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Tuesday, August 20, 2019


by Sally Zakariya

Above is the logo of The 1619 Project, a major initiative from The New York Times observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. The Project aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are.

Not 1492 when Columbus landed
not 1607 when settlers founded Jamestown
but 1619 when twenty-some Africans
arrived in chains

Port Comfort their landing place
proved no comfort for them

That’s when America began
land of freedom but not for them
land of plenty but not for them
land of everlasting shame
for us but not for them

Twelve million stolen from their homes
two million died on the Middle Passage
half a million sold into slavery here

They cleared the land and built
the plantation houses
they cleaned and cooked and toiled
to make white people rich

They picked cotton for my grandfather
a white-starched-collar lawyer
in Memphis who didn’t have to bend
his back or dirty his hands

They fought for this country
their country and ours
and now … and now …

Four hundred years is time
to admit our history
time to make things right

Sally Zakariya’s poetry has appeared in some 75 print and online journals and been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. Her most recent publication is The Unknowable Mystery of Other People (Poetry Box, 2019). She is also the author of Personal Astronomy, When You Escape, Insectomania, and Arithmetic and other verses, as well as the editor of the poetry anthology Joys of the Table.