What would it mean to mark the nation’s birth with the date 1619, the year that 20-30 enslaved Africans were brought as cargo to Point Comfort, Virginia, and sold to colonists, rather than 1776?  

How might a new periodization shape our understandings of who and what constitutes America and Americans? 

In observation of the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery, the New York Times’ 1619 Project convened historians, poets, journalists, and visual artists to trace the last 400 years of American history, operating under the central thesis that “Our founding ideals of liberty and equality were false when they were written. Black Americans fought to make them true.”

In October, the History & Civics Project at UC Santa Cruz hosted a group of teachers and graduate students from Santa Cruz, Monterey, Salinas, and Watsonville to discuss how they might use the 1619 project in their classrooms.

In the first of hopefully many Meet-Ups to come, educators shared resources, explored related curriculum available through the Pulitzer Center, and discussed how they might use the project content to explore key historical concepts like significance, periodization, and narrativization.  

Educators considered how to incorporate Kevin Kruse’s essay, “Traffic,” which traces Atlanta’s current traffic problem to racialized “urban renewal programs,” and Michael Desmond’s “Capitalism,” which points to cotton houses and slave auction blocks as foundational to the development of American capitalism, into their Economics classrooms. 

Others brainstormed how “Sugar” by Khalil Gibran Muhammad could fit in a World History classroom and how Wesley Morris’ “American Popular Music” might prepare eighth-graders for the upcoming visit to see the musical Hamilton

While the project starts in 1619, it doesn’t end there. Teachers considered how they might return to these essays again and again throughout the year, picking up historical threads as they come up in their course content—a constant reminder that “no aspect of the country…has been untouched by the 250 years of slavery that followed.” 

While this Meet-Up focused on the 1619 project, future gatherings will delve into a range of other topics. We invite you to join us!

Find some 1619 project resources here. Do you have additional resources to share? Contact us at the thehcp@ucsc.edu


By Charley Brooks