Thais Perkins, the proprietor of Reverie Books, Austin, Texas and the mother of two middle-school students and a high school student, is Thais. Among the books she is eager to have in her store, and in the schools, is an expanded edition of “The 1619 Project” that comes out this week.

“My store is a socially justice oriented bookstore, and this book fits very well within that mission,” she says. “I am promoting community sponsorships of the book, where people can purchase a copy and have it donated to one of the schools.”

It is assumed that it will be accepted by the school.

The “1619 Project,” which began two years ago as a special issue of The New York Times magazine, has been at the heart of an intensifying debate over racism and the country’s origins and how they should be presented in the classroom.

The project has been welcomed as a vital new voice that places slavery at the center of American history and Black people at the heart of a centuries-long quest for the U.S. to meet the promise — intended or otherwise — that “all men are created equal.” Project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones received a Pulitzer Prize for commentary.

At the same time, opposition has come from such historians as the Pulitzer Prize winner Gordon Wood, who denounced the project’s initial assertion that protecting slavery was a primary reason for the American Revolution (the language has since been amended) and from Republican officials around the country.

Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas has proposed a bill that would ban federal funding for teaching the project, and the Trump administration issued a “1776 Commission” report it called a rebuttal against “reckless ‘re-education’ attempts that seek to reframe American history around the idea that the United States is not an exceptional country but an evil one.”

Republican concerns about the 1619 Project and Critical Race Theory have led to extensive legislative action in 2021. Jonathan Friedman (director of free expression at PEN America), says that dozens have been introduced or enacted across the nation, which call for restrictions on immoral and unpatriotic books. Texas passed two bills that specifically refer to the 1619 project.

“When you look at the current movement about critical race theory, you can see some of its origins in the fight over the 1619 project,” Friedman says.

The Texas laws, Friedman says, are “opaque” about how or whether a given school such as the ones attended by Perkins’ kids could receive a copy of the 1619 book. He cites a passage which reads “a teacher, administrator, or other employee of a state agency, school district, or open-enrollment charter school may not … require an understanding of the 1619 Project.”

He says the provision “effectively bars a teacher from teaching or assigning any materials from the 1619 Project” but not the school library from stocking it — especially if the book has been donated.

A spokesperson for the Austin Independent School District says in a statement that the “academics team is currently working on this internally, and we are not yet able to speak to the issue.”

The 1619 book appears destined for political controversy, but it’s also a literary event.

Contributors range from such prize-winning authors on poverty and racial justice as Matthew Desmond, Bryan Stevenson and Michelle Alexander, to Oscar-winning filmmaker Barry Jenkins, to “Waiting to Exhale” novelist Terry McMillan and author Jesmyn Ward, a two-time winner of the National Book Award for fiction.

The book contains essays about religion, medicine, and politics as well as poetry by the Pulitzer-winners Tracy K. Smith and Yusef Kommunyakaa.

“It’s just such an amazing part of this book,” Hannah-Jones says of the poems and prose fiction. “It gives you these beautiful breaks between these essays.”

“The 1619 Project” book already has reached the top 100 on the bestseller lists of and Barnes & is an online retailer that has partnered with One World Publishing, an imprint from Penguin Random House. Reverie Books will be donating copies of their books to schools and libraries in the area.

Hannah-Jones’ promotional tour is a mix of bookstores and performing venues, and at least one very personal journey. Her appearances will be at Philadelphia’s Brooklyn Academy of Music, and Philadelphia’s Free Library. Waterloo West High School, Iowa will be her destination. She will also visit Mahogany Books and Loyalty Bookstore in partnership with Mahogany Books to host an event at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library Washington.

Her speech will be given at the National Council of Teachers of English’s annual convention. Lynsey Burkins, who leads the council’s Build Your Stack initiative, which helps teachers build their classroom libraries, says it was important to reflect a diversity of experiences in the classroom texts.

Burkins, a third-grade teacher in Ohio, says that it’s easier to engage students with topics like history when they can see themselves in the work they’re reading.

“The more books that we have in our menu, the more that students get to start learning about historical events in a way that is humanizing for them,” Burkins says.

Hannah-Jones says that reaching classrooms was not on her mind when she conceived of “The 1619 project,” but that schools have become important outlets.

The project was made possible by the partnership between the Pulitzer Center and the Times, who have teamed up with them before. It has been adopted by many schools and educational centres across the country. These include high school historians in Baltimore, grade school teachers in Ann Arbor, Michigan, as well as the advocacy group Texas Trailblazers for Equity in Education.

Hannah will be publishing a new book next week. The Penguin Random House imprint Kokila is publishing the picture story “Born On the Water,” a collaboration among Hannah-Jones, co-writer Renée Watson and illustrator Nikkolas Smith that Hannah-Jones says she was inspired to work on after readers of the Times magazine asked for something addressed to younger readers.

This mini-history includes verses and photographs and covers the history of Black people from their African communities to their forced escape overseas. It also explains how they were enslaved to their hard earned freedom. Those once “brokenhearted, beaten and bruised” became “healers, pastors and activists,” Hannah-Jones and Watson write, “because the people fought/America began to live to its promise of democracy.”

Jess Lifshitz, who teaches fifth grade literacy in the Chicago suburbs, says that although she was familiar with “The 1619 Project,” she didn’t plan to directly incorporate the work into her classroom because of her students’ age. That changed when she received a preview copy of “Born on the Water.”

“It honors what children are able to wrestle with and grapple with, and I think so many books written for children underestimate what they’re capable of,” Lifshitz says. “With all the tension that is swirling around adults, sometimes it’s hard to remember what a beautiful picture book that tells an accurate story about history can do for the kids sitting in the room.”


Annie Ma, who covers education and equity for AP’s Race and Ethnicity team, contributed to this report.


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