93 pages 3 hours read

Nikole Hannah-Jones

The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story

Nonfiction | Essay Collection | Adult | Published in 2019

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Summary and Study Guide


The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story is an anthology curated by Nikole Hannah-Jones that provides a new perspective on American history. Hannah-Jones and the authors in this work challenge conventional teachings of American history, often offered only through a white lens. Using historical record, essays, fiction, and poetry, the authors of The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story present a new understanding of the American identity, one that has been forged by the contributions, labor, and intellectualism of the country’s Black citizens. This book represents the culmination of an original issue of The New York Times Magazine commemorating the arrival of enslaved Africans to American shores in 1619. Since the issue’s publication, The 1619 Project has expanded, including a television mini-series, podcasts, and school curriculum. Nikole Hannah-Jones is the winner of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary. The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story was named one of the ten greatest works of journalism between 2010-2019 by New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.

This guide refers to the 2021 hardback edition by The New York Times Company.

Content Warning: The source material contains graphic descriptions of slavery, physical and sexual abuse, sexual assault, and murder. The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story also covers historical resources that may use outdated or racist language. This guide reproduces this language only when using direct quotations.


Using essays, fiction, and poetry, The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story reframes American history in a new light, challenging pervasive white, colonial perspectives. The project began when Hannah-Jones encountered the title date as a teenager, learning that a ship called the White Lion brought enslaved Africans to the Virginia Colony, long before the nation’s founders ever signed the Declaration of Independence. Hannah-Jones realized that American slavery was a part of the foundation of American life. The work expands upon this idea by examining the motivations and nuances of important historical events.

Each chapter explores a different aspect of slavery’s impact on American structures and institutions and connects historical events with contemporary issues. The essays are accompanied by short vignettes, providing brief details about important historical events and acts of resistance by Black Americans and enslaved Africans, as well as poems that help to contextualize the experiences of those living during these historic moments.

In the Preface-Chapter 4, the authors examine the early days of slavery and its connection to the American Revolution, sugar, and democracy. Chapter 1 connects slavery and democracy, arguing that Black Americans have contributed to advancements in equality and democracy. Chapter 2 uncovers the origin of the idea of “race” and how it was developed by enslavers to ensure the longevity of slavery. In Chapter 3, author Khalil Gibran Muhammad details how sugar production created the justification for slavery and gave birth to American capitalism. Chapter 4 examines the prevalence of white fear in both historical and contemporary contexts.

Chapters 5-9 spotlight dispossession, capitalism, politics, citizenship, and self-defense. Chapter 5 details the relationship between Black and Indigenous people in the United States throughout history and juxtaposes their status and treatment within American policies. In Chapter 6, Matthew Desmond contends that slavery defined the nation’s extreme adherence to capitalism and created a model for oppression and wealth advancement. Chapter 7 analyzes the connection between slavery and the structure of the US government and political policies. In Chapter 8, Martha S. Jones draws attention to the efforts of Black Americans to redesign the meaning of citizenship.

Chapters 10-14 unpack other forms of disparity and activism in US history. Chapter 10 traces the link between the violent control and punishment during slavery to the modern incarceration system. Chapter 11 elucidates the false promise of Reconstruction, examining the many ways in which Black citizens were denied rights following Emancipation. In Chapter 12, Linda Villarosa focuses on the historical relationship between Black people and the American healthcare system. Chapter 13 spotlights the interconnectedness of Black churches and activism, and Chapter 14 focuses on the development of Black music in popular American culture.

Chapters 15-18 identify more issues of racial discrimination and their connection to slavery while providing a roadmap for America’s future. In Chapter 15, Interlandi details the backlash to the Affordable Care Act in 2008 and connects it to earlier efforts by emancipated enslaved people to develop systems of healthcare. Chapter 16 exposes how problems with transportation and infrastructure are rooted in segregationist efforts following the Civil War. Ibram X. Kendi challenges the idea of continued progress and advocates for persistence and diligence in Chapter 17, while Nikole Hannah-Jones outlines a roadmap for justice in Chapter 18.

As each chapter analyzes American history and the relationship between slavery and various American institutions and ideologies, the authors also lift up Black voices and acts of Black resistance that informed the American identity and culture.