The 1619 Project shows democracy’s only hope for the future
The Birth of Democracy: From the Civil Rights Act to the Second Day of the Second Court of the First Amendment, and to the Last Moments of Henry Williams, the Black Soldier who died
Conservatives were pleased she had said this, but some wondered whether she had meant it. Justice Jackson was serious and that she believes originalism can require liberal outcomes when she heard arguments on the second day of the Supreme Court.
She spoke during an argument over the meaning of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a civil rights landmark. The immediate question in the case was whether a congressional map drawn by Alabama lawmakers had violated the act by diminishing Black voters’ power.
The act itself was in question because it was in conflict with the 14th Amendment, adopted after the Civil War.
This duality is present in our federal Constitution, which proclaims republican liberty at the same time that it has enabled the brutal subjugation of entire peoples within the United States. The Constitution backstopped the dream of a transcontinental slave empire, as well as inspired the democratic vistas of radical antislavery politicians.
One can see the similarities in the way American democracy and American autocracy exist next to each other, side by side, with the latter being a feature of our political order. If we date the beginning of Jim Crow to the 1890s — when white Southern politicians began to mandate racial separation and when the Supreme Court affirmed it — then close to three generations of American elites lived with and largely accepted the existence of a political system that made a mockery of American ideals of self-government and the rule of law.
It was a system that, as the legal scholar and former judge Margaret A. Burnham writes in “By Hands Now Known: Jim Crow’s Legal Executioners,” rested on “the chronic, unpredictable violence that loomed over everyday Black life.” In the last moments of Henry Williams, a Black soldier killed by an Alabama bus driver in 1942, he was remembered by the author. Rushing to escape the bus after being assaulted by the driver, Williams spilled his laundry on the ground. “As he turned to pick it up, Chandler fired three shots, one hitting Williams in the back of the head. He died on the bus.
The evolution of American democracy can’t be understood without examining how Blackness impacts citizenship, dignity, wealth, poverty and punishment. The first two episodes form a couplet that work more powerfully together.
The first two episodes of “The 1619 Project,” a documentary series which premiered on Hulu on Thursday, brings to life the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times multimedia project created by Nikole Hannah-Jones.
In the first two episodes of The 1619 Project, it is made clear that Black people would help make Wall Street and New York City the financial capital of the world.
By weaving interviews, graphics detailing data linked to race, slavery and history, and incorporating recordings of voices of Americans with personal recollections of slaves, Jim Crow, civil rights and voting rights activism, the series offers an experience that is both intimate and expansive. It demonstrates how individual biographies of Black Americans tell a collective narrative of a struggle for Black citizenship and dignity that remains this nation’s defining story.
Additional information about the New York Times Sunday Magazine and multimedia educational social media supporting materials are provided by the documentary series.
The episode than pivots to the present, mapping out how Hannah-Jones and “The 1619 Project” became conservative scapegoats for White backlash, with 36 states passing or debating legislation designed to ban or restrict how teachers can talk about systemic racism, critical race theory, and yes, “The 1619 Project” – in short, to disrupt the teaching of Black history in the United States. America’s inability to confront its racial history is not really about the past, as the series brilliantly reveals, but always about the present and future of this democracy.
This is where we need to focus on democracy. For perhaps the most important revelation of “The 1619 Project” and the ensuing praise and controversy surrounding it is the relationship between race and democracy.
This violence paralleled Reconstruction’s bright spots for decades, reaching a fever pitch in 1898 the Wilmington Massacre, the first successful political coup in American history – organized by vengeful White racists against Black political leaders who were slaughtered, humiliated and forced to flee the city.
The white maternal grandfather of Hannah- Jones and his black paternal grandmother were both related to her.
There is more to our identities listed on birth and death certificates than meets the eye. They serve as markers of destiny and signifiers of future wealth and prosperity for some and punishment and premature death for others.
As viewers we eavesdrop on recordings from the formerly enslaved conducted by the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. Laura Smalley, a formerly enslaved Black woman, recalls that plantation owners would “breed them like they was hogs or horses, something like that, I say.”
This is an incredibly painful history to confront – and one that is more necessary in our own time than ever. Serena Williams, who is rich and famous, almost died from a birth injury after giving birth to her daughter.
We need to confront a history that actively marginalizes Black life in order to move forward and keep America democratic.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ book, “The Courage to be Free” will be released on Tuesday and it will be widely expected that he will enter the presidential race in two decades. But it’s not the first time DeSantis has dabbled in authorship to jumpstart his political ambitions.
