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August 18, 2019

The 1619 Project

In August of 1619, a ship appeared on this horizon, near Point Comfort,
a coastal port in the British colony of Virginia. It carried more than
20 enslaved Africans, who were sold to the colonists. America was
not yet America, but this was the moment it began. No aspect of
the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the 250
years of slavery that followed. On the 400th anniversary of this fateful
moment, it is fi nally time to tell our story truthfully.


Editor’s Note by Jake Silverstein

It is not a year that most Americans know as a notable date in our

country’s history. Those who do are at most a tiny fraction of those who

can tell you that 1776 is the year of our nation’s birth. What if, however,

we were to tell you that this fact, which is taught in our schools and

unanimously celebrated every Fourth of July, is wrong, and that the

country’s true birth date, the moment that its defining contradictions

first came into the world, was in late August of 1619? Though the exact

date has been lost to history (it has come to be observed on Aug. 20),

that was when a ship arrived at Point Comfort in the British colony of

Virginia, bearing a cargo of 20 to 30 enslaved Africans. Their arrival

inaugurated a barbaric system of chattel slavery that would last for

the next 250 years. This is sometimes referred to as the country’s

original sin, but it is more than that: It is the country’s very origin.

Out of slavery — and the anti-black racism it required — grew

nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional: its eco-

nomic might, its industrial power, its electoral system, diet and

popular music, the inequities of its public health and education, its

astonishing penchant for violence, its income inequality, the exam-

ple it sets for the world as a land of freedom and equality, its slang,

its legal system and the endemic racial fears and hatreds that

continue to plague it to this day. The seeds of all that were planted

long before our official birth date, in 1776, when the men known as

our founders formally declared independence from Britain.

The goal of The 1619 Project, a major initiative from The New

York Times that this issue of the magazine inaugurates, is to

reframe American history by considering what it would mean to


regard 1619 as our nation’s birth year. Doing so requires us to

place the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black

Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about

who we are as a country.

Perhaps you need some persuading. The issue contains essays on

different aspects of contemporary American life, from mass incar-

ceration to rush-hour traffic, that have their roots in slavery and its

aftermath. Each essay takes up a modern phenomenon, familiar to

all, and reveals its history. The first, by the staff writer Nikole Hannah-

Jones (from whose mind this project sprang), provides the intellectual

framework for the project and can be read as an introduction.

Alongside the essays, you will find 17 literary works that bring

to life key moments in African-American history. These works are

all original compositions by contemporary black writers who were

asked to choose events on a timeline of the past 400 years. The

poetry and fiction they created is arranged chronologically through-

out the issue, and each work is introduced by the history to which

the author is responding.

A word of warning: There is gruesome material in these pages,

material that readers will find disturbing. That is, unfortunately, as

it must be. American history cannot be told truthfully without a clear

vision of how inhuman and immoral the treatment of black Americans

has been. By acknowledging this shameful history, by trying hard to

understand its powerful influence on the present, perhaps we can

prepare ourselves for a more just future.

That is the hope of this project.



Page 28 . . . . . . . Clint Smith on the Middle Passage

Page 29 . . . . . . . Yusef Komunyakaa on Crispus Attucks

Page 42 . . . . . . . Eve L. Ewing on Phillis Wheatley

Page 43 . . . . . . . Reginald Dwayne Betts on the Fugitive

Slave Act of 1793

Page 46 . . . . . . . Barry Jenkins on Gabriel’s Rebellion

Page 47 . . . . . . . Jesmyn Ward on the Act Prohibiting

Importation of Slaves

Page 58 . . . . . . . Tyehimba Jess on Black Seminoles

Page 59 . . . . . . . Darryl Pinckney on the Emancipation

Proclamation of 1863

400 Years: A Literary Timeline


Page 59 . . . . . . . ZZ Packer on the New Orleans massacre of 1866

Page 68 . . . . . . . Yaa Gyasi on the Tuskegee syphilis experiment

Page 69 . . . . . . . Jacqueline Woodson on Sgt. Isaac Woodard

Page 78 . . . . . . . Rita Dove and Camille T. Dungy on the 16th Street

Baptist Church bombing

Page 79 . . . . . . . Joshua Bennett on the Black Panther Party

Page 84 . . . . . . . Lynn Nottage on the birth of hip-hop

Page 84 . . . . . . . Kiese Laymon on the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s

