’ he said slowly. ‘‘That would be bad, but it’s statistically very, very
unlikely. Would it make you feel better if we called the doctor?’’

She shook her head. Her husband only used the word ‘‘statistically’’
when he wanted to avoid using the words ‘‘you’re crazy.’’ She knew that
the doctor would just tell her to trust him, but she also knew that when the
worst happens in this country, it often happens to them.

She comes by her hypochondria and iatrophobia honestly. When she
was growing up in Alabama, people still talked about their grandfathers,
fathers and brothers who had died of bad blood. That was the catchall
term for syphilis, anemia and just about anything that ailed you. The 600 By Yaa Gyasi

men who were enrolled in the Tuskegee Study were told they’d get free
medical care. Instead, from 1932 to 1972, researchers watched as the men
developed lesions on their mouths and genitals. Watched as their lymph
nodes swelled, as their hair fell out. Watched as the disease moved into
its final stage, leaving the men blind and demented, leaving them to die.
All this when they knew a simple penicillin shot would cure them. All
this because they wanted to see what would happen. For years afterward,
her grandmother refused to go to the hospital. Even at 89, perpetually
hunched over in the throes of an endless cough, she’d repeat, ‘‘Anything
but the doctor.’’ Bad blood begets bad blood.

She’s more trusting than her grandmother, but she still has her mo-
ments. Like many women, she was nervous about giving birth. All the
more so because she was doing it in New York City, where black wom-
en are 12 times as likely to die in childbirth as white women. And in that
very statistic, the indelible impression of Tuskegee. The lingering, nig-
gling feeling that she is never fully safe in a country where doctors and
researchers had no qualms about watching dozens of black men die —
slowly, brutally — simply because they could. When she held Booker in
her arms for the first time and saw her grandmother’s nose on his perfect
face, love and fear rose up in her. ‘‘What’s the worst that could happen?’’
her husband asks, and she can’t speak it — the worst. Instead, she tries
to turn off the little voice in her head, the one that wants to know: How
exactly do you cure bad blood?

Photo illustration by Jon Key

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69

⬤ Feb. 12, 1946: Isaac Woodard, a decorated 26-year-old Army sergeant, is severely
beaten by white police offi cers while taking a bus to meet his wife. He is still wearing
his uniform. Accused of drinking with other soldiers on the bus, Woodard is
arrested on a charge of drunk and disorderly conduct and denied medical assistance.
The attack leaves him permanently blind.

By Jacqueline Woodson

Keep an eye on the restrooms. They’ve always come for us through
them. ’Cuz who doesn’t ever have to use one? Straight peeps and
trans peeps, black peeps and white peeps, we all have to go sometime.
And back in the day, if the Colored Only signs didn’t work or weren’t
enough, or still had black folks having the audacity to put on a uniform
and go fight in a war — let’s call this one World War II — they found
other ways to come for us.

Feb. 12, 1946, 17 years to the day before I was born — and when I was
born, know those Colored Only signs were still up all over the South
— a South I would live in until I was 7 years old — Sgt. Isaac Woodard,
in full uniform, boarded a bus in Georgia, heading home to his wife in
Winnsboro, S.C. Ninety- eight miles away from the town in which I was
raised, Sergeant Woodard asked the driver if there was time to use the
restroom. This was near Augusta, S.C., where the driver said, ‘‘Hell no.’’
And then there was an argument. And the driver conceding with a ‘‘Go
ahead then, but hurry back.’’

Keep an eye on the history of black veterans in America. On the
thousands that were attacked, assaulted, killed. Because they were
black. Because they were in uniform. Because they had the audacity to
believe that leaving this country to fight for it would indeed make it a
better place for them to return to.

Keep an eye on a white Southern bus driver conceding to a black
man. At a later stop, Sergeant Woodard was ordered off the bus by
the local chief of police, Lynwood Shull, and another officer. Lynwood
beat him blind. Two months later, Woodard’s family moved him from
the V.A. hospital in Columbia, S.C., to New York City. At trial, Shull
admitted to blinding Woodard. After 30 minutes of deliberation, an
all-white jury acquitted him.

Keep an eye on the long, bleak legacy of police brutality against
black men. It happened in America. It happened when many of us
were living. It happened again and again. And as Woodard himself
said, ‘‘Negro veterans that fought in this war … don’t realize that the
real battle has just begun in America.’’

It happened on a Greyhound bus. To a man who was just trying to
get himself home.

he sugar that saturates
the American diet
has a barbaric history
as the ‘white gold’
that fueled slavery.

By Khalil Gibran Muhammad

Photograph by Brian Ulrich

August 18, 2019

71

T he 1619 Project

72

sits on the edge of the mighty
Mississippi River, about fi ve miles
east by way of the river’s bend from
the French Quarter, and less than a
mile down from the Lower Ninth
Ward, where Hurricane Katrina
and the failed levees destroyed so
many black lives. It is North Ameri-
ca’s largest sugar refi nery, making
nearly two billion pounds of sugar
and sugar products annually. Those
ubiquitous four-pound yellow
paper bags emblazoned with the
company logo are produced here
at a rate of 120 bags a minute, 24
hours a day, seven days a week
during operating season.

The United States makes about
nine million tons of sugar annual-
ly, ranking it sixth in global pro-
duction. The United States sugar
industry receives as much as $4
billion in annual subsidies in the
form of price supports, guaranteed
crop loans, tariff s and regulated
imports of foreign sugar, which by
some estimates is about half the
price per pound of domestic sugar.
Louisiana’s sugar-cane industry is by
itself worth $3 billion, generating an
estimated 16,400 jobs.

A vast majority of that domestic
sugar stays in this country, with
an additional two to three million

tons imported each year. Americans
consume as much as 77.1 pounds
of sugar and related sweeteners
per person per year, according to
United States Department of Agri-
culture data. That’s nearly twice the
limit the department recommends,
based on a 2,000-calorie diet.

Sugar has been linked in the Unit-
ed States to diabetes, obesity and
cancer. If it is killing all of us, it is
killing black people faster. Over the
last 30 years, the rate of Americans
who are obese or overweight grew
27 percent among all adults, to 71
percent from 56 percent, according
to the Centers for Disease Control,
with African-Americans overrep-
resented in the national fi gures.
During the same period, diabetes
rates overall nearly tripled. Among
black non-Hispanic women, they
are nearly double those of white
non-Hispanic women, and one and
a half times higher for black men
than white men.

None of this — the extraordinary
mass commodifi cation of sugar, its
economic might and outsize impact
on the American diet and health —
was in any way foreordained, or
even predictable, when Christopher
Columbus made his second voyage
across the Atlantic Ocean in 1493,

bringing sugar-cane stalks with him
from the Spanish Canary Islands. In
Europe at that time, refi ned sugar
was a luxury product, the back-
breaking toil and dangerous labor
required in its manufacture an
insuperable barrier to production
in anything approaching bulk. It
seems reasonable to imagine that it
might have remained so if it weren’t
for the establishment of an enor-
mous market in enslaved laborers
who had no way to opt out of the
treacherous work.

For thousands of years, cane was a
heavy and unwieldy crop that had
to be cut by hand and immediately
ground to release the juice inside,
lest it spoil within a day or two. Even
before harvest time, rows had to be
dug, stalks planted and plentiful
wood chopped as fuel for boiling the
liquid and reducing it to crystals and
molasses. From the earliest traces of
cane domestication on the Pacifi c
island of New Guinea 10,000 years
ago to its island-hopping advance
to ancient India in 350 B.C., sugar
was locally consumed and very
labor-intensive. It remained little
more than an exotic spice, medicinal
glaze or sweetener for elite palates.

It was the introduction of sugar
slavery in the New World that
changed everything. ‘‘The true Age
of Sugar had begun — and it was
doing more to reshape the world
than any ruler, empire or war had
ever done,’’ Marc Aronson and Mari-
na Budhos write in their 2010 book,
‘‘Sugar Changed the World.’’ Over
the four centuries that followed
Columbus’s arrival, on the main-
lands of Central and South Ameri-
ca in Mexico, Guyana and Brazil as
well as on the sugar islands of the
West Indies — Cuba, Barbados and
Jamaica, among others — countless
indigenous lives were destroyed
and nearly 11 million Africans were
enslaved, just counting those who
survived the Middle Passage.

‘‘White gold’’ drove trade in goods
and people, fueled the wealth of
European nations and, for the British
in particular, shored up the fi nancing
of their North American colonies.
‘‘There was direct trade among the
colonies and between the colonies
and Europe, but much of the Atlan-
tic trade was triangular: enslaved

people from Africa; sugar from the
West Indies and Brazil; money and
manufactures from Europe,’’ writes
the Harvard historian Walter John-
son in his 1999 book, ‘‘Soul by Soul:
Life Inside the Antebellum Slave
Market.’’ ‘‘People were traded along
the bottom of the triangle; profi ts
would stick at the top.’’

Before French Jesuit priests plant-
ed the fi rst cane stalk near Baronne
Street in New Orleans in 1751, sugar
was already a huge moneymaker in
British New York. By the 1720s, one
of every two ships in the city’s port
was either arriving from or heading
to the Caribbean, importing sugar
and enslaved people and exporting
fl our, meat and shipbuilding sup-
plies. The trade was so lucrative
that Wall Street’s most impressive
buildings were Trinity Church at
one end, facing the Hudson River,
and the fi ve-story sugar warehouses
on the other, close to the East River
and near the busy slave market. New
York’s enslaved population reached
20 percent, prompting the New York
General Assembly in 1730 to issue a
consolidated slave code, making it
‘‘unlawful for above three slaves’’ to
meet on their own, and authorizing
‘‘each town’’ to employ ‘‘a common
whipper for their slaves.’’

In 1795, Étienne de Boré, a New
Orleans sugar planter, granulated
the fi rst sugar crystals in the Loui-
siana Territory. With the advent of
sugar processing locally, sugar plan-
tations exploded up and down both
banks of the Mississippi River. All
of this was possible because of the
abundantly rich alluvial soil, com-
bined with the technical mastery of
seasoned French and Spanish plant-
ers from around the cane-growing
basin of the Gulf and the Caribbean
— and because of the toil of thou-
sands of enslaved people. More
French planters and their enslaved
expert sugar workers poured into
Louisiana as Toussaint L’Ouverture
and Jean-Jacques Dessalines led a
successful revolution to secure Hai-
ti’s independence from France.

Within fi ve decades, Louisiana
planters were producing a quarter
of the world’s cane-sugar supply.
During her antebellum reign, Queen
Sugar bested King Cotton locally,
making Louisiana the second-richest
state in per capita wealth. According

Domino Sugar’s
Chalmette Refinery
in Arabi, La.,

August 18, 2019

73

to the historian Richard Follett, the
state ranked third in banking capital
behind New York and Massachusetts
in 1840. The value of enslaved people
alone represented tens of millions
of dollars in capital that fi nanced
investments, loans and businesses.
Much of that investment funneled
back into the sugar mills, the ‘‘most
industrialized sector of Southern
agriculture,’’ Follett writes in his
2005 book, ‘‘Sugar Masters: Planters
and Slaves in Louisiana’s Cane World
1820-1860.’’ No other agricultural
region came close to the amount of
capital investment in farming by the

eve of the Civil War. In 1853, Rep-
resentative Miles Taylor of Louisi-
ana bragged that his state’s success
was ‘‘without parallel in the United
States, or indeed in the world in any
branch of industry.’’

