In this special resource:
- Introduction to the 1619 Project
- Multimedia Resources
- The 1619 Project Essays
- Supporting News Articles about the 1619 Project
- Adjustable lexile level articles from Newsela
- Editorials about the 1619 Project
- Geography Resources
- Timeline Resources
- Artifact Resources
- Primary Document Resources
- Lesson Plan Resources
- CLP’s Special Constitutional Lesson Resource
See the downloadable worksheets, tools, and resources in the sidebar for ways to use this information in an exploration of the history and legacy of slavery in the US and a Constitutional critique of that legacy.
Four hundred years ago, a ship arrived at the Jamestown colony in Virginia. In August 1619 the first slaves transported from Africa were forced onto the shores of what would become the United States of America. Thus began a 400-year legacy of slavery, oppression, institutionalized racism, a corrupted Constitution, a traumatizing and bloody civil war, the assassination of a president, a culture embedded with inequality and injustice, and a struggle to understand our own history and what our future can be as a country.
To acknowledge and more deeply examine this legacy, The New York Times Magazine published The 1619 Project in August 2019. There are many avenues to investigate in this important Project, and Classroom Law Project has curated a variety of resources for you to explore. In addition, the sidebar to this page has exercises you can dowload to think through different aspects of America’s legacy of Slavery.
To meaningfully connect Constitution Day 2019 (September 17) to the 1619 Project, Classroom Law Project has created this resource that examines the constitutional consequences of slavery and the foundational decisions that set our country on a path of inequality from the moment of its ratification, and what path has led to along the way.
The 1619 Project Video:
The Essays of the 1619 Project
- Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true. – Nikole Hannah-Jones, August 14, 2019
- America holds onto an undemocratic assumption from its founding: that some people deserve more power than others. – Jamelle Bouie, August 14, 2019
- What does a traffic jam in Atlanta have to do with segregation? Quite a lot. – Kevin Kruse, August 14, 2019
- In order to understand the brutality of American capitalism, you have to start on the plantation. – Matthew Desmond, August 14, 2019
- For centuries, black music, forged in bondage, has been the sound of complete artistic freedom. No wonder everybody is always stealing it. – Wesley Morris, August 14, 2019
- Why doesn’t the United States have universal health care? The answer has everything to do with race. – Jeneen Interlandi, August 14, 2019
- Slavery gave America a fear of black people and a taste for violent punishment. Both still define our criminal-justice system. – Bryan Stevenson, August 14, 2019
- The sugar that saturates the American diet has a barbaric history as the ‘white gold’ that fueled slavery. – Khalil Gibran Muhammad, August 14, 2019
- A vast wealth gap, driven by segregation, redlining, evictions and exclusion, separates black and white America. – Trymaine Lee, August 14, 2019
- A Gallery: Their ancestors were enslaved by law. Today, they are graduates of the nation’s preeminent historically black law school. – Photographs by Djeneba Aduayom, August 14, 2019
- Is Slavery’s Legacy in the Power Dynamics of Sports? –
Shareable: a collection of the above essay links
- A dark legacy comes to light (a gallery of interviews with students about what they learn about slavery) – The Washington Post, August 28, 2019
Shareable: a collection of the above article links
Adjustable Lexile Level Articles from Newsela:
- Slavery in the New England Colonies – May 20, 2019 (adapted from National Geographic)
- Southern Plantation Owners Used “King Cotton” to Justify Slavery – May 15, 2019 (adapted from USHistory.org)
- Analysis: Schools fail to tell full story of America’s history of slavery – February 12, 2018 (adapted from the Washington Post)
- American Slavery: Separating Fact from Myth – October 1, 2017 (adapted from The Conversation)
- Historical Article from 1846: A slave auction in New Orleans – (adapted from the originally published January 26, 1846 in the New York Tribune)
Editorials about the 1619 Project:
- The ‘1619 Project’ Isn’t Anti-American — It’s Anti-White Identity Politics – Eric Levitz, New York Magazine, August 23, 2019
- We are committing educational malpractice: Why slavery is mistaught — and worse — in American schools – Nikita Stewart, New York Times editorials, August 19, 2019
- How Slavery Hurt the U.S. Economy – Karl W. Smith, Bloomberg Opinion, August 25, 2019
- Why Aug. 20, 1619, is a date we should all add to the history books – Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board, August 19, 2019
- Let Everyone’s Light Shine – The Creators Daily Editorial, August 22, 2019
- The impact of 400 years since slavery arrived on U.S. soil – The Cleveland Plain Dealer Editorial Board, August 29, 2019
- The New York Times surrenders to the left on race – Damon Linker, The Week, August 20, 2019
Shareable: a collection of the above editorial links
A Geographic Exploration of the American Legacy of Slavery:
How slavery flourished in the United States – National Geographic, August 23, 2019
Most slave shipwrecks have been overlooked – until now – National Geographic, August 23, 2019
Diving into the unfolding history of wrecked slave ships – National Geographic, August 23, 2019
400 years ago, enslaved Africans first arrived in Virginia – National Geographic, August 13, 2019
These maps reveal how slavery expanded across the United States – Smithsonian Magazine, May 15, 2014
An interactive map of slavery – Mapping the Nation, May 12, 2014
Shareable: a collection of the above geography links
Slavery and the making of America – Thirteen, PBS,
A timeline of global slavery – Free the Slaves
The 1619 Project Artifacts – Curated by Mary Elliott, All text by Mary Elliott and Jazmine Hughes, August 19, 2019
The Mere Distinction of Colour – James Madison’s Montpelier
Transatlantic slave trade artifacts – The National Museum of African American History & Culture
Slavery and Remembrance – United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
American Slavery Documents – a collection from Duke University
The Slave Trade – National Archives
Slavery and the making of America – Primary Sources – Thirteen, PBS
History Now – Primary Sources on Slavery – Gilder Lehrman
The Abolition Seminar – 50 Essential Documents – National Endowment for the Humanities
Resistance to Slavery, Abolition, and Anti-Abolition: Primary Sources Online – Michigan State University Library
Lesson Plans & Ideas:
A Closer Examination of the Constitution and Slavery
From Classroom Law Project, in the sidebar you can download the full lesson packet that provides texts and guidance on creating an inquiry-based project for students to investigate the lasting consequences of slavery and institutionalized racism and how those consequences might be mitigated in a new constitutional convention. The simulated convention as the culminating activity gives students an opportunity to engage in civil discourse in a time where that skill is essential to civic engagement and participation.
