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From 1619 To 2019, There's Still A Lot To Learn About Slavery And Its Lasting Impact

lower west end
Courtesy of Cincinnati Museum Center
West Court St in Cincinnati's lower West End in 1959. The city purchased and razed more than 2,000 structures and resold the property to developers to create the neighborhood now known as Queensgate. It displaced more than 20,000, 97% of whom were black.

The year 1619 is getting a lot of mentions lately, in large part because of the massive The 1619 Project undertaken by The New York Times. August marks 400 years since slavery began in America.

On or about Aug. 25, 1619, a ship carrying "20 and odd" people from modern day Angola arrived in Point Comfort - now Fort Monroe National Monument - in Virginia, expanding slavery to British-occupied North America.

That history has long been overlooked.

"We are in a time where people are consistently trying to say, 'Oh, that was so long ago; slavery was so long ago,' " says Littisha Bates, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology and Africana studies at the University of Cincinnati. "If we don't really bring to people's forefronts and their minds the lasting, persistent effects of slavery, it will just be something that happened in our past. It will just be something that generations of children can say, 'I didn't do that, I'm not responsible for that.' "

Bates says it's important to talk about how the legacy and lasting effects of slavery have shaped the country and can still be seen today. As a professor, she starts in her classroom.

"When I and my colleagues teach our classes, we always ground it in 'what is the beginning for us for inequality?' " she says. "I try to get students to think back in time."

For example, looking at education and the difference between two schools. "How are those schools different?" she'll ask. "The funding is different," students often reply. " 'How are schools funded?' 'Based on neighborhoods.' 'Okay, how are neighborhoods created?' And just go through the whole thing so we can know how we got here."

It's like that old adage: Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it.

Examples are all around us of the legacy of slavery and we may not even realize it. The 1619 Project includes a report on the highway system in Atlanta and how it was strategically built to cut through historically black communities, keeping the races separate. The article references a similar tactic in Cincinnati, though not by name.

Cincinnati's West End and Kenyon Barr neighborhoodswere cut in half to allow construction of I-75 and Queensgate. The Kenyon Barr community disappeared.

Bates would like to see people come away from this 400-years commemoration seeing that what some people think of as black history - and therefore not for everyone - is the history of this country.

"It is really all of our history and, no, it may not make us feel good, but it is necessary for us to know it and to understand it so that we don't repeat the same mistakes."

How To Make A Change

The 1619 Project aims to reframe the country's history, placing it within the understanding of how enslaved people built the country and "put the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are."

Education, therefore, is a start.

Bates suggests getting involved in various equality or anti-racism movements.

"I think for white people in particular, go out and do the work," she says. "Because the burden to teach those of us who are not marginalized falls on the most marginalized people ...  for those that are interested in being allies, find organizations that you can be involved in. This is a journey, if you don't feel comfortable just jumping in and doing the work, find a good place to give your dollars."

Sunday, Aug. 25 is anational Day of Healing. The National Park Service is encouraging people across the country to ring bells simultaneously at 3 p.m. EDT for four minutes - one for each century - "to honor the first Africans who landed in 1619 at Point Comfort and 400 years of African American history." Events are also scheduled all this weekend at Fort Monroe National Monument.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.