The enslaved population soared,
quadrupling over a 20-year period to
125,000 souls in the mid-19th century.
New Orleans became the Walmart
of people-selling. The number of
enslaved labor crews doubled on
sugar plantations. And in every sugar
parish, black people outnumbered
whites. These were some of the most
skilled laborers, doing some of the

most dangerous agricultural and
industrial work in the United States.

In the mill, alongside adults, chil-
dren toiled like factory workers with
assembly-line precision and disci-
pline under the constant threat of
boiling hot kettles, open furnaces and
grinding rollers. ‘‘All along the end-
less carrier are ranged slave children,
whose business it is to place the cane
upon it, when it is conveyed through
the shed into the main building,’’
wrote Solomon Northup in ‘‘Twelve
Years a Slave,’’ his 1853 memoir of
being kidnapped and forced into
slavery on Louisiana plantations.

Children on a Louisiana sugar cane plantation around 1885.

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To achieve the highest effi cien-
cy, as in the round-the-clock Dom-
ino refi nery today, sugar houses
operated night and day. ‘‘On cane
plantations in sugar time, there
is no distinction as to the days of
the week,’’ Northup wrote. Fatigue
might mean losing an arm to the
grinding rollers or being fl ayed for
failing to keep up. Resistance was
often met with sadistic cruelty.

A formerly enslaved black
woman named Mrs. Webb
described a torture chamber used
by her owner, Valsin Marmillion.
‘‘One of his cruelties was to place a
disobedient slave, standing in a box,
in which there were nails placed in
such a manner that the poor crea-
ture was unable to move,’’ she told a
W.P.A. interviewer in 1940. ‘‘He was
powerless even to chase the fl ies, or
sometimes ants crawling on some
parts of his body.’’

Louisiana led the nation in
destroying the lives of black people
in the name of economic effi cien-
cy. The historian Michael Tadman
found that Louisiana sugar parishes
had a pattern of ‘‘deaths exceed-
ing births.’’ Backbreaking labor and
‘‘inadequate net nutrition meant
that slaves working on sugar plan-
tations were, compared with other
working-age slaves in the United
States, far less able to resist the
common and life-threatening dis-
eases of dirt and poverty,’’ wrote
Tadman in a 2000 study published
in the American Historical Review.
Life expectancy was less like that
on a cotton plantation and closer to
that of a Jamaican cane fi eld, where
the most overworked and abused
could drop dead after seven years.

Most of these stories of brutal-
ity, torture and premature death
have never been told in classroom
textbooks or historical museums.
They have been refi ned and white-
washed in the mills and factories
of Southern folklore: the romantic
South, the Lost Cause, the popular
‘‘moonlight and magnolias’’ plan-
tation tours so important to Loui-
siana’s agritourism today.

When I arrived at the Whitney
Plantation Museum on a hot day in
June, I mentioned to Ashley Rogers,
36, the museum’s executive direc-
tor, that I had passed the Nelson

T he 1619 Project

74

and placed on pikes throughout the
region. Based on historians’ esti-
mates, the execution tally was nearly
twice as high as the number in Nat
Turner’s more famous 1831 rebel-
lion. The revolt has been virtually
redacted from the historical record.
But not at Whitney. And yet tourists,
Rogers said, sometimes admit to her,
a white woman, that they are warned
by hotel concierges and tour opera-
tors that Whitney is the one misrep-
resenting the past. ‘‘You are meant to
empathize with the owners as their
guests,’’ Rogers told me in her offi ce.
In Louisiana’s plantation tourism, she

Coleman Correctional Center about
15 miles back along the way. ‘‘You
passed a dump and a prison on
your way to a plantation,’’ she said.
‘‘These are not coincidences.’’

The Whitney, which opened fi ve
years ago as the only sugar-slavery
museum in the nation, rests square-
ly in a geography of human detritus.
The museum tells of the everyday
struggles and resistance of black
people who didn’t lose their digni-
ty even when they lost everything
else. It sits on the west bank of the
Mississippi at the northern edge
of the St. John the Baptist Parish,

home to dozens of once-thriving
sugar plantations; Marmillion’s
plantation and torture box were just
a few miles down from Whitney.

The museum also sits across the
river from the site of the German
Coast uprising in 1811, one of the
largest revolts of enslaved people
in United States history. As many as
500 sugar rebels joined a liberation
army heading toward New Orleans,
only to be cut down by federal troops
and local militia; no record of their
actual plans survives. About a hun-
dred were killed in battle or executed
later, many with their heads severed

Men working among thousands of barrels of sugar in New Orleans in 1902.

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said, ‘‘the currency has been the dis-
tortion of the past.’’

The landscape bears witness and
corroborates Whitney’s version of
history. Although the Coleman jail
opened in 2001 and is named for an
African-American sheriff ’s deputy
who died in the line of duty, Rogers
connects it to a longer history of
coerced labor, land theft and racial
control after slavery. Sugar cane
grows on farms all around the jail,
but at the nearby Louisiana State
Penitentiary, or Angola, prison-
ers grow it. Angola is the largest
maximum-security prison by land

August 18, 2019

75

mass in the nation. It opened in its
current location in 1901 and took
the name of one of the plantations
that had occupied the land. Even
today, incarcerated men harvest
Angola’s cane, which is turned into
syrup and sold on-site.

From slavery to freedom, many
black Louisianans found that
the crushing work of sugar cane
remained mostly the same. Even
with Reconstruction delivering civil
rights for the fi rst time, white plant-
ers continued to dominate landown-
ership. Freedmen and freedwomen
had little choice but to live in some-
body’s old slave quarters. As new
wage earners, they negotiated the
best terms they could, signed labor
contracts for up to a year and moved
frequently from one plantation to
another in search of a life whose
daily rhythms beat diff erently than
before. And yet, even compared with
sharecropping on cotton planta-
tions, Rogers said, ‘‘sugar plantations
did a better job preserving racial
hierarchy.’’ As a rule, the historian
John C. Rodrigue writes, ‘‘plantation
labor overshadowed black people’s
lives in the sugar region until well
into the 20th century.’’

Sometimes black cane workers
resisted collectively by striking
during planting and harvesting
time — threatening to ruin the
crop. Wages and working condi-
tions occasionally improved. But
other times workers met swift and
violent reprisals. After a major
labor insurgency in 1887, led by
the Knights of Labor, a national
union, at least 30 black people —
some estimated hundreds — were
killed in their homes and on the
streets of Thibodaux, La. ‘‘I think
this will settle the question of who
is to rule, the nigger or the white
man, for the next 50 years,’’ a local
white planter’s widow, Mary Pugh,
wrote, rejoicing, to her son.

Many African-Americans aspired
to own or rent their own sugar-cane
farms in the late 19th century, but
faced deliberate eff orts to limit
black farm and land owning. The
historian Rebecca Scott found
that although ‘‘black farmers were
occasionally able to buy plots of
cane land from bankrupt estates, or
otherwise establish themselves as
suppliers, the trend was for planters

to seek to establish relations with
white tenants or sharecroppers who
could provide cane for the mill.’’

By World War II, many black
people began to move not simply
from one plantation to another, but
from a cane fi eld to a car factory
in the North. By then, harvesting
machines had begun to take over
some, but not all, of the work. With
fewer and fewer black workers in
the industry, and after eff orts in the
late 1800s to recruit Chinese, Ital-
ian, Irish and German immigrant
workers had already failed, labor
recruiters in Louisiana and Florida
sought workers in other states.

In 1942, the Department of Jus-
tice began a major investigation
into the recruiting practices of one
of the largest sugar producers in the
nation, the United States Sugar Cor-
poration, a South Florida company.
Black men unfamiliar with the brutal
nature of the work were promised
seasonal sugar jobs at high wages,
only to be forced into debt peon-
age, immediately accruing the cost
of their transportation, lodging and
equipment — all for $1.80 a day. One
man testifi ed that the conditions
were so bad, ‘‘It wasn’t no freedom;
it was worse than the pen.’’ Federal
investigators agreed. When work-
ers tried to escape, the F.B.I. found,
they were captured on the highway
or ‘‘shot at while trying to hitch rides
on the sugar trains.’’ The company
was indicted by a federal grand jury
in Tampa for ‘‘carrying out a con-
spiracy to commit slavery,’’ wrote
Alec Wilkinson, in his 1989 book,
‘‘Big Sugar: Seasons in the Cane
Fields of Florida.’’ (The indictment
was ultimately quashed on pro-
cedural grounds.) A congressional
investigation in the 1980s found that
sugar companies had systematically
tried to exploit seasonal West Indian
workers to maintain absolute con-
trol over them with the constant
threat of immediately sending them
back to where they came from.

At the Whitney plantation, which
operated continuously from 1752 to
1975, its museum staff of 12 is near-
ly all African-American women. A
third of them have immediate rel-
atives who either worked there or
were born there in the 1960s and
’70s. These black women show tour-
ists the same slave cabins and the

Lewis and Guidry have appeared in
separate online videos. The Ameri-
can Sugar Cane League has high-
lighted the same pair separately in
its online newsletter, Sugar News.

Lewis has no illusions about
why the marketing focuses on him,
he told me; sugar cane is a lucra-
tive business, and to keep it that
way, the industry has to work with
the government. ‘‘You need a few
minorities in there, because these
mills survive off having minorities
involved with the mill to get these
huge government loans,’’ he said. A
former fi nancial adviser at Morgan
Stanley, Lewis, 36, chose to leave a
successful career in fi nance to take
his rightful place as a fi fth-genera-
tion farmer. ‘‘My family was farming
in the late 1800s’’ near the same land,
he says, that his enslaved ancestors
once worked. Much of the 3,000
acres he now farms comes from

Sheet music to an 1875 song romanticizing the painful, exhausted
death of an enslaved sugar-plantation worker.

same cane fi elds their own relatives
knew all too well.

Farm laborers, mill workers and
refi nery employees make up the
16,400 jobs of Louisiana’s sugar-cane
industry. But it is the owners of the
11 mills and 391 commercial farms
who have the most infl uence and
greatest share of the wealth. And
the number of black sugar-cane
farmers in Louisiana is most likely in
the single digits, based on estimates
from people who work in the indus-
try. They are the exceedingly rare
exceptions to a system designed to
codify black loss.

And yet two of these black
farmers, Charles Guidry and Eddie
Lewis III, have been featured in a
number of prominent news items
and marketing materials out of pro-
portion to their representation and
economic footprint in the industry.

T he 1619 Project

76

relationships with white landown-
ers his father, Eddie Lewis Jr., and
his grandfather before him, built
and maintained.

