The 1619 Project Premiere: Grade Hulu's Series About Untold American History

In the daring new Hulu original, The 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones asks viewers to revisit and question the history that they were fed in school curricula. The series posits that nation wasn’t founded in 1776; rather, it began with the 20-plus enslaved people that landed on Virginia soil in 1619.

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning, long-form journalism piece by Hannah-Jones, The 1619 Project docuseries reexamines American history by making the implications of slavery and forced labor by Black Americans its focal point.

The first episode, “Democracy,” begins with narration from Hannah-Jones and tackles one of the gravest struggles Black Americans have endured for centuries: the right to vote. Hannah-Jones interweaves her personal life — growing up in Iowa with her white mother and Black father, who was raised in the innermost racist parts of Mississippi — with the narratives of impactful Black Americans.

Early on, Hannah-Jones struggles to understand how her father was adamant about flying an American flag in the front yard of her childhood home, despite his constant mistreatment by the country he so loved.

Hannah-Jones acknowledges that as she grew older, she realized her younger self’s ignorance. Her father was aware of what he was doing, beyond her initial understanding.

“He knew that our contributions to building the richest and most powerful nation in the world were undeniable. No people had a greater claim to the American flag, than we do,” Hannah-Jones says.

REVISED HISTORY LESSON | The episode jumps to Hannah-Jones visiting with historian Woody Holton to discuss British colonial times in Williamsburg, Va. Holton talks about Dunmore’s Proclamation and the often-untold account of enslaved people’s involvement in the Revolutionary War, through the leveraging of their freedom to convince them to fight alongside British troops. The thought of slavery ending caused Southern states to join the war and win America’s independence.

Hannah-Jones also includes the controversy and backlash of The 1619 Project from critics who believe it paints white people as inherently evil and is historically inaccurate. She refutes these claims through her narration and interviews.

She then travels to Brooklyn’s Plymouth Church, which was once a haven in the Underground Railroad, to chat with Wayne State University history professor Kidada Williams. They discuss Abraham Lincoln — who in 1862 pondered emancipation and believed that white Americans will accept it if Black people leave the country. The five Black men he chatted with stand their ground and argue that America was as much their country as white Americans’.

Those men pushed for Lincoln to allow them to fight in the Civil War, join the Union Army and help the North win. They also pushed for the passing of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, a step toward reclaiming their humanity.

Hannah-Jones also travels to Kosciusko and Greenwood, Miss., and visits former field secretary of The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, MacArthur Cotton, to talk about his experience fighting for civil rights in the 1960s. “I had no interest in being a slave,” Cotton says of his desire to join the movement, after he chooses to surrender his college degree to pursue civic engagement.

WHAT’S NEXT? | The first episode only scratches the surface of history, and the coming episodes will explore more topics such as “Race,” “Fear,” and “Justice,” all directly correlated with essays written for the original piece published by The New York Times in 2019.

Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the premiere? How does the docuseries compare to the print story? Grade it via the poll below, then hit the comments with your thoughts!

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