• Television

“The 1619 Project” – First Enslaved Africans Arrive in North America

The new Hulu miniseries The 1619 Project starts with a simple statement: “In August 1619, a ship arrived on these shores in Virginia carrying the very first enslaved Africans to be brought to the British colonies of North America.” Through many different perspectives and narratives, the series expounds on how nothing in American history was the same after this point and, more specifically, on how American history has been shaped by the ripple effects of that voyage.


“The 1619 Project” was first published as a longform collection in the August 2019 edition of The New York Times magazine.  Investigative journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones wrote the leading essay in the collection. That work has since been translated into a book, a children’s book, a podcast, and has now been adapted into this six-part docuseries with focused episodes on “Democracy,” “Race,” “Music,” “Capitalism,” “Fear,” and “Justice.” In addition to having won a Pulitzer Prize for her work, Hannah-Jones is a MacArthur Fellow and the inaugural Knight Chair in Race and Journalism at the Howard University School of Communications, among many other honors.

Hannah-Jones’s work as an educator is evident in the series, as is her mission to make sure that the totality of American history is told. From the origins of policing to disco music, The 1619 Project shows how Black American footprints can be seen in almost every facet of American life. While many may only associate Black history with enslavement and curated quotes from the Civil Rights Movement, few who haven’t taken Black History coursework (which is currently under attack in states like Florida) would know that enslaved people were central to the Revolutionary as well as to the Civil War, or that Birthright Citizenship, a cornerstone of American Democracy, was a direct result of emancipation.

There’s also a personal element to each episode, as the series follows Hannah-Jones’s journey to understanding her place as a Black American (she is mixed-race, a term she also explores in the series), and how she’s had to explain things such a skin color and racial hierarchy to her daughter.

In a recent CBS Mornings interview, Hannah-Jones explained: “Our children are going into a world that is already sending them messages about race, and so we think we might be protecting them by not teaching them this history, but actually we are not, because they are getting those messages and then have no explanation for why the world looks like it looks.”

The 1619 Project is executive produced by Oprah Winfrey, whose work has often been in service to Black American history and the Black Americans who have fought for a better future.

“I visit the names and speak the names out loud and look at that moment where shoes and cattle and wagons were costing more than human beings,” Winfrey said at the LA premiere of the miniseries (as reported by Variety). “There are so many moments in the series where you get to literally speak to the elders and hear from their own words and through their own voices, what they’ve been through.”

“I could not have imagined it would have this impact, and I certainly couldn’t have foreseen a night like this,” Hannah-Jones added, “I just feel the ancestors tonight. My work is trying to vindicate, to some degree, everything that they had to suffer, so it feels amazing.”