Lewis is the minority adviser for
the federal Farm Service Agency
(F.S.A.) in St. Martin and Lafayette
Parish, and also participates in lob-
bying federal legislators. He says
he does it because the stakes are so
high. If things don’t change, Lewis
told me, ‘‘I’m probably one of two
or three that’s going to be farming in
the next 10 to 15 years. They’re trying
to basically extinct us.’’ As control of

the industry consolidates in fewer
and fewer hands, Lewis believes
black sugar-cane farmers will no
longer exist, part of a long-term
trend nationally, where the total
proportion of all African-American
farmers has plummeted since the
early 1900s, to less than 2 percent
from more than 14 percent, with 90
percent of black farmers’ land lost
amid decades of racist actions by
government agencies, banks and
real estate developers.

‘‘There’s still a few good white men
around here,’’ Lewis told me. ‘‘It’s not

to say it’s all bad. But this is defi nitely
a community where you still have to
say, ‘Yes sir,’ ‘Yes, ma’am,’ and accept
‘boy’ and diff erent things like that.’’

One of the biggest players in that
community is M. A. Patout and Son,
the largest sugar-cane mill company
in Louisiana. Founded in 1825, Patout
has been known to boast that it is
‘‘the oldest complete family-owned
and operated manufacturer of raw
sugar in the United States.’’ It owns
three of the 11 remaining sugar-cane
mills in Louisiana, processing rough-
ly a third of the cane in the state.

The company is being sued by
a former fourth-generation black
farmer. As first reported in The
Guardian, Wenceslaus Provost Jr.
claims the company breached a
harvesting contract in an eff ort to
deliberately sabotage his business.
Provost, who goes by the fi rst name
June, and his wife, Angie, who is
also a farmer, lost their home to
foreclosure in 2018, after defaulting
on F.S.A.-guaranteed crop loans.
June Provost has also fi led a federal
lawsuit against First Guaranty Bank
and a bank senior vice president for

Pecans are the nut of choice when it comes to satisfying America’s

sweet tooth, with the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season

being the pecan’s most popular time, when the nut graces the rich

pie named for it. Southerners claim the pecan along with the corn-

bread and collard greens that distinguish the regional table, and the

South looms large in our imaginations as this nut’s mother country.

The presence of pecan pralines in every Southern gift shop from

South Carolina to Texas, and our view of the nut as regional fare,

masks a crucial chapter in the story of the pecan: It was an enslaved

man who made the wide cultivation of this nut possible.

Pecan trees are native to the middle southwestern region of the

Mississippi River Valley and the Gulf Coast of Texas and Mexico. While

the trees can live for a hundred years or more, they do not produce nuts

in the first years of life, and the kinds of nuts they produce are wildly

variable in size, shape, flavor and ease of shell removal. Indigenous

people worked around this variability, harvesting the nuts for hundreds

and probably thousands of years, camping near the groves in season,

trading the nuts in a network that stretched across the continent,

and lending the food the name we have come to know it by: paccan.

Once white Southerners became fans of the nut, they set about

trying to standardize its fruit by engineering the perfect pecan tree.

Planters tried to cultivate pecan trees for a commercial market begin-

ning at least as early as the 1820s, when a well-known planter from

South Carolina named Abner Landrum published detailed descriptions

of his attempt in the American Farmer periodical. In the mid-1840s, a

planter in Louisiana sent cuttings of a much-prized pecan tree over to

his neighbor J. T. Roman, the owner of Oak Alley Plantation. Roman did

what many enslavers were accustomed to in that period: He turned

the impossible work over to an enslaved person with vast capabilities,

a man whose name we know only as Antoine. Antoine undertook the

delicate task of grafting the pecan cuttings onto the limbs of different

tree species on the plantation grounds. Many specimens thrived, and

Antoine fashioned still more trees, selecting for nuts with favorable

qualities. It was Antoine who successfully created what would become

the country’s first commercially viable pecan varietal.

Decades later, a new owner of Oak Alley, Hubert Bonzano, exhibit-

ed nuts from Antoine’s trees at the Centennial Exposition of 1876, the

World’s Fair held in Philadelphia and a major showcase for American

innovation. As the horticulturalist Lenny Wells has recorded, the

exhibited nuts received a commendation from the Yale botanist

William H. Brewer, who praised them for their ‘‘remarkably large

size, tenderness of shell and very special excellence.’’ Coined ‘‘the

Centennial,’’ Antoine’s pecan varietal was then seized upon for com-

mercial production (other varieties have since become the standard).

Was Antoine aware of his creation’s triumph? No one knows. As

the historian James McWilliams writes in ‘‘The Pecan: A History of

America’s Native Nut’’ (2013): ‘‘History leaves no record as to the

former slave gardener’s location — or whether he was even alive —

when the nuts from the tree he grafted were praised by the nation’s

leading agricultural experts.’’ The tree never bore the name of the

man who had handcrafted it and developed a full-scale orchard on

the Oak Alley Plantation before he slipped into the shadow of history.

Pecan Pioneer: The Enslaved Man
Who Cultivated the South’s Favorite Nut

By Tiya Miles

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77

The Rhinelander Sugar House, a sugar refinery and warehouse on the site of what is now
the headquarters of the New York Police Department, in the late 1800s. When it was built in 1763,
the building was one of the largest in the colony.

landowners. He claims they ‘‘unilater-
ally, arbitrarily and without just cause
terminated’’ a seven-year-old agree-
ment to operate his sugar-cane farm
on their land, causing him to lose the
value of the crop still growing there.
Lewis is seeking damages of more
than $200,000, based on an indepen-
dent appraisal he obtained, court
records show. The land owners did
not respond to requests for comment.

But the new lessee, Ryan Doré,
a white farmer, did confi rm with
me that he is now leasing the land
and has off ered to pay Lewis what a
county agent assessed as the crop’s
worth, about $50,000. Doré does
not dispute the amount of Lew-
is’s sugar cane on the 86.16 acres.
What he disputes is Lewis’s ability
to make the same crop as profi table
as he would. Doré, who credits M. A.
Patout and Son for getting him start-
ed in sugar-cane farming, also told
me he is farming some of the land
June Provost had farmed.

Lewis and the Provosts say they
believe Doré is using his position
as an elected F.S.A. committee
member to gain an unfair advan-
tage over black farmers with white
land owners. ‘‘He’s privileged with a
lot of information,’’ Lewis said.

Doré denied he is abusing his
F.S.A. position and countered that
‘‘the Lewis boy’’ is trying to ‘‘make
this a black-white deal.’’ Doré
insisted that ‘‘both those guys
simply lost their acreage for one
reason and one reason only: They
are horrible farmers.’’

It’s impossible to listen to the
stories that Lewis and the Pro-
vosts tell and not hear echoes of
the policies and practices that have
been used since Reconstruction to
maintain the racial caste system
that sugar slavery helped create.
The crop, land and farm theft that
they claim harks back to the New
Deal era, when Southern F.S.A.
committees denied black farmers
government funding.

‘‘June and I hope to create a
dent in these oppressive tactics for
future generations,’’ Angie Provost
told me on the same day this spring
that a congressional subcommittee
held hearings on reparations. ‘‘To
this day we are harassed, retaliated
against and denied the true DNA
of our past.’’�

claims related to lending discrimi-
nation, as well as for mail and wire
fraud in reporting false information
to federal loan offi cials. The suit
names a whistle-blower, a feder-
al loan offi cer, who, in April 2015,
‘‘informed Mr. Provost that he had

been systematically discriminated
against by First Guaranty Bank,’’ the
lawsuit reads.

(In court fi lings, M. A. Patout and
Son denied that it breached the con-
tract. Representatives for the com-
pany did not respond to requests

for comment. In court fi lings, First
Guaranty Bank and the senior vice
president also denied Provost’s
claims. Their representatives did not
respond to requests for comment.)

Lewis is himself a litigant in a
separate petition against white

T he 1619 Project

78

⬤ Sept. 15, 1963: A group of Ku Klux Klansmen bomb the 16th Street Baptist Church
in Birmingham, Ala., a center of the civil rights movement. Four young girls are
killed, and at least 14 people are injured. Years later, three of the four conspirators are
brought to trial and convicted; the fourth dies before he is tried.

By Rita Dove By Camille T. Dungy

My daughter’s three months old. A nightmare
rocks me awake, and then fourteen words: Brevity.

As in four girls; Sunday dresses: bone, ash, bone, ash, bone.
The end. 1963, but still burning. My darkening girl

lies beside me, her tiny chest barely registering breath.
Had they lived beyond that morning, all the other explosions

shattering Birmingham — even some who called it home
called it Bombingham — three of the girls would be 70,

the other 67. Somebody’s babies. The sentences I rescue
from that nightmare, I make a poem. Four names,

grayscaled at the bottom of the page:
Addie Mae Collins. Cynthia Wesley. Carole Robertson. Denise McNair.

Revision is a struggle toward truth. In my book I won’t keep, The end.
For such terrible brevity — dear black girls! sweet babies — there’s been no end.

This morning’s already good — summer’s

cooling, Addie chattering like a magpie —

but today we are leading the congregation.

Ain’t that a fine thing! All in white like angels,

they’ll be sighing when we appear at the pulpit

and proclaim ‘‘Open your hymnals —’’

Addie, what’s the page number again?

Never mind, it’ll be posted. I think. I hope.

Hold still, Carole, or else this sash will never

sit right! There. Now you do mine.

Almost eleven. I’m ready. My, don’t we look —

what’s that word the Reverend used in

last Sunday’s sermon? Oh, I got it: ethereal.

Photo illustrations by Jon Key

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By Joshua Bennett

With a line from Tavia Nyong’o

Anything that wants to be can be a panther. The black lion
or ocelot, the black cheetah or cornrowed uptown girl sprinting
up her neighborhood block just like one, in dogged pursuit
of the future world. In this frame, I imagine Huey and Bobby
as boys in the sense of gender and genre alike, an unbroken
line reading: my life is an armor for the other. Before black berets
or free breakfasts, then, there is friendship. Before gun laws
shifting in the wake of organized strength, leather jackets
shimmering like gypsum in the Northern California twilight —
or else magazine covers running the world over, compelling
everyday ordinary people across the spectrum of context
or color to sing who wants to be a panther ought to be he can be it
— there is love. The panther is a virtual animal. The panther
strikes only when it has been assailed. The panther is a human
vision, interminable refusal, our common call to adore ourselves
as what we are and live and die on terms we fashioned from the earth
like this. Our precious metal metonym. Our style of fire and stone.

⬤ Oct. 15, 1966: In response to police brutality against African-Americans,
the Merritt College students Huey Newton and Bobby Seale create the Black Panther
Party for Self- Defense. The organization, declared an enemy of the government by
J. Edgar Hoover’s F.B.I., holds that ending the economic exploitation of black people
is central to achieving racial equity.

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Slavery gave America a fear of black
people and a taste for violent punishment.
Both still defi ne our criminal-justice system.

By Bryan Stevenson

81

Several years ago, my law offi ce was
fi ghting for the release of a black
man who had been condemned,
at the age of 16, to die in prison.
Matthew was one of 62 Louisiana
children sentenced to life imprison-
ment without parole for nonhomi-
cide off enses. But a case I’d argued
at the Supreme Court was part of a
2010 ruling that banned such sen-
tences for juveniles, making our
clients eligible for release.