“rainbow coalition” speech

Page 85 . . . . . . . Clint Smith on the Superdome after

Hurricane Katrina

T he 1619 Project / Introduction, Pa g
by N kole Hannah-Jones, Page 14 / Ca
Page 30 / A Broken Health Care Sys
Page 44 / raffi c, by Kevin M. Kruse, P
by Jamelle Bouie, Page 50 / Medical I
Page 56 / American Popular Music, b
by Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Page 7
Stevenson, Page 80 / he Wealth Ga p
a photo essay, by Djeneba Aduayom,


Behind the Cover

We commissioned the photographer Dannielle Bowman to

photograph the water off the coast of Hampton, Va., at the

site where the first enslaved Africans were recorded being

brought to Britain’s North American colonies. So many of our

national narratives feature the arrival of ships to the New World

(Christopher Columbus, Plymouth Rock), and yet this arrival,

of these “twenty and odd Negroes” in 1619, has generally been

left out of our founding myths. Rarely is the disembarking of

these people treated with grandeur. We wanted to change that.

Photograph by Dannielle Bowman for The New York Times.

Beyond this issue, you’ll also find a special section in today’s

newspaper on the history of slavery, made in partnership with the

Smithsonian, and an article in the Sports section considering

the legacy of slavery in professional sports; on Aug. 20, ‘‘The Daily’’

begins a multipart 1619 audio series; and starting this week,

in partnership with the Pulitzer Center, The Times is introducing

a curriculum and educational outreach effort to bring this

material to students (for information, see the inside back cover).

Look for more #1619project updates in the weeks ahead.

The 1619 Project Continues

a ge 4 / he Idea of America,
Capitalism, by Matthew Desmond,
ystem, by Jeneen Interlandi,
, Page 48 / Undemocratic Democracy,
l Inequality, by L nda Villarosa,
, by Wesl ey Morris, Page 60 / Sugar,

e 70 / Mass Incarceration, by Bryan
a p, by rymai ne Lee, Page 82 / Hope,
, Page 86 / Contributors 10 / Puzzles 94, 96, 97 / Puzzles Answers 97 / Endpaper 98

The Fund II team learned quickly that mentorships, scholarships

and internships opened the widest doors to prosperity. To that

end, Fund II created internX, a platform to connect students

studying science, technology, engineering or math with companies

searching for STEM talent. internX disproves the notion that quali-

fied black and brown tech interns donít exist, while helping interns

learn skills, find mentors and gather the experience crucial for

developing careers and building wealth.

Changing Lives,
One Grant at a Time

usiness leader and philanthropist Robert F. Smith

inspired the world with his 2019 commencement pledge

to pay off the student debt for nearly 400 graduates at

Morehouse College in Atlanta. Smithís pledge was a personal

one, on behalf of his family, which has been part of the American

fabric for eight generations. The gift also focused a public spot-

light on Fund II Foundation, a private charitable organization

founded in 2014 to grant to public charities the assets of a

reserve established when Smithís Vista Equity Partners raised its

first private equity fund in 2000.

Fund II Foundation, which Smith leads as President and Found-

ing Director, has awarded nearly $250 million in grants in nine

disciplines: education, social justice, environment, digitization,

career readiness, health, music and arts appreciation, cultural

preservation and veteransí affairs. Its grantees include non-profits

that train veterans and young adults for technology careers,

promote youth environmental service and teach young people

how to preserve historic and culturally significant landmarks.

Through grants and signature in-house programs, Fund II has

touched more than 1.2 million people nationwide.

Cradle to Greatness
The foundationís signature philosophy, Cradle to Greatness, offers

a framework to measure the success of grantees, determine those

in need of additional help and accelerate access to that help. This

enables Fund II to go deeper, investing in overlooked and underes-

timated communities, considering many pathways to success,

from birth to a career, and even promoting business ownership.

