1619 Project’s Nikole Hannah-Jones wants Black people to know the role they play in America’s democracy

'Our country would not exist as it is without both slavery and Black people.'

Reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones attends the 75th Annual Peabody Awards Ceremony held at Cipriani Wall Street on May 21, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Brent N. Clarke/FilmMagic)

New York Times investigative journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones unveiled her life’s seminal work last fall, with the ground-breaking storytelling and informative reporting of the 1619 Project.

Released during the 400-year anniversary of the first time Africans were sold into slavery in the Virginia colonies, Jones argues 1619 is just as important to American history as Independence Day in 1776. 

“Through a series of essays, we really assess the ongoing legacy of slavery to show that across American life, nothing has been left untouched by that decision to purchase that first group of 20 to 30 Africans,” Hannah-Jones told theGrio.

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While many Black folks have walked away feeling empowered and educated after reading the project, there are the occasional critics who have a hard time grappling with the truth of our country’s bloody history. 

I think the thing in the project that made people the most upset was when I wrote that one of the reasons why the colonies decided that they wanted to start a revolution and form the United States was to preserve slavery. That was really shocking to a lot of people,” Hannah-Jones explained.

But the writer deals with the backlash by either ignoring it, or taking some of the haters to task via Twitter.

With the 2020 election just months away, the Iowa native wants the 1619 Project to reinforce the integral role Black people play in our democracy. 

“It is definitely going to be the most critical election of my lifetime and probably many of the people watching this lifetime,” the Peabody winner explained.

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“So we need to make sure that our voices are heard. But we also need to make sure that in making our voice heard in this democracy that we don’t have to keep compromising as Black folks for people who tell us not to raise our concerns and that our concerns will be gotten to later once we defeat a certain person who’s in the White House,” she said.

An alum of ProPublica, Hannah-Jones covered segregation and discrimination in housing and schools for years, winning several awards for her reporting on the government’s failure to enforce mandates of the landmark 1968 Fair Housing Act.

Prior to that, she reported for the Oregonian in Portland, Oregon, where she covered demographics and census data. Her work earned the recognition of her peers, winning the Society of Professional Journalists Pacific Northwest Excellence in Journalism award three times, and the Gannett Foundation Award for Innovation in Watchdog Journalism.

Hannah-Jones describes Ida B. Wells as her journalism shero and founded the Ida B. Wells Society in her honor in 2016 to provide training and mentorships for future journalists of color.