Some had been in prison for near-
ly 50 years. Almost all had been sent
to Angola, a penitentiary considered
one of America’s most violent and
abusive. Angola is immense, larger
than Manhattan, covering land once
occupied by slave plantations. Our
clients there worked in fi elds under
the supervision of horse-riding,
shotgun-toting guards who forced
them to pick crops, including cotton.
Their disciplinary records show that
if they refused to pick cotton — or
failed to pick it fast enough — they
could be punished with time in ‘‘the
hole,’’ where food was restricted and
inmates were sometimes tear-gassed.
Still, some black prisoners, including
Matthew, considered the despair of
the hole preferable to the unbearable
degradation of being forced to pick
cotton on a plantation at the end of
the 20th century. I was fearful that
such clients would be denied parole
based on their disciplinary records.
Some were.

The United States has the highest
rate of incarceration of any nation on
Earth: We represent 4 percent of the
planet’s population but 22 percent
of its imprisoned. In the early 1970s,
our prisons held fewer than 300,000
people; since then, that number has
grown to more than 2.2 million,
with 4.5 million more on probation
or parole. Because of mandatory
sentencing and ‘‘three strikes’’ laws,
I’ve found myself representing cli-
ents sentenced to life without parole
for stealing a bicycle or for simple
possession of marijuana. And cen-
tral to understanding this practice
of mass incarceration and excessive
punishment is the legacy of slavery.

It took only a few decades after the
arrival of enslaved Africans in Vir-
ginia before white settlers demand-
ed a new world defi ned by racial
caste. The 1664 General Assembly of

Maryland decreed that all Negroes
within the province ‘‘shall serve
durante vita,’’ hard labor for life. This
enslavement would be sustained by
the threat of brutal punishment. By
1729, Maryland law authorized pun-
ishments of enslaved people includ-
ing ‘‘to have the right hand cut off
. . . the head severed from the body,
the body divided into four quarters,
and head and quarters set up in the
most public places of the county.’’

Soon American slavery matured
into a perverse regime that denied
the humanity of black people while
still criminalizing their actions. As
the Supreme Court of Alabama
explained in 1861, enslaved black
people were ‘‘capable of committing
crimes,’’ and in that capacity were
‘‘regarded as persons’’ — but in most
every other sense they were ‘‘inca-
pable of performing civil acts’’ and
considered ‘‘things, not persons.’’

The 13th Amendment is credited
with ending slavery, but it stopped
short of that: It made an exception
for those convicted of crimes. After
emancipation, black people, once
seen as less than fully human ‘‘slaves,’’
were seen as less than fully human
‘‘criminals.’’ The provisional gover-
nor of South Carolina declared in
1865 that they had to be ‘‘restrained
from theft, idleness, vagrancy and
crime.’’ Laws governing slavery were
replaced with Black Codes govern-
ing free black people — making the
criminal-justice system central to
new strategies of racial control.

These strategies intensifi ed when-
ever black people asserted their inde-
pendence or achieved any measure
of success. During Reconstruction,
the emergence of black elected offi –
cials and entrepreneurs was coun-
tered by convict leasing, a scheme in
which white policymakers invented
off enses used to target black people:
vagrancy, loitering, being a group of
black people out after dark, seeking
employment without a note from
a former enslaver. The imprisoned
were then ‘‘leased’’ to businesses
and farms, where they labored under
brutal conditions. An 1887 report in
Mississippi found that six months
after 204 prisoners were leased to a
white man named McDonald, doz-
ens were dead or dying, the prison
hospital fi lled with men whose bod-
ies bore ‘‘marks of the most inhuman

and brutal treatment . . . so poor and
emaciated that their bones almost
come through the skin.’’

Anything that challenged the
racial hierarchy could be seen as a
crime, punished either by the law or
by the lynchings that stretched from
Mississippi to Minnesota. In 1916,
Anthony Crawford was lynched in
South Carolina for being successful
enough to refuse a low price for his
cotton. In 1933, Elizabeth Lawrence
was lynched near Birmingham for
daring to chastise white children
who were throwing rocks at her.

It’s not just that this history fos-
tered a view of black people as
presumptively criminal. It also cul-
tivated a tolerance for employing
any level of brutality in response.
In 1904, in Mississippi, a black man
was accused of shooting a white
landowner who had attacked him.
A white mob captured him and the
woman with him, cut off their ears
and fi ngers, drilled corkscrews into
their fl esh and then burned them
alive — while hundreds of white
spectators enjoyed deviled eggs and
lemonade. The landowner’s brother,
Woods Eastland, presided over the
violence; he was later elected district
attorney of Scott County, Miss., a
position that allowed his son James
Eastland, an avowed white suprem-
acist, to serve six terms as a United
States senator, becoming president
pro tempore from 1972 to 1978.

This appetite for harsh pun-
ishment has echoed across the
decades. Late in the 20th century,
amid protests over civil rights and
inequality, a new politics of fear and
anger would emerge. Nixon’s war
on drugs, mandatory minimum sen-
tences, three-strikes laws, children
tried as adults, ‘‘broken windows’’
policing — these policies were not
as expressly racialized as the Black
Codes, but their implementation
has been essentially the same. It is
black and brown people who are dis-
proportionately targeted, stopped,
suspected, incarcerated and shot by
the police.

Hundreds of years after the arrival
of enslaved Africans, a presumption
of danger and criminality still fol-
lows black people everywhere. New
language has emerged for the non-
crimes that have replaced the Black

Codes: driving while black, sleeping
while black, sitting in a coff ee shop
while black. All refl ect incidents
in which African-Americans were
mistreated, assaulted or arrested for
conduct that would be ignored if they
were white. In schools, black kids
are suspended and expelled at rates
that vastly exceed the punishment of
white children for the same behavior.

Inside courtrooms, the problem
gets worse. Racial disparities in sen-
tencing are found in almost every
crime category. Children as young
as 13, almost all black, are sentenced
to life imprisonment for nonhomi-
cide off enses. Black defendants are
22 times more likely to receive the
death penalty for crimes whose vic-
tims are white, rather than black — a
type of bias the Supreme Court has
declared ‘‘inevitable.’’

The smog created by our his tory
of racial injustice is suffocating
and toxic. We are too practiced in
ignoring the victimization of any
black people tagged as criminal;
like Woods Eastland’s crowd, too
many Americans are willing spec-
tators to horrifying acts, as long as
we’re assured they’re in the interest
of maintaining order.

This cannot be the end of the
story. In 2018, the Equal Justice Ini-
tiative, a nonprofi t I direct, opened
a museum in Montgomery, Ala.,
dedicated to the legacy of slavery
and a memorial honoring thousands
of black lynching victims. We must
acknowledge the 400 years of injus-
tice that haunt us. I’m encouraged:
Half a million people have visited.
But I’m also worried, because we
are at one of those critical moments
in American history when we will
either double down on romanticiz-
ing our past or accept that there is
something better waiting for us.

I recently went to New Orleans
to celebrate the release of several of
our Angola clients, including Mat-
thew — men who survived the fi elds
and the hole. I realized how import-
ant it is to stay hopeful: Hopeless-
ness is the enemy of justice. There
were moments of joy that night.
But there was also heaviness; we all
seemed keenly aware that we were
not truly free from the burden of
living in a nation that continues to
deny and doubt this legacy, and how
much work remains to be done.�

T he 1619 Project

Photograph by Spencer Lowell

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T he 1619 Project

82

By Trymaine Lee

A vast wealth gap, driven by segregation,
redlining, evictions and exclusion,
separates white and black America.

August 18, 2019

83

Elmore Bolling, whose brothers
called him Buddy, was a kind of
one-man economy in Lowndesboro,
Ala. He leased a plantation, where he
had a general store with a gas station
out front and a catering business; he
grew cotton, corn and sugar cane.
He also owned a small fl eet of trucks
that ran livestock and made deliv-
eries between Lowndesboro and
Montgomery. At his peak, Bolling
employed as many as 40 people, all
of them black like him.

One December day in 1947, a
group of white men showed up along
a stretch of Highway 80 just yards
from Bolling’s home and store, where
he lived with his wife, Bertha Mae,
and their seven young children. The
men confronted him on a section of
road he had helped lay and shot him
seven times — six times with a pis-
tol and once with a shotgun blast to
the back. His family rushed from the
store to fi nd him lying dead in a ditch.

The shooters didn’t even cover
their faces; they didn’t need to.
Everyone knew who had done it and
why. ‘‘He was too successful to be a
Negro,’’ someone who knew Bolling
told a newspaper at the time. When
Bolling was killed, his family esti-
mates he had as much as $40,000 in
the bank and more than $5,000 in
assets, about $500,000 in today’s dol-
lars. But within months of his murder
nearly all of it would be gone. White
creditors and people posing as cred-
itors took the money the family got
from the sale of their trucks and cat-
tle. They even staked claims on what
was left of the family’s savings. The
jobs that he provided were gone, too.
Almost overnight the Bollings went
from prosperity to poverty. Bertha
Mae found work at a dry cleaner. The
older children dropped out of school
to help support the family. Within
two years, the Bollings fl ed Lowndes
County, fearing for their lives.

The period that followed the Civil
War was one of economic terror and
wealth-stripping that has left black
people at lasting economic disadvan-
tage. White Americans have seven
times the wealth of black Americans
on average. Though black people
make up nearly 13 percent of the
United States population, they hold
less than 3 percent of the nation’s
total wealth. The median family

wealth for white people is $171,000,
compared with just $17,600 for black
people. It is worse on the margins.
According to the Economic Policy
Institute, 19 percent of black house-
holds have zero or negative net
worth. Just 9 percent of white fami-
lies are that poor.

Today’s racial wealth gap is per-
haps the most glaring legacy of
American slavery and the violent
economic dispossession that fol-
lowed. The fate suff ered by Elmore
Bolling and his family was not unique
to them, or to Jim Crow Alabama. It
was part of a much broader social
and political campaign. When legal
slavery ended in 1865, there was great
hope for formerly enslaved people.
Between 1865 and 1870, the Recon-
struction Amendments established
birthright citizenship — making all
black people citizens and granting
them equal protection under the law
— and gave black men the right to
vote. There was also the promise of
compensation. In January 1865, Gen.
William Sherman issued an order
reallocating hundreds of thousands
of acres of white-owned land along
the coasts of Florida, Georgia and
South Carolina for settlement by
black families in 40-acre plots. Con-
gress established the Freedmen’s
Bureau to oversee the transition from
slavery to freedom, and the Freed-
man’s Savings Bank was formed to
help four million formerly enslaved
people gain fi nancial freedom.

When Lincoln was assassinated,
Vice President Andrew Johnson
effectively rescinded Sherman’s
order by pardoning white planta-
tion owners and returning to them
the land on which 40,000 or so black
families had settled. ‘‘This is a coun-
try for white men, and by God, as
long as I am President, it shall be a
government for white men,’’ Johnson
declared in 1866. The Freedmen’s
Bureau, always meant to be tempo-
rary, was dismantled in 1872. More
than 60,000 black people deposited
more than $1 million into the Freed-
man’s Savings Bank, but its all-white
trustees began issuing speculative
loans to white investors and corpo-
rations, and when it failed in 1874,
many black depositors lost much of
their savings.

