Lesson Plans

Reading Guide: Quotes, Key Terms, and Questions

The 1619 Project from The New York Times Magazine is inaugurated with a special issue that examines the modern-day legacy of slavery through over 30 essays and creative works.

Resource Overview:

The 1619 Project, a special issue of The New York Times Magazine, marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans to Jamestown, Virginia with a series of essays, images, stories, and poems that challenge readers to reframe their understanding of U.S. history by considering 1619 as the start of this nation's story. Through over 30 visual and written pieces from historians, journalists, playwrights, poets, authors, and artists, the issue examines the following questions:

  1. How do societal structures developed to support the enslavement of black people, and the anti-black racism that was cultivated in the U.S. to justify slavery, influence many aspects of modern laws, policies, systems, and culture?
  2. How have resistance, innovation, and advocacy by black Americans over the course of American history contributed to the nation’s wealth and the strengthening of its democracy?

This guide offers reflection questions that can be used to support students’ engagement with The 1619 Project, as well as downloadable PDFs that highlight the following for each piece:

  • A quote that captures a central theme
  • Key names/dates/terms
  • Guiding questions to consider while reading

Questions to Consider Before Exploring The 1619 Project:

  1. How did you first learn about the history of slavery in the U.S.? What did you learn, and how was that information presented?
  2. What do you see as the lasting legacy of slavery in the U.S.?  
  3. What do you know about the contributions of black Americans to U.S. society, and where does that information come from?
  4. Referring to the text of the Declaration of Independence, answer the following questions:
    • What are the values stated in the Declaration of Independence?
    • In what ways can you see those values working in contemporary American life? In what ways can you see them failing?
    • How has the interpretation of those values changed over time? Who is responsible for creating those changes?

Questions to Consider After Exploring The 1619 Project:

Connecting to content:

  1. What lines/images/moments stuck out to you, and why?
  2. What surprised you? What do you want to know more about?
  3. How do the authors connect mechanisms established to support slavery with modern day practices in law, politics, business, culture and other aspects of American society?
  4. How do the stories presented in The 1619 Project compare to the stories you grew up hearing about the origins of slavery and its modern day impacts? 
  5. How does the origin story of the U.S. change if we mark the beginning of U.S. history in 1619 instead of 1776?
  6. What is national memory? How do we create it? How can we change it?

Connecting to structure:

  1. What emotions do you feel when reading the pieces? What language most stuck out to you from the project, and why?
  2. How do the authors integrate research, primary source documents, testimonials from experts and personal narratives into their pieces? 
  3. How do the pieces in The 1619 Project connect to each other? Where do you see parallels and reflections?
  4. Why do you think the work by the writers and artists featured in this issue were included in The New York Times Magazine, a national news publication?
  5. What is the role of journalism in shaping national memory?

Extension Activities and Lesson Plans:

For more ideas on how to support students’ explorations of this issue, click on the links below:

Educator Notes: 

The questions and guides above can be used by students on their own, in small groups, or with their entire class. For more ways to connect The 1619 Project to your classes, click here.

Common Core Standards:

Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

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