ìOur Cradle to Greatness framework rekindles hope and pros-

perity in communities often besieged by neglect and violence,î says

Smith. ìWhat we want our kids to know in every domain of their

lives ó on this earth, in the home, on the job, at school, everywhere

they turn ó is that they are worthy.î




$39.5 million
The amount Fund II has spent on

cultural preservation

$24 million
The amount Fund II has awarded in music

& arts appreciation grants

$16.52 million
The amount Fund II has spent on career


$89.81 million
The amount Fund II has awarded in grants

on education and scholarships

1.2 million
The number of people in the U.S.

touched by Fund II grants and programs

$241 million
The amount of grants awarded by Fund II



This is not only the right thing to do but also smart, says Linda

Wilson, the executive director of Fund II Foundation. A recent

national economics poll determined that black and brown Ameri-

cans hold a combined buying power of $2.8 trillion, and of those

spenders, half in each group are under 35. ìThey are the future and

the most untapped talent force of our nation,î says Ivana Jackson,

the internX program manager.

Started in 2018, internX has a goal of placing 1,000 interns this

year and 10,000 in 2020. But Fund IIís commitment to young people

of color doesnít stop with STEM careers; its attention to music, art

and environmental education is every bit as strong. ìMusic and art

provide balance to young people,î Wilson says, ìinstilling a sense of

peace while increasing aptitude.î

Restoration Retreat
In 2018, Fund II developed yet another signature program, one that

allows young people to commune with nature, while also ìproviding

much needed respite to heal and inspire,î Wilson says. For its inau-

gural event, Restoration Retreat hosted 35 boys of color from tough

circumstances on a retreat to the Colorado Rocky Mountains. They

received life-skills coaching, financial literacy and entrepreneurial

training, as well as instruction in mentorship, yoga and meditation.

They also pursued outdoor adventures like archery, fly fishing,

hiking and horseback riding.

This yearís event included a separate retreat for girls. They each

Programs like Restoration Retreat create inspiring scenes that Fund

II leaders intend to replicate nationwide: children of color participating

and excelling in careers, stewardship and life. ìWe at Fund II are

committed to ensuring African Americans prosper through scientific,

political, cultural and social capital. We are proud of our grantees and

collaborators because their work pays tribute to our ancestors who are


With creative works from:

Trymaine Lee, 82

Khalil Gibran Muhammad, 70Wesley Morris, 60

Jesmyn Ward
Rita Dove
Reginald Dwayne Betts
Yusef Komunyakaa

Kiese Laymon
Clint Smith
ZZ Packer

Camille T. Dungy
Yaa Gyasi
Eve L. Ewing
Darryl Pinckney

L ynn Nottage, 84

Jamelle Bouie, 50

Dannielle Bowman, 98 Jeneen Interlandi, 44

L inda Villarosa, 58

Nikole Hannah-Jones, Page 14

is a staff writer for the magazine.

A 2017 MacArthur fellow, she has
won a National Magazine Award,
a Peabody Award and a George
Polk Award.

Lynn Nottage, Page 84

is a playwright and screenwriter.
She has received two Pulitzer
Prizes and a MacArthur fellowship,
and she is currently an associate
professor at Columbia School of
the Arts.

Trymaine Lee, Page 82

is a Pulitzer Prize- and Emmy
Award-winning journalist and a
correspondent for MSNBC.
He covers social-justice issues
and the role of race in politics
and law enforcement.

Dannielle Bowman, Page 98

is a visual artist working with
photography. She is an artist in
residence at Baxter Street Camera
Club of New York, where she
will have a solo show in January.

Jeneen Interlandi, Page 44

is a member of The Times’s
editorial board and a staff writer
for the magazine. Her last
article for the magazine was
about teaching in the age
of school shootings.

Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Page 70

is a Suzanne Young Murray
professor at the Radcliffe Institute
for Advanced Study at Harvard
University and author of ‘‘The
Condemnation of Blackness.’’

Wesley Morris, Page 60

is a staff writer for the magazine,
a critic at large for The New
York Times and a co-host of the
podcast ‘‘Still Processing.’’ He
was awarded the 2012 Pulitzer
Prize for criticism.

Linda Villarosa, Page 58

directs the journalism program at
the City College of New York and is a
contributing writer for the magazine.
Her feature on black infant and
maternal mortality was a finalist for
a National Magazine Award.