‘‘The origins of the racial wealth
gap start with the failure to provide

the formerly enslaved with the land
grants of 40 acres,’’ says William A.
Darity Jr., a professor of public pol-
icy and African-American studies
at Duke University. Any fi nancial
progress that black people made
was regarded as an aff ront to white
supremacy. After a decade of black
gains under Reconstruction, a much
longer period of racial violence
would wipe nearly all of it away.

To assuage Southern white people,
the federal government pulled out
the Union troops who were stationed
in the South to keep order. During
this period of so-called Redemp-
tion, lawmakers throughout the
South enacted Black Codes and Jim
Crow laws that stripped black peo-
ple of many of their freedoms and
property. Other white people, often
aided by law enforcement, waged a
campaign of violence against black
people that would rob them of an
incalculable amount of wealth.

Armed white people stormed
prosperous majority-black Wilming-
ton, N.C., in 1898 to murder dozens
of black people, force 2,000 others
off their property and overthrow the
city government. In the Red Summer
of 1919, at least 240 black people
were murdered across the country.
And in 1921, in one of the bloodiest
racial attacks in United States histo-
ry, Greenwood, a prosperous black
neighborhood in Tulsa, Okla., was
burned and looted. It is estimated
that as many as 300 black people
were murdered and 10,000 were ren-
dered homeless. Thirty-fi ve square
blocks were destroyed. No one was
ever convicted in any of these acts of
racist violence.

‘‘You have limited opportunity
to accumulate wealth, and then you
have a process where that wealth is
destroyed or taken away,’’ Darity says.
‘‘And all of that is prior to the eff ects
of restrictive covenants — redlining,
the discriminatory application of the
G.I. Bill and other federal programs.’’

The post-Reconstruction plun-
dering of black wealth was not just
a product of spontaneous violence,
but etched in law and public policy.
Through the fi rst half of the 20th cen-
tury, the federal government actively
excluded black people from govern-
ment wealth-building programs. In
the 1930s, President Franklin Roose-
velt’s New Deal helped build a solid

middle class through sweeping
social programs, including Social
Security and the minimum wage. But
a majority of black people at the time
were agricultural laborers or domes-
tic workers, occupations that were
ineligible for these benefi ts . The
establishment of the Home Owners
Loan Corporation in 1933 helped
save the collapsing housing market,
but it largely excluded black neigh-
borhoods from government-insured
loans. Those neighborhoods were
deemed ‘‘hazardous’’ and colored
in with red on maps, a practice that
came to be known as ‘‘redlining.’’

The G.I. Bill is often hailed as one
of Roosevelt’s most enduring lega-
cies. It helped usher millions of work-
ing-class veterans through college
and into new homes and the middle
class. But it discriminatorily benefi t-
ed white people. While the bill didn’t
explicitly exclude black veterans, the
way it was administered often did.
The bill gave veterans access to mort-
gages with no down payments, but
the Veterans Administration adopted
the same racially restrictive policies
as the Federal Housing Administra-
tion, which guaranteed bank loans
only to developers who wouldn’t sell
to black people. ‘‘The major way in
which people have an opportunity to
accumulate wealth is contingent on
the wealth positions of their parents
and their grandparents,’’ Darity says.
‘‘To the extent that blacks have the
capacity to accumulate wealth, we
have not had the ability to transfer
the same kinds of resources across
generations.’’

Seventy years later, the eff ects of
Bolling’s murder are still felt by his
children and their children. ‘‘There
was no inheritance, nothing for
my father to pass down, because it
was all taken away,’’ says Josephine
Bolling McCall, the only one of
Bolling’s children to get a college
degree. Of the seven siblings, those
with more education fared best;
the men struggled most, primarily
working as low-paid laborers. Of
Elmore and Bertha Mae’s 25 grand-
children, only six graduated from
college; of those, two are McCall’s
children. The rest are unemployed
or underemployed . They have never
known anything like the prosperity
of their grandparents.�

Photograph by Zora J Murff

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T he 1619 Project

84

⬤ July 17, 1984: The Rev. Jesse Jackson gives a hist
in San Francisco, where he describes the need for
minister who was the most prominent black cand
lose the Democratic nomination to Walter Mond

By Lynn Nottage

Sept. 16, 1979: During the 1970s, hip-
hop evolves as an art form in the South
Bronx. Often performed at street parties,
the phenomenon goes mainstream with
Sugarhill Gang’s ‘Rapper’s Delight.’

Was it the loud distorted bass of a speaker rattling my windowpanes,
beckoning me from my bedroom to a late-afternoon party in the school-
yard at P.S. 38? Or maybe it was the exuberance of teenagers streaming
down my block toward what promised to be the end-of-the-summer jam.

Following the laughter, I found myself at one of those pop-up parties
where everything felt improvised. The turntable was powered by jumper
cables winding from the lamppost to the sound system, and the sparkling
concrete was an unlikely dance fl oor. The schoolyard was so packed with
hot, sweaty black and brown bodies that I had to scale the chain-link fence
just to get a glimpse of the D.J. spinning the vinyl and the silky-smooth
M.C. straining to punch his voice above a crowd hungry for his home-
spun rhymes. Everybody was dancing with a furious urgency, driven on
by the spontaneous bursts of inspiration that tumbled from the M.C.’s lyri-
cal tongue. Plucking records from a stack of milk crates, the D.J. worked
overtime to keep his twin turntables pumping a continuous groove, decon-
structing and repurposing the disco beats to meet our youthful energy.
Scratching and mixing, his hands created syncopated rhythms that hit our
ears like musical bombs.

Said
Hey! Ho!
Hey! Ho!
The M.C. led us through a call-and-response like a master conductor.

His words, a provocation to be loud and unapologetically ourselves. How
could we know that the braggadocio of this young black M.C. was the
beginning of a revolution?

Rumors were fl ying that the Crazy Homicides, a Puerto Rican street
gang, were going to battle the Tomahawks. The danger added an edge of
excitement, but the music brokered the peace — no one dared interrupt the
reverie. Hard rocks, B-boys and B-girls in coordinated outfi ts wore the names
of their crews proudly splashed across their T-shirts, the lettering rendered
in thick graffi ti markers or colorful iron-on decals. Jockeying for space, they
formed spontaneous dance circles to show off their intricate moves. Popping
and rocking, their bodies contorted in impossible and beautiful shapes that
at once paid tribute to their African ancestors and the rebellious desire to be
seen and heard in a city that had overlooked the majesty of their presence.

Then a dancer lost in the moment bumped the D.J.’s folding table,
sending the needle screeching across the vinyl. An argument ensued —
tempers that had been simmering throughout the evening threatened to
bubble over. But the D.J. didn’t lose a beat, off ering a funky fresh musical
salve to ease the tension.

Rock it out, y’all
Don’t stop, y’all
Said hip hop
Dance ’til ya drop, y’all
Just as the M.C. resurrected the party, the power to the street lamp was

shut off , and darkness brought a close to the festivities. Someone used
a wrench to turn on the fi re hydrant, and we all ran through the water
to cool down our overheated bodies — the ritual cleansing marking an
offi cial ending to the party, but not the movement.

My older sister, Rae, makes me write 500 words every night before I
go to bed. Tonight, I want to write fi ve million because of this speech by
Jesse Jackson, a black man with big, beautiful eyeballs.

While we were working on the Barnett house tonight, Rae kept saying
that Jesse’s speech was going to do for us what Ronald Reagan’s speech did
for white folks at the Neshoba County Fair four years ago. Ronald Reagan
came to the fair and said some words about ‘‘states’ rights.’’ Those words
made a lot of white folks at the fair happier than Christmas Eve. Those
words made Rae, Mama, Granny and our whole church so scared we had
to leave. When we got in the van, Rae told me that Ronald Reagan came to
Mississippi to off er white folks an all-you-can-eat buff et of black suff ering.

I asked Rae if white folks left full. She sucked her teeth.
Dafi nas, who worked on the house with us this summer, stayed to watch

the speech, too. He’s from Oaxaca, Mexico, and his grandmother was just
stolen by police and sent back to Oaxaca. I don’t know if Rae and Dafi nas
go together, but they look at each other’s hands like they do.

All of us watched Jesse Jackson say the names of people I never heard of at
school. He talked about Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner. He talked about
Fannie Lou Hamer, Martin King and Rabbi Abraham Heschel. He talked
about Hispanic-Americans, Arab-Americans, African-Americans. He talked
about lesbian and gay Americans having something called equal protection
under the law. He talked about powerful coalitions made of rainbows.

Photo illustration by Jon Key

August 18, 2019

85

By Clint Smith

A helicopter hovers overhead like a black cloud of smoke,
its blades dismembering the pewter sky. Men in uniform
stand outside with guns nested under their arms & the hot,

wet air of August licking their weary faces. Two women
push a homemade raft through warm, brown water that rises
up & hugs their chests. There is an old man inside the raft

who was once a stranger to them, when such a word meant
something other than please help me. Inside, children are running
across the emerald turf jumping through rings of light that

spill from the sky onto the field. Their small bodies sprinting
between the archipelago of sprawled cots. There is a mother
who sits high in the seats of the stadium rocking her baby

back & forth, her voice cocooning the child in a shell of song.
Before desperation descended under the rounded roof, before
the stench swept across the air like a heavy fog, before the

lights went out & the buses arrived, before the cameras came
inside & showed the failure of an indifferent nation, there were
families inside though there were some who failed to call them

families. There were children inside though there were some who
gave them a more callous name. There were people inside though
there were some who only saw a parade of disembodied shadows.

⬤ August 2005: After Hurricane Katrina,
30,000 evacuees, most of them black,
take refuge in the Louisiana Superdome.
The chaotic, desperate scene that
unfolded there would become a symbol
of the city’s rampant racial inequality.

historic speech at the Moscone Center
fo r a ‘rainbow coalition.’ Jackson, a Baptist
ndidate for president at the time, would
n dale.

When we walked out of the Barnett house, a house we were building,
in a white neighborhood where none of us would ever be allowed to live,
I watched Dafi nas and Rae hug for eight seconds.

On the way home, I asked Rae why she seemed so sad. ‘‘Rainbows,
they’re pretty, but they ain’t real,’’ she said. ‘‘Only thing real down here
is suff ering. And work. And love.’’

I told Rae that I liked her more than apple Now and Laters. But if
believing in rainbows makes us love better, then rainbows can be just as
real as work. And love. And if we really believed, we might be able to bring
Dafi nas’s granny back. And one day, instead of building houses for white
folks, in neighborhoods we could never even visit if we weren’t working
there, we could maybe build beautiful houses with gardens where all our
grannies could sit on porches, and safely tell lies that sound true.

‘‘I never seen a black-and-brown rainbow,’’ Rae said, ‘‘but I’ll always
believe in us.’’

‘‘I’ll be sad when you go to college,’’ I told her. ‘‘But mostly, I’ll be fi ne,
because I can’t stop believing that rainbows are real. And the land and
the black and brown folks under those rainbows, we will one day be free.’’

y Kiese Laymon

T he 1619 Project

heir ancestors
were enslaved by law.

oday, they are
graduates of the
nation’s pre-eminent
historically black
law school.

