Nikole Hannah-Jones (ed.): “1619. A New History of the USA” – A late correction

It was high time to revise the historiography: because what we usually know about the founding history of the USA and its self-image as the “Land of the Free and Home of the Brave” is incomplete. It shuts out blacks as well as white racism.

Collaborative project on US history

The arrival of English settlers on the “Mayflower” in 1620 on the coast of today’s Massachusetts marks the beginning of the history that led to the founding of the USA in 1776 in the culture of remembrance, not only in the Americans.

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Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones – now a professor at Howard University in Washington – hit the New York Times Magazine in 2019 to mark the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first slaves in North America a community project: She wanted to relate many aspects of American history to slavery, rereading American history to better understand why racism persists in her homeland today.

Hypocritical self-image exposed

The publishing company became a book, over eight hundred pages long, with photos, poems, short stories and essays. Contributors are over 50 highly respected scientists from the fields of history, sociology, law and cultural studies as well as writers, editors and journalists.

“1619” is actually a new history of the USA: It shows how hypocritical and contradictory promises of freedom and equality were from the beginning.

slaveholders as presidents

The Fathers of the Constitution were slaveholders, white sons of Virginia. In the first 50 years of the state, Southern presidents ruled for 38 years. By law, black people were barred from the spheres of civil life. So-called “slave codes” manifested the permanent legal and social distinction between blacks and whites.

A strong motive for the early settlers to break away from the British government was not only the tariff dispute with the mother country, but also the British governor’s offer to set escaped slaves free. And as late as 1861, even Lincoln, who as Civil War President received the aura of liberation from slaves, had commissioned plans to “relocate” black Americans to Panama.

Permanent Discrimination

The examples of discrimination against black people in their own country can be continued into the tenures of Presidents Johnson, Carter and Clinton. Even if they wanted to improve conditions, they did not find their way out of “white” thought patterns.

The basis for the permanent discrimination, as Nikole Hannah-Jones makes clear in many places, is the fear of the whites of losing their political and economic power. The (scientifically absurd) concept of race has repeatedly been used to justify blacks as inferior to whites.

Factual and differentiated correction

This book clears up such fairy tales in a remarkably objective and differentiated way. It also shows how strongly blacks, whether as slaves or free, have influenced the fortunes of the American community over the centuries, that there are personalities whose achievements for their country should be recognized.

“We didn’t act ourselves, we were negotiated,” summarizes Hannah-Jones in her introductory essay. Your book makes it clear that this is finally over.

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