N kole Hannah-Jones, Page 14

Barry Jenkins
Jacqueline Woodson

Adam Pendleton, 14

Joshua Bennett, 79 Kevin M. Kruse, 48

Bryan Stevenson, 80 Djeneba duayom, 86

Jamelle Bouie, Page 50

is a Washington-based New York
Times opinion columnist and
a political analyst for CBS News.
He covers campaigns, elections,
national affairs and culture.

Djeneba Aduayom, Page 86

is a photographer in Los Angeles
known for her portraiture inspired
by her career as a dancer.

Tyehimba Jess, Page 58

is a poet from Detroit who teaches
at the College of Staten Island.
He is the author of two books of
poetry, ‘‘Leadbelly’’ and ‘‘Olio,’’
for which he received the 2017
Pulitzer Prize.

Kevin M. Kruse, Page 48

is a professor of history at
Princeton University and the author
of ‘‘White Flight: Atlanta and the
Making of Modern Conservatism.’’

Contributors’ bios
continue on Page 95.

Bryan Stevenson, Page 80

is the executive director of the
Equal Justice Initiative and
the author of ‘‘Just Mercy: A Story
of Justice and Redemption.’’

Adam Pendleton, Page 14

is an artist known for conceptually
rigorous and formally inventive
paintings, collages, videos and
installations that address history
and contemporary culture.

Joshua Bennett, Page 79

is an assistant professor of English
and creative writing at Dartmouth
College and the author of ‘‘The
Sobbing School.’’ His poetry book
‘‘Owed’’ will be published in 2020.

Tyehimba Jess, 58

11Photographs by Kathy Ryan

Special thanks: To bring The 1619 Project to non-Times subscribers, we have printed hundreds of thousands of additional copies
of this issue, as well as of today’s special newspaper section, for distribution at libraries, schools and museums.
This would not have been possible without the generous support of donors: Wilson Chandler, John Legend
on behalf of the Show Me Campaign, Ekpe Udoh, Gabrielle Union, Fund II Foundation and the N.A.A.C.P. Legal
Defense and Educational Fund.

Our founding ideals of
liberty and equality
were false when they
were written. Black
Americans fought to
make them true.
Without this struggle,
America would have
no democracy at all.

By Nikole Hannah-Jones

Artwork by Adam Pendleton

August 18, 2019


T he 1619 Project


My dad always fl ew an American
fl ag in our front yard. The blue
paint on our two- story house was
perennially chipping; the fence, or
the rail by the stairs, or the front
door, existed in a perpetual state of
disrepair, but that fl ag always fl ew
pristine. Our corner lot, which had
been redlined by the federal gov-
ernment, was along the river that
divided the black side from the
white side of our Iowa town. At the
edge of our lawn, high on an alu-
minum pole, soared the fl ag, which
my dad would replace as soon as it
showed the slightest tatter.

My dad was born into a family
of sharecroppers on a white plan-
tation in Greenwood, Miss., where
black people bent over cotton from
can’t- see- in- the- morning to can’t-
see- at- night, just as their enslaved
ancestors had done not long before.
The Mississippi of my dad’s youth
was an apartheid state that subju-
gated its near- majority black pop-
ulation through breathtaking acts
of violence. White residents in Mis-
sissippi lynched more black people
than those in any other state in the
country, and the white people in
my dad’s home county lynched
more black residents than those
in any other county in Mississippi,
often for such ‘‘crimes’’ as entering
a room occupied by white women,
bumping into a white girl or trying
to start a sharecroppers union. My
dad’s mother, like all the black peo-
ple in Greenwood, could not vote,
use the public library or fi nd work
other than toiling in the cotton fi elds
or toiling in white people’s houses.
So in the 1940s, she packed up her
few belongings and her three small
children and joined the fl ood of
black Southerners fl eeing North.
She got off the Illinois Central Rail-
road in Waterloo, Iowa, only to have
her hopes of the mythical Promised
Land shattered when she learned
that Jim Crow did not end at the
Mason- Dixon line.