The words “slave” or “slavery” are not written in the United States Constitution. But in two sections of Article I, the framers inserted language that secured the institution of slavery and the slave trade as part of the institutions and culture of the new nation. the Framers of the Constitution chose to make compromises that would later trace directly to a terrible Civil War and centuries of institutionalized inequality.
Despite the declaration that “all men are created equal,” and the introduction to the Constitution that states “we the people… in order to …promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty…” the Constitution’s second paragraph seals slavery as an institution acceptable for states counting representation in Congress. This contradiction proved not to be an easy compromise but inserted a moral conflict at the heart of the founding of the United States. Several of the most revered founders of the nation (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Mason) debated and lamented slavery, but yet owned slaves themsleves and chose not to stand against it in the writing of the Constitution or establishment of the nation.
Article 1, Section 2:
“Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states which may be included within this union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”
Known as the Three-Fifths Compromise, this language decided that not only was slavery an acceptable institution, but that slaves were not to be counted as whole human beings for purposes of state’s representation in Congress. The reason for this was that slave holding states in the south knew their representative numbers would be low if only non-slaves were counted as their population, but they also could not count slaves as “persons’ or that would contradict the states’ policies that slaves were property, not people. Thus the Three-Fifths Compromise was made in the very start of the Constitution.
Article 1, Section 9:
The migration or importation of such persons as any of the states now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each person.
This section of the first article of the Constitution allows for the continuation of the international slave trade for twenty more years after the founding of the country. It lays down import fees for slaves, and it does not end the slave trade within the United States. The “1808 Compromise” further sealed slavery and the inhuman trade of slaves as an acceptable practice at the start of the nation.
Both sections of the Constitution were further embedded into United States law by the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793, passed by Congress and signed into law by George Washington. This law required states, no matter their own slave laws, to return escaped slaves to bondage and participate in their ongoing subjugation. Those who established underground railroads to help slaves escape, such as the Quakers, were subjected to fines and even imprisonment for assisting in the liberty of slaves from the south. The law was enhanced by the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, confirming the United States’ government complicity in protecting slavery.
It wasn’t until a terrible Civil War and the post-war Amendments to the Constitution – the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments – that the 2 sections in the Constitution and the other slavery-protecting laws were effectively made void. But even after slavery itself was made illegal, laws put in place by former slave states after the Civil War ensured that African Americans (and other Americans of color, including Native Americans and Hispanic Americans) faced severe segregation, lack of rights, and oppression at the hands of the government and society. That means that the history of the United States, its culture, and its politics and economy has been built on:
- 246 years of legalized slavery and slave trade (1619 – 1865)
- 100 more years of legalized segregation, deprivation of rights, and institutionalized racism for African Americans (1865-1965)
To put that in perspective, the cultural, economic, and political DNA of this country is embedded with 350 years of discrimination and institutionalized racism and only a little over 50 years of legalized equality (but not equality in practice). That is what the 1619 Project is all about. It gives perspective on that history from those who don’t often have the voice of telling it. In honor of 400 years since the first slaves were forced onto North American soil, below is a lesson plan that gives students the opportunity to consider the effects of of that legacy and what a new constitutional convention language might say that could make more of an impact in setting the course of our nation towards more equality and liberty.
Primary Documents regarding Slavery & the Constitution:
Frederick Douglass on the Constitution and Slavery, March 16, 1849
Secession Declaration of Mississippi, January 1861
Petitions to End Slavery in the states, 1773-1777
Background & History:
Framers of the Constitution & their contradictions around slavery: “George Mason the Reluctant Founder” – Center for Civic Education
Slavery, the Constitution, and a Lasting Legacy – James Madison’s Montpelier
Historical Context: The Constitution and Slavery – Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History
The Constitution and Slavery – the Constitutional Rights Foundation
The Thirteenth Amendment: The Abolition of Slavery – University ofMissouri
The History of the Three-Fifths Compromise – Nadra Kareem Nittle , June 2019
The Thirteenth Amendment: History and Impact – Robert Longly, August 2019
Dred Scott: The Case and its Impact – Robert Longly, August 2019
The Civil Rights Cases of 1883 – Robert Longly, August 2019
Slavery & the Constitution: A New Constitutional Convention
An important part of investigating the issue of slavery and its legacy in the United States is to critique the Constitution and its treatment of slavery and enslaved people. A solid critique of the Constitution uses the Preamble itself to measure whether the contents (or lack thereof) comply with the intent and purpose of the Constitution and of the American government. Asking students to understand and analyze the six goals of the Preamble creates a foundation from which a true critique can happen beyond simply discovering where the Constitution address slavery. Extending from that, might students use common texts from The 1619 Project as evidence to form proposals which they might testify to in a mock constitutional convention about a new way for the Constitution to address the legacy of slavery.
The entire packet of lesson ideas connecting The 1619 Project to a Constitutional critique can be found in the sidebar.