Photographs by Djeneba Aduayom

Introduction by Nikole Hannah-Jones
Captions by Wadzanai Mhute

87

August 18, 2019

T he 1619 ProjectT he 1619 Project

88

In the history of the United States,
black Americans were the only
group for whom it was ever illegal to
learn to read or write. And so when
emancipation fi nally came, schools
and colleges were some of the fi rst
institutions that the freed people
clamored to build. Black Americans
believed that education meant liber-
ation, and just eight months after the
Civil War, the fi rst historically black
college opened in the South.

Howard University is among the
most venerable of these institu-
tions. Chartered in Washington in
1867, the school has educated some
of the nation’s most notable black
Americans, including Toni Morri-
son, Andrew Young, Zora Neale Hur-
ston and Paul Laurence Dunbar. But
where Howard has had perhaps the
most indelible impact on black lives
— and on the country — has been
its law school. Leading up to the
civil rights movement, Howard was
virtually the only law school in the
South that served black students. It
became an incubator for those who
would use the law to challenge racial
apartheid in the North and the South
and help make the country more fair
and democratic. Many of the archi-
tects of campaigns for black equality
either taught at or graduated from
Howard, including Mary Ann Shadd
Cary and Thurgood Marshall.

The school continues that legacy
today, producing more black lawyers
than perhaps any other institution.
In May, it graduated its 148th class,
and the four newly minted lawyers
featured here were among the grad-
uates. All of them descended from
people enslaved in this country. We
asked Kenyatta D. Berry, a genealo-
gist who specializes in tracing black
Americans’ roots back to slavery, to
research their families and tell each
of them, and us, something about
one of those enslaved ancestors.

What Berry could and could not
fi nd reveals its own story about the
occluded heritage of black Ameri-
cans. Because enslaved people were
treated as chattel, they are rarely
found in government birth and death
records but instead must be traced
through the property ledgers of
the people who owned them. Berry
often has to work backward through
documents, locating ancestors in
the 1870 census, when they were

Septembra LeSane, 29
(Above, with her grandmother Leola,
left, and her mother, Debra, middle)

Hometown: Pompano Beach, Fla.
Post-law-school plans: To start
a practice focusing on environmental
civil rights and entertainment law.

Septembra LeSane’s maternal
great-great-grandmother Georgia
Wilcox was born after the Civil War,
in 1885, to Sandy Wilcox, who was
born into slavery around 1854, in
Wilcox County, Ga. (Sandy married
Artimisha Roundtree in 1873,
but Roundtree is not listed in any
available documents as Georgia’s

Elijah Porter, 26
(Previous page, with his father, Elijah)

Hometown: Atlanta
Post-law-school plans: He has
been hired as a corporate
associate at a law firm in Mountain
View, Calif., where he aims to be-
come a partner in five years.

counted as people for the fi rst time,
or through the records of the Freed-
men’s Bureau. Because 95 percent
of enslaved people were illiterate at
the end of the Civil War, the chances
of fi nding old letters — or diaries or
family trees stuff ed in Bibles — are
exceedingly low. And so for these
graduates, like many black Amer-
icans, the holes in their family his-
tories can outnumber the answers.

Still, more than any written
record, today’s nearly 44 million
black Americans are themselves the
testimony of the resiliency of those
who were enslaved, of their deter-
mination to fi ght and survive so that
future generations would have the
opportunities that they never would.
The story of black America is one of
tragedy and triumph. These grad-
uates represent nothing less than
their ancestors’ wildest dreams.

Elijah Porter’s ancestor Moses
Turner was born in April 1839 in
Georgia. At the time of the 1870
census, he and his wife, Sarah, had
five children between 6 months
and 9 years. The family lived on
265 acres valued at $750 ($14,665
in today’s dollars). Turner was an
employer, and the farm produced
cotton, sweet potatoes,
molasses, butter and Indian corn.

By 1910 the Turners had no
mortgage and were living with three
daughters who worked as
laborers on their farm. Turner
died in 1917 and did not leave
a will; his wife was the
administrator of his estate.

‘‘The way the story is always told
is that we were slaves, we got free
and now here we are and we didn’t
make any positive contributions
to America,’’ Porter said. ‘‘So when
I am reading about Moses Turner,
not only is he a landowner but
he is contributing to the American
economy, he knows agriculture, he
is married and has children. I was
really in shock because I always
wanted to know my history.’’ Porter
also found some irony in the story
of Turner’s death. ‘‘The interesting
thing was he died without a will,’’
he said. ‘‘The story of me becoming
an attorney was already written
before I knew about it.’’

August 18, 2019

89

mother.) Georgia’s paternal
grandfather, Silas Wilcox, was
born enslaved in 1822 in Georgia.
In 1867 Wilcox took an oath of
allegiance to the United States in
order to register to vote in Pulaski
County, Ga. According to the 1880
Agricultural Census Schedule, Silas
was a sharecropper.

‘‘It gave me chills,’’ LeSane
said. ‘‘Chills to know that slavery
was not that long ago, to feel
the connection. My grandmother
knew her grandmother, and
her grandmother was the daughter
of slaves.’’

LeSane is one of seven children.
She said her family used to return to

Georgia for vacations when she was
younger and they walked through
cotton fields. She remembers the
vastness of the land and thinking
of her ancestors working in the hot
sun on the same land. Learning
more about Georgia Wilcox and her
other ancestors, she said, ‘‘brought
those images back to me. It showed

me what they endured; they never
wavered, they endured, so we
wouldn’t experience any of that. As
a sixth-generation descendant
of slavery, I am essentially a part
of the first generation of
descendants to carry the torch
that was lit by my ancestors into
true freedom.’’

August 18, 2019

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Ky’Eisha Penn, 28
(With her mother, Teresa, right)

Hometown: Miami and
Augusta, Ga.
Post-law-school plans: To be a
civil rights lawyer; she begins
a fellowship at the A.C.L.U. in
New Jersey in September.

Ky’Eisha Penn’s ancestors on her
mother’s side include Phillip
Officer, who was born into slavery
on Oct. 18, 1837, in Tennessee.
His unusual surname apparently
connects him to a nearby
landowner: The 1850 U.S. Census
Agricultural Schedule indicates
that James C. Officer had 19
slaves, one of them a boy whose
age matched Phillip’s.

By the time of the 1870 census,
Phillip Officer was working
as a farm laborer, probably a
sharecropper, which would explain
why census records indicate
he was living in the household of
a woman named Sarah Turney.
Within a decade, Officer was
married to a woman named
Emeline (her maiden name and
origins are unknown) with two
sons and had become a landowner
himself. According to the 1880
Agricultural Schedule, he owned
66 acres, and his farm was worth
$400 ($10,045 in today’s dollars);
his livestock and machinery were
valued at $200 ($5,022). By 1900,
Officer owned his farm outright.

‘‘My mom and I were dissecting
this history, and we were wowed
by it,’’ Penn said. ‘‘He was a slave,
but when he died he owned land.’’
Her ancestor’s story resonated
with her, she said, as a person who
was raised by a single mother with
limited resources and who has just
graduated with a dual degree in
law from Howard and a master’s
in African-American history from
Florida A.& M. ‘‘I wanted to be
challenged by the history, molded
by the history and then become
a part of it,’’ she said. ‘‘I wanted so
much more for my life and for my
children in the future, to work hard
and set a legacy. My ancestors
were doing that, they were not
born in the right circumstances but
made something by the time
they died.’’

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Yasiman Montgomery, 24
(Between her father, Alfred, and
her mother, Cecily)

Hometown: Washington, D.C.
Post-law-school plans: She will
work as a litigator in New York,
after which she intends to return
to Washington to work
in the federal government.

Charles McDuffie Wilder, Yasiman
Montgomery’s ancestor on her
father’s side, was born around
1835 in Sumter, S.C., and is absent
from public records for the first
several decades of his life.

By 1866, Wilder was a member
of the South Carolina General
Assembly, where he represented
Richland County throughout
Reconstruction. He was also
appointed a deputy marshal — the
U.S. marshal for South Carolina,
J.P.M. Epping, said he ‘‘could not
find a white man who could take
the oath who had honesty and
capacity enough for the position.’’

In 1869, Wilder was named
postmaster for Columbia, S.C.,
a presidential appointment that
required confirmation by the
State Senate, becoming the first
known freedman to receive
such an appointment. Coverage
in The Columbia Daily Phoenix
included this paragraph: ‘‘Charles
M. Wilder, the newly appointed
postmaster at Columbia, is
an intelligent colored man, fully
competent to discharge the
duties of the office to which
he has been appointed, and is
highly esteemed, as a colored
man, by the whole community.
The only objection made against
him by opponents of the present
Federal and State Governments
is, that he is a negro.’’ He held
the job for 16 years, under four
presidents. During this span
Wilder was also a member of the
Columbia City Council and
attended the National Republican
Conventions as a delegate.

Montgomery grew up in
Washington and knew of Wilder,
who, she said, a lot of people
in the area trace their history back
to. ‘‘Reading about it makes
me feel more purposeful,’’ she said,
‘‘because I am attached to that
legacy.’’ She credits her parents,
Alfred and Cecily, for instilling
in her an appreciation for her
heritage. ‘‘They were older and
grew up in segregation,’’ she
said. ‘‘They took me to look at
archives together; they wanted
me to learn my history. I have
a lot of pride in being black
and that’s because I know my
heritage. It’s important to start the
conversation before slavery.
We didn’t just pop up in America,
we were part of a culture.’’

93

A. Up-and-down diversion

____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
64 118 94 79 41 135

B. Built-in low-end digital protection

____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
93 13 155 107 53 35 75

C. BBC soap opera since 1985

____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
5 56 40 80 101 129 147 176 114 163

D. Activity seen on Jupiter’s moon Io

____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
161 69 109 89 131 146 33 15 55

E. Pleasing pop tunes (2 wds.)

____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
175 17 83 137 110 57 43 158

F. Playing card, geometrically

____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
68 130 16 1 49 31 108 86 173

G. Like hypoallergenic products, often

____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
3 151 166 47 87 73 132 26 119

H. Gear of use to clowns and fruit
pickers

____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
96 134 37 171 71 22

I. Home of Elysian Fields, site of the
first organized baseball games (1846)

____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
121 136 34 149 19 74 105

J. Ratchet up, escalate

____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
104 156 120 11 42 140 72 169 58

K. What Boreas personifies (2 wds.)

____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
39 125 18 141 178 154 61 82 112

L. One with a hat in the ring; aspirant

____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
32 98 14 52 168 150 85

M. Northernmost member of the Big 12
Conference (2 wds.)

____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
30 78 97 139 7 153 170 54 122

N. New York’s official gemstone

____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
50 28 102 117 67 12

O. Civilian sector in wartime (2 wds.)

____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
48 124 25 106 159 88 138 62 174

P. News delivery

____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
99 20 4 81 143 36 115 63 162

Q. “Crocodile Dundee” setting

____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
84 9 177 127 65 23 100

R. One backing the British Crown in
the American Revolution

____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
44 90 76 24 126 160 144 8

S. Welcome call for a restive crew
(2 wds.)

____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
77 145 46 113 91 60 167 21

T. Handed over in good faith

____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
6 111 59 95 45 29 165 128 152

U. Update in terms of interior design

____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
51 164 148 70 27 10 116 92 133

V. Subject best avoided (2 wds.)

____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
172 38 66 142 103 123 2 157

Guess the words defined below

and write them over their numbered

dashes. Then transfer each letter to

the correspondingly numbered square

in the pattern. Black squares indicate

word endings. The filled pattern will

contain a quotation reading from left

to right. The first letters of the guessed

words will form an acrostic giving the

author’s name and the title of the work.