Grandmama, as we called her,
found a house in a segregated black
neighborhood on the city’s east side
and then found the work that was
considered black women’s work no
matter where black women lived
— cleaning white people’s houses.
Dad, too, struggled to fi nd promise
in this land. In 1962, at age 17, he

signed up for the Army. Like many
young men, he joined in hopes of
escaping poverty. But he went into
the military for another reason as
well, a reason common to black
men: Dad hoped that if he served
his country, his country might fi nal-
ly treat him as an American.

The Army did not end up being
his way out. He was passed over for
opportunities, his ambition stunt-
ed. He would be discharged under
murky circumstances and then
labor in a series of service jobs for
the rest of his life. Like all the black
men and women in my family, he
believed in hard work, but like all
the black men and women in my
family, no matter how hard he
worked, he never got ahead.

So when I was young, that fl ag
outside our home never made sense
to me. How could this black man,
having seen fi rsthand the way his
country abused black Americans,
how it refused to treat us as full citi-
zens, proudly fl y its banner? I didn’t
understand his patriotism. It deeply
embarrassed me.

I had been taught, in school,
through cultural osmosis, that the
fl ag wasn’t really ours, that our his-
tory as a people began with enslave-
ment and that we had contributed
little to this great nation. It seemed
that the closest thing black Amer-
icans could have to cultural pride
was to be found in our vague con-
nection to Africa, a place we had
never been. That my dad felt so
much honor in being an American
felt like a marker of his degradation,
his acceptance of our subordination.

Like most young people, I thought
I understood so much, when in fact I
understood so little. My father knew
exactly what he was doing when he
raised that fl ag. He knew that our
people’s contributions to build-
ing the richest and most powerful
nation in the world were indelible,
that the United States simply would
not exist without us.

In August 1619, just 12 years after
the English settled Jamestown, Va.,
one year before the Puritans land-
ed at Plymouth Rock and some 157
years before the English colonists
even decided they wanted to form
their own country, the Jamestown
colonists bought 20 to 30 enslaved
Africans from English pirates. The

pirates had stolen them from a Por-
tuguese slave ship that had forcibly
taken them from what is now the
country of Angola. Those men and
women who came ashore on that
August day were the beginning of
American slavery. They were among
the 12.5 million Africans who would
be kidnapped from their homes and
brought in chains across the Atlantic
Ocean in the largest forced migra-
tion in human history until the Sec-
ond World War. Almost two million
did not survive the grueling journey,
known as the Middle Passage.

Before the abolishment of the
international slave trade, 400,000
enslaved Africans would be sold into
America. Those individuals and their
descendants transformed the lands
to which they’d been brought into
some of the most successful colonies
in the British Empire. Through back-
breaking labor, they cleared the land
across the Southeast. They taught
the colonists to grow rice. They
grew and picked the cotton that at
the height of slavery was the nation’s
most valuable commodity, account-
ing for half of all American exports
and 66 percent of the world’s supply.
They built the plantations of George
Washington, Thomas Jeff erson and
James Madison, sprawling proper-
ties that today attract thousands of
visitors from across the globe cap-
tivated by the history of the world’s
greatest democracy. They laid the
foundations of the White House and
the Capitol, even placing with their
unfree hands the Statue of Freedom
atop the Capitol dome. They lugged
the heavy wooden tracks of the rail-
roads that crisscrossed the South
and that helped take the cotton
they picked to the Northern textile
mills, fueling the Industrial Revo-
lution. They built vast fortunes for
white people North and South — at
one time, the second- richest man in
the nation was a Rhode Island ‘‘slave
trader.’’ Profi ts from black people’s
stolen labor helped the young nation
pay off its war debts and fi nanced
some of our most prestigious uni-
versities. It was the relentless buy-
ing, selling, insuring and fi nancing
of their bodies and the products of
their labor that made Wall Street
a thriving banking, insurance and
trading sector and New York City
the fi nancial capital of the world.

But it would be historically inac-
curate to reduce the contributions
of black people to the vast materi-
al wealth created by our bondage.
Black Americans have also been,
and continue to be, foundational
to the idea of American freedom.
More than any other group in this
country’s history, we have served,
generation after generation, in an
overlooked but vital role: It is we
who have been the perfecters of
this democracy.

