By: Mara Nolan
The St. Joseph County Public Library in downtown South Bend is hosting a panel discussion about the 1619 Project on March 1 from 5:30-7 p.m.
The 1619 Project, as highlighted in the New York Times, “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.” It was started in 2019, 400 years after the first slave ship landed on American shores, by the New York Times and journalist Nicole Hannah-Jones as an effort to reframe US history. This event will open a conversation about how to engage with projects such as 1619 and move forward into a more inclusive future.
The discussion panel will consist of a group of expert historians, including Dr. Darryl Heller, director of the IU South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center and assistant professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at IU South Bend; Dr. Monica Tetzlaff, associate professor of history at IU South Bend; and Dr. Katlyn Carter, assistant professor of history at Notre Dame.
IUSB librarian Rhonda Culbertson and St. Joseph County librarian Sara Maloney outlined the purpose of this event: “[The] experts will explore how academic debates about historical interpretations are then translated into political commentary and popular understanding. They will offer tips for non-historians to evaluate historical information and consider how our understanding of history influences our actions in the present.”
Professor of history Dr. Monica Tetzlaff described the significance of the 1619 Project and the discussion itself.
“I think [this event is] important because there has been a backlash against teaching about racism in the American history to the extent that House Bill 1134, which is in the Indiana legislature currently, would restrict what public school K-12 teachers can teach about race if it causes ‘discomfort’ to students,” said Dr. Tetzlaff. “By taking part in this panel, I seek to use the 1619 Project to talk about uncomfortable topics like slavery and real estate segregation and loss of wealth opportunities for African Americans and how remedying their effects could benefit all of us.”
Dr. Tetzlaff shared a preview of what she will be discussing at the event by stating, “I am going to talk about why, as a historian, I don’t mind journalists, like Nicole Hannah-Jones, taking historical writing and running with it to show how a system that was created in the past to purposely disadvantage African Americans and exclude them, still has a legacy in aspects of life today.”
“Hannah-Jones draws on historical interpretation that some other historians might not agree with, but that is the nature of debate and scholarship in the history profession,” said Dr. Tetzlaff. “The journalism of the 1619 project helps to start a dialogue about questions like: why do we have so many highways cutting through historically Black or integrated neighborhoods, but not mostly white neighborhoods? Why do Black mothers of the same socio-economic status as white mothers have much worse childbirth outcomes and report being listened to less than white mothers?”
Dr. Tetzlaff stated that initiatives like the 1619 Project also help to emphasize the positive contributions made by African Americans to the nation’s history.
“The 1619 magazine articles had stories on the origins of Black contributions to positive parts of our heritage—a tradition of fighting for equality that includes all people, immigrants and women of all races as well as Black Americans, and a rich musical tradition that forms the basis for nearly every kind of American music today,” said Dr. Tetzlaff.
These contributions have been overlooked for many generations, but initiatives such as 1619 open the door to an America that acknowledges the histories and accomplishments of all of its people, especially those who are marginalized.
IUSB history student Adrienne Robinson will be attending the 1619 event at the library. She shared some of her reasons for why she thinks it is important to attend.
“As a descendent of Africans,” said Adrienne, “[I want to] support those who have crafted this project in honor of those who have been excluded from history as contributors to this country’s democracy.”
As a student of history, Adrienne wants to have a deeper understanding of 1619 so that she can adapt her own interpretation of American history.
“As time has progressed, historical connotations have changed right along with the times,” said Adrienne. “So, with the beautiful melting pot of all Americans here, we owe it to ourselves to change the tone of historical work to reflect that of everyone and not just those who were complicit in behavior to exclude others.”
The event will be held at the main library branch in the Community Learning Center. There will be a group discussion and audience Q&A with the panel. Those interested must register online or in person prior to the event.
For more information on the 1619 Project panel discussion at the St. Joseph County Public Library, please see file:///Users/maranolan/Downloads/flyer-1619Project%20(1).pdf.
For more information on the 1619 Project, read the New York Times article “The 1619 Project,” at https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/1619-america-slavery.html, or visit https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/09/magazine/1619-project-us-history.html and https://1619books.com/.
Photo // 1619books.com