ACROSTIC
By Emily Cox & Henry Rathvon

94

1 F 2 V 3 G 4 P 5 C 6 T 7 M 8 R 9 Q 10 U 11 J 12 N 13 B 14 L 15 D 16 F 17 E 18 K 19 I 20 P 21 S 22 H

23 Q 24 R 25 O 26 G 27 U 28 N 29 T 30 M 31 F 32 L 33 D 34 I 35 B 36 P 37 H 38 V 39 K 40 C 41 A 42 J 43 E 44 R 45 T 46 S

47 G 48 O 49 F 50 N 51 U 52 L 53 B 54 M 55 D 56 C 57 E 58 J 59 T 60 S 61 K 62 O 63 P 64 A 65 Q 66 V 67 N

68 F 69 D 70 U 71 H 72 J 73 G 74 I 75 B 76 R 77 S 78 M 79 A 80 C 81 P 82 K 83 E 84 Q 85 L 86 F 87 G 88 O 89 D 90 R

91 S 92 U 93 B 94 A 95 T 96 H 97 M 98 L 99 P 100 Q 101 C 102 N 103 V 104 J 105 I 106 O 107 B 108 F 109 D 110 E 111 T 112 K 113 S

114 C 115 P 116 U 117 N 118 A 119 G 120 J 121 I 122 M 123 V 124 O 125 K 126 R 127 Q 128 T 129 C 130 F 131 D 132 G 133 U 134 H 135 A 136 I

137 E 138 O 139 M 140 J 141 K 142 V 143 P 144 R 145 S 146 D 147 C 148 U 149 I 150 L 151 G 152 T 153 M 154 K 155 B 156 J 157 V 158 E

159 O 160 R 161 D 162 P 163 C 164 U 165 T 166 G 167 S 168 L 169 J 170 M 171 H 172 V 173 F 174 O 175 E 176 C 177 Q 178 K

SPELLING BEE
By Frank Longo

How many common words of 5 or more letters can

you spell using the letters in the hive? Every answer

must use the center letter at least once. Letters may

be reused in a word. At least one word will use all 7

letters. Proper names and hyphenated words are not

allowed. Score 1 point for each answer, and 3 points

for a word that uses all 7 letters.

Rating: 7 = good; 12 = excellent; 17 = genius

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Our list of words, worth 20 points, appears with last week’s answers.

CRAZY EIGHTS
By Patrick Berry

SIXY SUDOKU
By Peter Ritmeester

Insert the digits 1 to 6 just once in each a) row,

b) column, c) bold outlined area and d) white or

gray rectangle.

>

Fill letters in the empty squares in the middle of

each grid to complete four 8-letter words reading across

and four 8-letter words reading down.

A

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#1.

#2.

94

Puzzles

95The New York Times Magazine

Anne C. Bailey (Page 98)
is a professor of history at Binghamton University

and the author of ‘‘The Weeping Time:

Memory and the Largest Slave Auction in

American History.’’

Mehrsa Baradaran (Pages 32, 35, 36)
is a professor at U.C. Irvine School of

Law and author of ‘‘The Color of Money’’ and

‘‘How the Other Half Banks.’’

Reginald Dwayne Betts (Page 43)
is a contributing writer for the magazine whose

essay about the time he served in prison won

a National Magazine Award. He is the author of

a coming collection of poetry, ‘‘Felon.’’

Matthew Desmond (Page 30)
is a professor of sociology at Princeton University

and a contributing writer for the magazine.

He last wrote a feature about the benefits of a

living wage.

Rita Dove (Page 78)
is a professor of English at the University of

Virginia, a former United States poet laureate

and the magazine’s former poetry editor.

She is a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.

Camille T. Dungy (Page 78)
is the author of four books of poetry, including

‘‘Trophic Cascade,’’ and the memoir-in-essays

‘‘Guidebook to Relative Strangers.’’ Dungy is

currently a professor at Colorado State University

and a 2019 Guggenheim fellow.

Eve L. Ewing (Page 42)
is the author of ‘‘1919,’’ the ‘‘Ironheart’’ series,

‘‘Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and

School Closings on Chicago’s South Side’’ and

‘‘Electric Arches.’’ She is from Chicago.

Yaa Gyasi (Page 68)
was born in Ghana, raised in Huntsville, Ala.,

and lives in Brooklyn. Her first novel,

‘‘Homegoing,’’ won the PEN/Hemingway Award

and the National Book Critics Circle’s John

Leonard Prize.

Lyle Ashton Harris (Page 30)
is an artist who works in photography, collage

and performance. He currently has works in two

group exhibitions at the Guggenheim in New York.

Barry Jenkins (Page 46)
was born and raised in Miami. He is a director

and writer known for his adaptation of James

Baldwin’s ‘‘If Beale Street Could Talk’’ and

‘‘Moonlight,’’ which won the Academy Award

for Best Picture.

Yusef Komunyakaa (Page 29)
is a poet whose books include ‘‘The Emperor of

Water Clocks’’ and ‘‘Neon Vernacular,’’ for which

he received the Pulitzer Prize. He teaches at N.Y.U.

Kiese Laymon (Page 84)
is a professor of English at the University of

Mississippi and the author of ‘‘Long Division,’’

‘‘How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in

America’’ and ‘‘Heavy: An American Memoir.’’

Wadzanai Mhute (Page 86)
is a New York Times community moderator

and writer. She holds a master’s degree

from Columbia University’s Graduate School

of Journalism.

Tiya Miles (Pages 22, 40, 76)
is a professor in the history department at

Harvard and the author, most recently, of

‘‘The Dawn of Detroit: A Chronicle of Slavery

and Freedom in the City of the Straits.’’

ZZ Packer (Page 59)
is the author of a story collection, ‘‘Drinking

Coffee Elsewhere.’’ She was a 2005 Guggenheim

fellow and a 2018-19 Hutchins fellow at Harvard.

Darryl Pinckney (Page 59)
is the author of two novels, ‘‘High Cotton’’

and ‘‘Black Deutschland.’’

Clint Smith (Pages 28, 85)
is a doctoral candidate at Harvard University

and the author of the poetry collection ‘‘Counting

Descent,’’ as well as a coming nonfiction book,

‘‘How the Word Is Passed.’’

Jesmyn Ward (Page 47)
is the author of ‘‘Sing, Unburied, Sing,’’ which

won a National Book Award. She was a 2017

MacArthur fellow.

Jacqueline Woodson (Page 69)
is the author of the National Book Award winner

‘‘Brown Girl Dreaming.’’ She serves as the Library

of Congress’s national ambassador for young

people’s literature. Her novel ‘‘Red at the Bone’’

will be published in September.

Contributors

(Continued from Page 11)

Editor in Chief J A K E S I LV E R S T E I N
Deputy Editors J E S S I C A LU S T I G ,
B I L L WA S I K
Managing Editor E R I K A S O M M E R
Design Director G A I L B I C H L E R
Director of Photography K AT H Y RYA N
Art Director M AT T W I L L E Y
Features Editor I L E N A S I LV E R M A N
Politics Editor C H A R L E S H O M A N S
Culture Editor SA S H A W E I S S
Digital Director B L A K E W I L S O N
Story Editors N I T S U H A B E B E ,
M I C H A E L B E N O I S T,
S H E I L A G L A S E R ,
C L A I R E G U T I E R R E Z ,
J A Z M I N E H U G H E S ,
LU K E M I TC H E L L ,
D E A N R O B I N S O N ,
W I L LY S TA L E Y
At War Editor L AU R E N K AT Z E N B E R G
Assistant Managing Editor J E A N N I E C H O I
Associate Editors I VA D I X I T,
K Y L E L I G M A N
Poetry Editor N AO M I S H I H A B N Y E
Staff Writers SA M A N D E R S O N ,
E M I LY BA Z E LO N ,
R O N E N B E R G M A N ,
TA F F Y B R O D E S S E R – A K N E R ,
C . J . C H I V E R S ,
PA M E L A CO L LO F F,
N I C H O L A S CO N F E S S O R E ,
S U SA N D O M I N U S ,
M AU R E E N D OW D,
N I KO L E H A N N A H – J O N E S ,
J E N E E N I N T E R L A N D I ,
M A R K L E I B OV I C H ,
J O N AT H A N M A H L E R ,
DAV I D M A R C H E S E ,
W E S L E Y M O R R I S ,
J E N N A WO RT H A M
At War Reporter J O H N I S M AY
New York Times Fellow J A K E N E V I N S
Digital Art Director K AT E L A R U E
Deputy Art Director B E N G R A N D G E N E T T
Designers C L AU D I A R U B Í N ,
R AC H E L W I L L E Y
Deputy Director of Photography J E S S I C A D I M S O N
Senior Photo Editors S TAC E Y BA K E R ,
A M Y K E L L N E R
Photo Assistant P I A P E T E R S O N
Copy Chief R O B H O E R B U R G E R
Copy Editors H A RV E Y D I C KS O N ,
DA N I E L F R O M S O N ,
M A R G A R E T P R E B U L A ,
A N D R E W W I L L E T T
Head of Research N A N D I R O D R I G O
Research Editors A L E X C A R P,
C Y N T H I A COT T S ,
J A M I E F I S H E R ,
LU F O N G ,
T I M H O D L E R ,
R O B E RT L I G U O R I ,
L I A M I L L E R ,
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M A R K VA N D E WA L L E ,
B I L L VO U RVO U L I A S
Production Chief A N I C K P L E V E N
Production Editors PAT T Y R U S H ,
H I L A RY S H A N A H A N
Editorial Administrator L I Z G E R E C I TA N O B R I N N
Editorial Assistant A S T H A R A J VA N S H I

N Y T M AG L A B S

Editorial Director C A I T L I N R O P E R
Art Director D E B B I S H O P
Senior Editor A DA M S T E R N B E R G H
NYT for Kids Editor A M B E R W I L L I A M S
Associate Editor LOV I A GYA R K Y E
Designer N A J E E BA H A L – G H A D BA N
Project Manager L AU R E N M CC A RT H Y

Managing Director, The New York Times Magazine and Vice President, Media: MAGGIE KISELICK Vice Presidents, Media: ELIZABETH WEBBE LUNNY and LAURA SONNENFELD Executive Directors:
JULIAN AHYE (Advocacy, Health Care, Media and Travel) ⬤ MICHAEL GILBRIDE (Fashion, Luxury and Beauty) ⬤ GUY GRIGGS (Auto, Tech and Finance) ⬤ ADAM HARGIS (Home, CPG, Spirits and Real
Estate) ⬤ SHARI KAPLAN (Live Entertainment and N.Y. Studios) ⬤ NANCY KARPF (Fine Arts, Books and Education) ⬤ BRENDAN WALSH (Story X Partnerships) National Sales Office Executive Directors:
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Partnerships: ANDY WRIGHT Global Head of Advertising and Marketing Solutions: SEBASTIAN TOMICH

Puzzles Edited by Will Shortz

REVOLUTIONARY

96

ACROSS

1 Passes along, as a present

8 What 13-Down means in
poker

14 Book in a mosque

19 Antarctic mass

21 Major British tabloid

22 Yogurt-container words

23 Celebratory Native
American feast

24 Drives around awhile … as
suggested by this puzzle’s
visual elements?

26 If’s counterpart, in
programming

27 “S.N.L.” alum Cheri

29 Military-alert system

30 Sow’s home

31 Small criticism

32 Baa-dly needing a haircut?

34 “Today” co-host Hoda

36 Challenges for infi elders

38 “De-e-e-eluxe!”

