“The Idea of America” by Nikole Hannah-Jones (pages 14–26)

Module Author: Anastasia Pierik

“The United States is a nation founded on both an ideal and a lie. Our Declaration of Independence, signed on July 4, 1776, proclaims that ‘all men are created equal’ and ‘endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.’ But the white men who drafted those words did not believe them to be true for the hundreds of thousands of black people in their midst.”

“The truth is that as much democracy as this nation has today, it has been borne on the backs of black resistance. Our founding fathers may not have actually believed in the ideals they espoused, but black people did.”

“For the most part, black Americans fought back alone. Yet we never fought only for ourselves. The bloody freedom struggles of the civil rights movement laid the foundation for every other modern rights struggle.”

Key Names, Dates, and Terms

apartheid, chattel slavery, Crispus Attucks, 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, Civil Rights Act of 1866, Reconstruction, voter suppression, Great Nadir, Isaac Woodard, Mason-Dixon line, Middle Passage, Plessy v. Ferguson, Dred Scott v. Sandford, seasoning process in slavery

Guiding Questions

1. When you learned about the founding of the United States, what aspects did your teacher and/or textbook emphasize? What did you learn about the institution of slavery and the contributions of enslaved people? As you continued into higher education, did your views about America’s founding values change? If so, how?

2. Why do you think history textbooks used in the American school system generally lack information about how the institution of chattel slavery shaped our nation? How does the dissemination of this incomplete history of our nation affect our society, and who benefits from it?

3. What is American culture? How have Black Americans created American culture? How and why have forms of Black culture been criticized?

Additional Resources

Dred Scott: Tiered Citizenship and Tiered Personhood” by Henry L. Chambers, Jr.

“Revisiting the Black Struggle: Lessons for the 21st Century” by Asafa Jalata

“Synergizing Culture: African American Cultural Recovery through African Name Acquisition and Usage” by Itibari M. Zulu

“To Remake the World: Slavery, Racial Capitalism, and Justice” by Walter Johnson

“When The 'Hustle' Isn't Enough” by Isabella Rosario

“Crispus Attucks: American Martyr” by Humanity Archive

“The Black Congressmen of Reconstruction: Death of Representation” by Mo Rocca
Educator Notes:

The 1619 Project Law School Initiative is a partnership of the Pulitzer Center, Howard University School of Law, and University of Miami School of Law. The initiative is also part of the Racial Justice initiative by the Squire Patton Boggs Foundation and its Deans’ Circle.


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Racial Justice

Racial Justice