The 1619 Project and the 400-Year American Legacy of Slavery

Civics Learning Project has specially curated these resources to accompany the 1619 Project, an ongoing exploration of how the legacy of slavery has impacted every facet of American life.


In this Resource Collection:

    • Multimedia Resources
    • The 1619 Project Essays
    • Supporting News Articles about the 1619 Project
    • Adjustable lexile level articles from Newsela
    • Editorials about the 1619 Project
    • Geography Resources
    • Timeline Resources
    • Artifact Resources
    • Primary Document Resources
    • Lesson Plan Resources
    • CLP’s Special Constitutional Lesson Resource

See the downloadable worksheets, tools, and resources in the sidebar for ways to use this information in an exploration of the history and legacy of slavery in the US and a Constitutional critique of that legacy.

In August 1619, a ship arrived at the Jamestown colony in Virginia, and the first slaves transported from Africa were forced onto the shores of what would become the United States of America. Thus began a 400-year legacy of slavery, oppression, institutionalized racism, a corrupted Constitution, a traumatizing and bloody civil war, the assassination of a president, a culture embedded with inequality and injustice, and a struggle to understand our own history and what our future can be as a country.

To acknowledge and more deeply examine this legacy, The New York Times Magazine published The 1619 Project in August 2019. There are many avenues to investigate in this important topic, and Civics Learning Project has curated a variety of resources for you to explore. In addition, the sidebar to this page has handouts you can download to think through different aspects of America’s legacy of Slavery. Civics Learning Project has created a resource that examines the constitutional consequences of slavery and the foundational decisions that set our country on a path of inequality from the moment of its ratification, and what that path has led to along the way.


The 1619 Project Video:


The Podcast of the 1619 Project




The Poetry of the 1619 Project




The Essays of the 1619 Project

Shareable:  a collection of the above essay links


Supporting Articles:

Shareable: a collection of the above article links


Adjustable Lexile Level Articles from Newsela:

Shareable: a collection of the above Newsela article links


Editorials about the 1619 Project:

Shareable: a collection of the above editorial links


A Geographic Exploration of the American Legacy of Slavery:

Shareable: a collection of the above geography links



Slavery and the making of AmericaThirteen, PBS,

A timeline of global slaveryFree the Slaves



The 1619 Project Artifacts – Curated by Mary Elliott, All text by Mary Elliott and Jazmine Hughes, August 19, 2019

The Mere Distinction of Colour – James Madison’s Montpelier

Transatlantic slave trade artifacts – The National Museum of African American History & Culture

Slavery and Remembrance – United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)


Primary Documents:

Shareable: a collection of the above research links – Timelines, Artifacts, and Primary Documents


Lesson Plans & Ideas:

Official Curriculum of The 1619 Project: Pulitzer Center Lesson Plans

Teaching Tolerance’s Teaching Hard History: A Framework for Teaching Slavery

Rethinking how we teach about slavery

A Closer Examination of the

Constitution and Slavery

From Civics Learning Project, in the sidebar you can download the full lesson packet that provides texts and guidance on creating an inquiry-based project for students to investigate the lasting consequences of slavery and institutionalized racism and how those consequences might be mitigated in a new constitutional convention. The simulated convention as the culminating activity gives students an opportunity to engage in civil discourse in a time where that skill is essential to civic engagement and participation.


The words “slave” or “slavery” are not written in the United States Constitution. But in two sections of Article I, the framers inserted language that secured the institution of slavery and the slave trade as part of the institutions and culture of the new nation. the Framers of the Constitution chose to make compromises that would later trace directly to a terrible Civil War and centuries of institutionalized inequality.

Despite the declaration that “all men are created equal,” and the introduction to the Constitution that states “we the people… in order to …promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty…” the Constitution’s second paragraph seals slavery as an institution acceptable for states counting representation in Congress. This contradiction proved not to be an easy compromise but inserted a moral conflict at the heart of the founding of the United States. Several of the most revered founders of the nation (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Mason) debated and lamented slavery, but yet owned slaves themselves and chose not to stand against it in the writing of the Constitution or establishment of the nation.