41 Cherry brandy

45 Certain rideshares

47 Deposit box?

48 Morning hour

51 Many a Stan Lee fi lm role

52 Capital NE of Casablanca

53 Idris of “The Dark Tower”

55 Ones or tens place

56 0 0 0
57 Wafer brand

58 Hockey-shot sound

59 Shots in the dark

61 Beginning of the Joint
Army/Navy Phonetic
Alphabet

62 Camera type, for short

63 Very funny person

65 Extremely cold

67 River through Pakistan

69 Sea creatures that may
employ camoufl age when
hunting

71 Blood-type system

72 Ones generating buzz in
the music world?

74 Play at full volume

75 Super ____ (game series)

77 Help with a job

78 Wrath

81 Eco-friendly car
introduced in 2011

82 Something the nose knows

84 ____ Pictures

86 First name on the Supreme
Court

88 Quits a program

90 Dennis the Menace, e.g.

91 Burnt barbecue bits

92 Shooting stars, some think

93 Kind of salami

94 Pool components

96 Type units

97 Like going all in, maybe

98 Diamond pattern

100 Slowly, musically

102 Some are liberal

103 Meyers of late-night

105 Producer of brown eggs

107 Black ____

110 Arborist’s tool

113 Laid, as a claim

117 “Spider-Man” director

118 Hit hard

119 1965 No. 1 Byrds hit … as
suggested by this puzzle’s
visual elements?

122 Australia’s smallest state

124 Upstate New York city

125 Topic of Article I, Section
3 of the Constitution

126 Up-and-coming

127 Wrinkle treatment

128 Shaman, for one

129 Newspaper sections that
often fall out

DOWN

1 Age

2 Romaine concern

3 Kicks things off

4 Land in the water

5 Mortgage org.

6 Mountains just south of
Yellowstone

7 The Quakers and others

8 Celebrity socialite

9 Comedian Margaret

10 Mind

11 “____ quam videri,” state
motto of North Carolina

12 Strike on the head

13 See 8-Across

14 Home of the Marine Corps
University

15 ____ Constitution

16 Individual curls, say

17 Slightly

18 It contains M.S.G.: Abbr.

20 1973 play featuring a sign
with a burned-out “E”

25 Part of a king’s guard

28 It charges to do some
cleaning

32 Arrogant newcomers

33 Rebellion leader Turner

35 Swagger

37 Freud’s fi rst stage

39 Plays hard after working
hard

40 Baker with the 1986 hit
“Sweet Love”

42 Baker or dry cleaner,
maybe

43 They multiply by dividing

44 Garden item that sounds
like the plural of another
garden item

45 Dispensers at banquets

46 Help (out)

47 Author of “The Lion, the
Bear and the Fox”

49 Full of empty talk

50 Royals’ org.

54 Teleported, in the Harry
Potter books

60 Drop-down menu in
online shopping

64 I as in Icarus

66 Something you might take
a bow for in the theater?

68 Unapologetic

70 Squeaky mice, e.g.

73 Chasm

74 Jabber?

76 Whirlpool subsidiary since
2006

79 Place to lace up

80 “It’s a snap!”

81 Summer Triangle star

83 The Notorious ____

85 Six Nations tribe

87 Leave off , as the last word
of a

89 Line just above a total, say

95 Squid’s ink holder

99 Latin rebuke

101 Accumulate

102 Up

104 Like a zero-star review

106 Savory taste

108 Coat that’s hard to take off

109 Sports page fodder

110 Paycheck go-with

111 A plane might be fl own on
it

112 Judicial order

114 Pad site

115 ____ Rosso (Sicilian wine)

116 Kind of citizenship

118 Kind of tea

120 Cpl. or sgt.

121 Fwy., e.g.

123 Virginia Woolf’s “____
Dalloway”

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

19 20 21 22

23 24 25

26 27 28 29 30

31 32 33 34 35

36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44

45 46 47 48 49 50 51

52 53 54 55 56

57 58 59 60 61

62 63 64 65 66 67 68

69 70 71 72 73

74 75 76 77 78 79 80

81 82 83 84 85 86 87

88 89 90 91 92

93 94 95 96 97

98 99 100 101 102

103 104 105 106 107 108 109

110 111 112 113 114 115 116 117 118

119 120 121 122 123

124 125 126

127 128 129

By David Steinberg

8
/

18
/

19

David Steinberg sold his first crossword to The Times in

2011, when he was 14 and just finishing the eighth grade. A

prolific contributor since then, he has had 94 crosswords in

the paper altogether. A 2019 graduate of Stanford University,

studying psychology and computer science, David recently

moved to Kansas City, Mo., to edit crosswords for Andrews

McMeel Universal syndicate. — W.S.

Puzzles Online Today’s puzzle and more than 9,000 past puzzles:

nytimes.com/crosswords ($39.95 a year). For the daily puzzle

commentary: nytimes.com/wordplay.

SPELLING BEE

Principal (3 points). Also: Alpaca, appall, canal, carnal,

carpal, cilia, clinic, clinical, clinician, cranial, lanai, lilac,

papal, pillar, plain, racial, railcar. If you found other

legitimate dictionary words in the beehive, feel free to

include them in your score.

KENKEN

SIXY SUDOKULOSS LEADERS

1. Mongoose (AMONG

+ LOOSE) 2. Boutique

(ABOUT + PIQUE)

3. Inedible (FINED +

BIBLE) 4. Orphanage

(MORPH + MANAGE)

5. Tom Sawyer (ATOMS

+ LAWYER) 6. Equestrian

(REQUEST + BRIAN)

7. Weatherman (SWEAT +

SHERMAN) 8. Avalanches

(NAVAL + RANCHES)

9. Paint roller (SPAIN +

STROLLER)

10. Exasperation

(TEXAS + OPERATION)

TRIGRAM TWO-STEP

Group A: 1. PLA 2. CRE 3. CON 4. CAR 5. APP

6. ENT 7. DES 8. PIL 9. MAS 10. RUM 11. SIL 12. SUP

13. RES 14. DAM 15. TAR

Group B: 1. STO 2. TOR 3. SEE 4. BAL 5. CHE

6. MAR 7. COR 8. MAN 9. CHA 10. ENC 11. BUR 12. POR

13. SHO 14. ANT 15. PAR

Combined: 1. Pistol 2. Proust 3. Macron 4. Lambda

5. Sappho 6. Brunet 7. Padres 8. “Carmen” 9. Sesame

10. Cancer 11. Chisel 12. Poplar 13. Arches 14. Truman

15. Carrot

Answers to puzzles of 8.11.19

Answers to puzzle on Page 94

Fill the grid with digits so as not to repeat a digit in any row or column, and so that the digits within each heavily outlined

box will produce the target number shown, by using addition, subtraction, multiplication or division, as indicated in the box.

A 5×5 grid will use the digits 1–5. A 7×7 grid will use 1–7.

KENKEN

KenKen® is a registered trademark of Nextoy, LLC. © 2019 www.KENKEN.com. All rights reserved.

P O S T C H A R S T S A A K A

E U L E R T A I W A N H I L A R Y S K

S C E N E O R G A N A A M E S I O W A

T H E P L O T T H I C K E N S E A T A T

P I A N O T H E Y S A L O N

O P E N T O S P E D E S S O

F A R S I V E R D I S C O F F B I O

T A C N E A L E P O P U L A R K I D S

E V A N G E L I Z E R O B S I E G E L

N O R A L E G M A O T A I A N D S O

P S S T G E R M S P O R N

V E S P A S H O R T E O H M E T D S

E X C I T E E L I O F F O N A L A R K

S P R E A D E A G L E R U N I T K O I

T O Y N E W T O S P O S E E M E N D

N E S T C A G E D A I S E S

P L E B S H E A L S A L S A

P R O B E H E A D L E S S C H I C K E N

C O C O A M I X G A T E A U V A N D Y

S W A N D I V E A T T E N D E L E N A

S L Y R E C R E E D S L E A D

BIRD PLAY

T he 1619 Project

98

Shadow of the Past

This spot is the site of the largest auc-
tion of enslaved people in American
history — an 1859 event the enslaved
called the Weeping Time, in which
436 people were brought to the
hammer to pay off the bad invest-
ments and gambling debts of Pierce
M. Butler, the absentee owner of the
Butler Island plantation. The auction
was held at a playground of the local
elite: the Ten Broeck Race Course,
then on the outskirts of Savannah,
Ga. It netted Butler the phenomenal
sum of $303,850.

A photograph cannot show you
enslaved families herded into
sheds that normally held horses.
It cannot show you a man named
Jeffrey, recorded in one contem-
porary writer’s account begging
in vain for his purchaser to also
buy his love, Dorcas, Chattel No.
278: ‘‘Please buy Dorcas, Mas’r.
We’re be good sarvants to you
long as we live. We’re be married
right soon, young Mas’r, and de
chillun will be healthy and strong,
Mas’r, and dey’ll be good sarvants

too.’’ A photo can’t capture the
contribution those 436 people
made to the economy of their
country, or the gifts and talents
they lent it. (As part of the Gullah
Geechee community, they were
among those who gave the world
a song of peace, ‘‘Kumbaya.’’)
What you do see are two tracks,
intersecting but going in differ-
ent directions, toward different
outcomes — a fitting metaphor,
perhaps, for black and white life
in America.

In 2008, the Georgia Historical
Society and the City of Savannah
erected a commemorative marker
near this land, but no marker can cap-
ture the scars carried by those sep-
arated on the auction block. Today
the site is home to a large regional
plywood and lumber distributor. It
also contains the Otis J. Brock III
Elementary School, whose students
are almost all black. This March, the
school was the site of a moving com-
memoration of the 160th anniversary
of the Weeping Time. Anne C. Bailey

Photograph by Dannielle Bowman

Teachers: Looking for ways to use this issue

in your classroom? You can fi nd curriculums, guides

and activities for students developed by

the Pulitzer Center at pulitzercenter.org/1619.

And it’s all free!

Resources include a lesson plan that

introduces the issue, summaries of the articles,

an index of historical terms used,

suggested activities that engage students

creatively and intellectually and

opportunities to connect with New York Times

journalists featured in this issue.

This curriculum supports students and

teachers in using The 1619 Project to

challenge historical narratives, redefi ne national

memory and build a better world.

T he 1619 Project
In Schools

“Let us use history to
inspire us to push a
country forward, to
help us believe that

all things are possible
and to demand a

country lives up to
its stated ideals.Ó

Lonnie G. Bunch III

14th Secretary of the Smithsonian

www.si.edu

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