Lesson Plans

Analyze and Discuss: The 1619 Project Video Introduction

Nikole Hannah-Jones talks with a student at the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics 1619 event. Image by Dylan Burrus, Courtesy of the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics. United States, 2019.

Nikole Hannah-Jones talks with a student at the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics 1619 event. Image by Dylan Burrus, Courtesy of the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics. United States, 2019. 

Objectives:

By the end of this lesson, students will be able to…

  • Explain why Nikole Hannah-Jones pitched The 1619 Project to editors at The New York Times Magazine  
  • Analyze how the 1619’s overall premise connects to the lasting impact of slavery on contemporary U.S. systems
  • Apply critical thinking skills to evaluate common perceptions about U.S. history
  • Evaluate how multimedia components contribute to the success of a video resource

Warm-up:

1. Think broadly about what you learned about American history in school, and write down the names of some of the most important people in U.S. history.

  • What have some of their contributions to this country been? 
  • What do the people that you listed have in common? 

2. Are there any perspectives that you feel are/were missing from what you learned about U.S. history? If so, whose perspectives?

3. What have you learned about Black Americans’ contributions to the U.S.? Make a list of influential figures. 

4. This lesson will explore under-reported stories of Black Americans' contributions to the U.S., and will also examine the lasting impact of American slavery on contemporary systems in the United States. Think about some of the consequences of slavery, and make a list of present situations that can be traced back to it.

Introducing the Lesson:

In this lesson, students will analyze the main ideas of The 1619 Project from The New York Times Magazine by watching a video produced by MediaStorm to commemorate Nikole Hannah-Jones winning a Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for her introductory essay to The 1619 Project, “The Idea of America.” You can find a full lesson plan on her essay here, and the Pulitzer Center's full curriculum for The 1619 Project here.

The video provides an overview of what motivated Hannah-Jones to launch this project, as well as its central ideas and impacts. After summarizing the main ideas of the video, students will evaluate what new information they have learned about U.S. history from the project. Next, they will make connections to Hannah-Jones’s observations which led to the formation of The 1619 Project and find questions they want to research further about the lasting impact of American slavery on the United States.

Some useful vocabulary for this lesson includes: 

Comprehension Questions:

Click "Watch the film" in the interactive below, and then watch the video. While you watch, answer the following questions.

 

  1. In the first few seconds of the video, Hannah-Jones is reading lines from her introductory essay to The 1619 Project. To whom is she referring when she says “our people were born on the water”? 
  2. According to the video, why did Hannah-Jones want to create The 1619 Project?
  3. The video touches on several aspects of U.S. life that Hannah-Jones argues would not be the same without the legacy of slavery. What are some of these aspects? Make a list as you watch. 
  4. According to the video, how did previous Civil Rights movements (in the 1860s and 1960s) create more freedoms for all Americans, not just Black Americans?
  5. What does Hannah-Jones say is “among our [Black Americans’] greatest contribution to this country”?
  6. What caused Hannah-Jones “a great deal of anxiety”? What was she worried would happen if the project hadn’t gotten any attention?

Discussion Questions: 

Now, discuss the following questions as a class or write the answers down on a separate sheet of paper. 

  1. What new information did you learn from the video? Did anything surprise you?
  2. In the video, Hannah-Jones says that she “learned [in school] that Black people had never done anything but be owned by white people.” Look back to your responses in the warm-up. How has your experience learning about the contributions of Black Americans compared to Hannah-Jones's experience? 
    • How many Black Americans appear in your list of the most important people in U.S. history? 
    • Are there more non-Black or Black Americans in your list? Why might that be? Think back to the video’s discussion as you answer. 
  3. Hannah-Jones uses the word “erasure” to describe how Black history has been treated in the U.S.
    • What does erasure word mean in this context?
    • Do you agree with Hannah-Jones that an erasure of Black history has taken place? Why or why not?
  4. What do you think Hannah-Jones means when she calls Black Americans “the true perfectors of American democracy”?
  5. Mediastorm applies several visual storytelling techniques. Use the following questions to evaluate the impact of these techniques, and why you think the filmmakers applied these approaches 
    • The first clip in the video is of an ocean. What purpose does this serve at the beginning? Think in terms of tone, mood, and/or how it connects to the spoken words accompanying the video. 
    • It uses images and video from the present day — do you recognize any of the images or text from recent news stories or elsewhere? If so, which ones?
    • It also uses juxtaposition, where it puts images from the present and the past right next to each other to suggest a relationship and/or contrast. What does this add to the video’s narrative? 
  6. In the video, Hannah-Jones writes that it was important to her that “descendents of American slavery should be the ones to tell the story” in The 1619 Project. Why is this important? 

Extension Activities:

Option 1: Reading and Analysis of The 1619 Project

The video touches on some of the aspects of American society that The 1619 Project argues can be traced back to slavery, including health, criminal justice, traffic, music, and others. Find the full magazine here in PDF form, and browse its table of contents on pages 6 and 7. 

  • Choose one of the essays where the topic interests you, and read it in full.
  • Then, write a short essay yourself which summarizes the essay’s main points, including how it ties its subject matter back to slavery and which adds any of your own ideas on the topic. 
  • Alternatively, prepare a presentation that summarizes the essay for your classmates or create a visual art piece that evokes the ideas from the essay. 

Option 2: Individual research

Hannah-Jones says in the video that “there is virtually nothing that you can see that has not been touched by this legacy.”  Therefore, there are many more topics for The 1619 Project to explore in the future. Think about the things around you, and how they might have obvious or hidden roots in slavery. 

Once you have your topic, do what the authors of The 1619 Project did: conduct research on the topic and write about your findings. Use the following questions as you define your topic and research plan:

  • What present dynamic has roots in the legacy of American slavery?
  • How can you make a thoughtful argument with evidence to back it up?
  • What counter-arguments can you anticipate and incorporate into your writing?

Feel free to email your original 1619 Project-style work to us at education@pulitzercenter.org for potential inclusion on our website.

Find ten additional extension activities for The 1619 Project here.

Educator Notes: 

Common Core Standards:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.9-10.3

Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.8.1 CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.8.1.A

Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence. Introduce claim(s), acknowledge and distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically.

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