Article 1, Section 2:

“Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states which may be included within this union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”

Known as the Three-Fifths Compromise, this language decided that not only was slavery an acceptable institution but that slaves were not to be counted as whole human beings for purposes of a state’s representation in Congress. The reason for this was that slaveholding states in the south knew their representative numbers would be low if only non-slaves were counted as their population, but they also could not count slaves as “persons’ or that would contradict the states’ policies that slaves were property, not people. Thus the Three-Fifths Compromise was made at the very start of the Constitution.

Article 1, Section 9:

The migration or importation of such persons as any of the states now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each person.

This section of the first article of the Constitution allows for the continuation of the international slave trade for twenty more years after the founding of the country. It lays down import fees for slaves, and it does not end the slave trade within the United States. The “1808 Compromise” further sealed slavery and the inhuman trade of slaves as an acceptable practice at the start of the nation.

Both sections of the Constitution were further embedded into United States law by the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793, passed by Congress and signed into law by George Washington. This law required states, no matter their own slave laws, to return escaped slaves to bondage and participate in their ongoing subjugation. Those who established underground railroads to help slaves escape, such as the Quakers, were subjected to fines and even imprisonment for assisting in the liberty of slaves from the south. The law was enhanced by the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, confirming the United States’ government complicity in protecting slavery.

It wasn’t until a terrible Civil War and the post-war Amendments to the Constitution – the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments – that the 2 sections in the Constitution and the other slavery-protecting laws were effectively made void. But even after slavery itself was made illegal, laws put in place by former slave states after the Civil War ensured that African Americans (and other Americans of color, including Native Americans and Hispanic Americans) faced severe segregation, lack of rights, and oppression at the hands of the government and society. That means that the history of the United States, its culture, and its politics and economy has been built on:

    • 246 years of legalized slavery and slave trade (1619 – 1865)
    • 100 more years of legalized segregation, deprivation of rights, and institutionalized racism for African Americans  (1865-1965)

To put that in perspective, the cultural, economic, and political DNA of this country is embedded with 350 years of discrimination and institutionalized racism and only a little over 50 years of legalized equality (but not equality in practice). That is what the 1619 Project is all about. It gives perspective on that history from those who don’t often have the voice of telling it. In honor of 400 years since the first slaves were forced onto North American soil, below is a lesson plan that gives students the opportunity to consider the effects of that legacy and what a new constitutional convention language might say that could make more of an impact in setting the course of our nation towards more equality and liberty.


Primary Documents regarding Slavery & the Constitution:

Frederick Douglass on the Constitution and Slavery, March 16, 1849

“What do the Slave is the Fourth of July?” – Frederick Douglass, July 5, 1852

Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall on the Bicentennial of the Constitution, May 6, 1987

Secession Declaration of Mississippi, January 1861

Argument of John Quincy Adams before the Supreme Court regarding the slave ship Amistad, March 1841

Petitions to End Slavery in the states, 1773-1777


Background & History:

Framers of the Constitution & their contradictions around slavery: “George Mason the Reluctant Founder” – Center for Civic Education

Slavery, the Constitution, and a Lasting Legacy – James Madison’s Montpelier

Historical Context: The Constitution and Slavery – Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

The Constitution and Slavery – the Constitutional Rights Foundation

The Thirteenth Amendment: The Abolition of Slavery – University of Missouri

The History of the Three-Fifths Compromise – Nadra Kareem Nittle, June 2019

The Thirteenth Amendment: History and Impact – Robert Longly, August 2019

Dred Scott: The Case and its Impact – Robert Longly, August 2019

The Civil Rights Cases of 1883 – Robert Longly, August 2019


Slavery & the Constitution: A New Constitutional Convention

An important part of investigating the issue of slavery and its legacy in the United States is to critique the Constitution and its treatment of slavery and enslaved people. A solid critique of the Constitution uses the Preamble itself to measure whether the contents (or lack thereof) comply with the intent and purpose of the Constitution and of the American government. Asking students to understand and analyze the six goals of the Preamble creates a foundation from which a true critique can happen beyond simply discovering where the Constitution address slavery.  Extending from that, might students use common texts from The 1619 Project as evidence to form proposals which they might testify to in a mock constitutional convention about a new way for the Constitution to address the legacy of slavery.

The entire packet of lesson ideas connecting The 1619 Project to a Constitutional critique can be found in the sidebar.