DeSantis’ views on the country’s founding document and the reach of the federal government is informed heavily by the Federalist Papers, the essays produced by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay to persuade New York to ratify the US Constitution. DeSantis writes that these essays represent “the single best source for the exposition of the principles underlying the Constitution of the United States of America.” These are the writing pieces that often support the criticisms of Obama and the insistence that America is not a great place to live in. The idea of a president who is not static in their role flies in the face of what the Framers envisioned. (The word “transform” appears 75 times throughout the short work.)
This orthodoxy, though, is also built on a belief that the federal government’s powers are far more limited than what is delegated to the states. Does this mean that he would ascend to the highest office in the land? Or does he believe that the “transformational” presidency he so maligned has changed the office for good in ways that he intends to follow. Maybe his next book will contain some of these answers.
The creators of the Constitution expected representative to be responsive to public opinion, even if they weren’t beholden to it. As it is, DeSantis said, Obama and his allies should have looked at the decades of opposition to health care reform as a sign not to mess with it.
DeSantis as governor, though, has often eschewed public opinion when taking actions and has proudly declared, “I’m not going to lead based on polls.” For example, DeSantis signed the most restrictive abortion law in Florida’s modern history despite consistent support for making the procedure accessible to women.
DeSantis also took great umbrage at descriptions of Obama “casting his candidacy as one of singular historical significance and himself as a messianic figure.” But his own closing message to Florida voters last fall came in a 90-second video that suggested he was made by God on the eighth day to be a “fighter.”
He also compared Obama with George Washington, who, DeSantis wrote, possessed “a deep sense of humility, a humility that dovetailed superbly with the ethos of republican government.” He pointed out that the founding fathers were warned of demagogues who used false claims, intentionally sowing divisions among certain groups and using questionable rhetorical techniques.
“Slavery had been a fact of life throughout human history, and had existed in Britain’s American colonies for 150 years before the Convention at Philadelphia in 1787. In certain southern states, slave labor was the backbone of the entire economy, and immediately abolishing slavery would have represented an enlightened but also a monumental change – a revolution far more socially, politically and economically momentous than the American Revolution itself,” DeSantis wrote. “This is why there was no real chance that the Convention would abolish the peculiar institution of slavery.”
DeSantis went on to argue in his book that Obama’s views were more closely aligned with the slavery defender Sen. Stephen A. Douglas, who lost the 1860 presidential election to Abraham Lincoln, than the great emancipator.
The same doctrine that Chief Justice Taney invoked in Dred Scott, that slaves could not claim citizenship and didn’t enjoy the rights to which they were accustomed, would be accused of being used by Obama in the book.
At the time DeSantis published his book, few topics animated voters like the 2010 passage of Obama’s signature domestic achievement, the Affordable Care Act.
DeSantis accused the law’s champions of putting “America on a course to a government-run, single-payer system” – a warning that has yet to materialize, though several Democratic candidates for president ran on such a policy during the 2020 election.
“Initially justified by Obama as a needed remedy for the problem of rising health care costs that hurt members of the middle class, the post-passage euphoria revealed a different, more controversial justification for a federal overhaul of the health care system: the redistribution of wealth,” DeSantis wrote.
Even the requirement for insurance companies to cover adults and children with pre-existing conditions appeared problematic to DeSantis because it could lead to higher insurance costs.
“Though this sounded noble, the law had the effect of undermining insurance coverage for children,” DeSantis contended. Insurers were forced to either absorb financial losses or increase premiums in order to meet the mandating of more risk.
Where Do You Stand, and How Do You Treat Your Employees? A State Measure that Gives DeSantis New Powers over the Disney Land
A book written by a person called “The Handbook for Leadership” states that the approach to leadership should be based on a strict reading of the Constitution and adherence to fundamental law with stable meaning. There are limits on the executive branch’s abilities and a strict adherence to separation of powers.
“If you are in one of these corporations, if you’re a woke CEO, you want to get involved in our legislative business, look, it’s a free country,” DeSantis said in 2021. “But understand, if you do that, I’m fighting back against you. And I’m going to make sure that people understand your business practices, and anything I don’t like about what you’re doing.”
Disney learned a lesson from it. Disney objected to a state measure that wanted to restrict certain classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity. Earlier this month, state lawmakers voted to give DeSantis new powers over the government that controls the land around Disney’s Orlando-area theme parks.