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 cer-
tain unalienable rights.’’ But the white
men who drafted those words did not
believe them to be true for the hun-
dreds of thousands of black people
in their midst. ‘‘Life, Liberty and the
pursuit of Happiness’’ did not apply
to fully one-fi fth of the country. Yet
despite being violently denied the
freedom and justice promised to all,
black Americans believed fervently
in the American creed. Through cen-
turies of black resistance and protest,
we have helped the country live up
to its founding ideals. And not only
for ourselves — black rights strug-
gles paved the way for every other
rights struggle, including women’s
and gay rights, immigrant and dis-
ability rights.

Without the idealistic, strenuous
and patriotic eff orts of black Amer-
icans, our democracy today would
most likely look very diff erent — it
might not be a democracy at all.

The very fi rst person to die for
this country in the American Revo-
lution was a black man who himself
was not free. Crispus Attucks was
a fugitive from slavery, yet he gave
his life for a new nation in which
his own people would not enjoy the
liberties laid out in the Declaration
for another century. In every war
this nation has waged since that fi rst
one, black Americans have fought —
today we are the most likely of all
racial groups to serve in the United
States military.

My father, one of those many
black Americans who answered
the call, knew what it would take me
years to understand: that the year
1619 is as important to the American














August 18, 2019


story as 1776. That black Americans,
as much as those men cast in alabas-
ter in the nation’s capital, are this
nation’s true ‘‘founding fathers.’’
And that no people has a greater
claim to that fl ag than us.

In June 1776, Thomas Jeff erson sat
at his portable writing desk in a
rented room in Philadelphia and
penned these words: ‘‘We hold
these truths to be self- evident, that
all men are created equal, that they
are endowed by their Creator with
certain unalienable Rights, that
among these are Life, Liberty and
the pursuit of Happiness.’’ For the
last 243 years, this fi erce assertion
of the fundamental and natural
rights of humankind to freedom
and self- governance has defi ned

our global reputation as a land of
liberty. As Jeff erson composed his
inspiring words, however, a teenage
boy who would enjoy none of those
rights and liberties waited nearby to
serve at his master’s beck and call.
His name was Robert Hemings, and
he was the half brother of Jeff erson’s
wife, born to Martha Jeff erson’s
father and a woman he owned. It
was common for white enslavers
to keep their half-black children
in slavery. Jeff erson had chosen
Hemings, from among about 130
enslaved people that worked on the
forced- labor camp he called Monti-
cello, to accompany him to Philadel-
phia and ensure his every comfort as
he drafted the text making the case
for a new democratic republic based
on the individual rights of men.

At the time, one-fi fth of the pop-
ulation within the 13 colonies strug-
gled under a brutal system of slavery
unlike anything that had existed in
the world before. Chattel slavery
was not conditional but racial. It
was heritable and permanent, not
temporary, meaning generations
of black people were born into it
and passed their enslaved status
onto their children. Enslaved peo-
ple were not recognized as human
beings but as property that could
be mortgaged, traded, bought, sold,
used as collateral, given as a gift and
disposed of violently. Jeff erson’s fel-
low white colonists knew that black
people were human beings, but
they created a network of laws and
customs, astounding for both their
precision and cruelty, that ensured

that enslaved people would never
be treated as such. As the abolition-
ist William Goodell wrote in 1853,
‘‘If any thing founded on falsehood
might be called a science, we might
add the system of American slavery
to the list of the strict sciences.’’

Enslaved people could not legal-
ly marry. They were barred from
learning to read and restricted
from meeting privately in groups.
They had no claim to their own chil-
dren, who could be bought, sold and
traded away from them on auction
blocks alongside furniture and cattle
or behind storefronts that advertised
‘‘Negroes for Sale.’’ Enslavers and the
courts did not honor kinship ties to
mothers, siblings, cousins. In most
courts, they had no legal standing.
Enslavers could rape or murder their

An 1872 portrait of African-Americans serving in Congress (from left): Hiram Revels, the first black man elected to
the Senate; Benjamin S. Turner; Robert C. De Large; Josiah T. Walls; Jefferson H. Long; Joseph H. Rainy; and R. Brown Elliot.

T he 1619 Project


property without legal consequence.
Enslaved people could own nothing,
will nothing and inherit nothing.
They were legally tortured, includ-
ing by those working for Jeff erson
himself. They could be worked …

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