Event Recaps | 1 February 2024

What Actually Happened in 1619: The Origins of Slavery in North America


On February 1st, 2024, Professors Elise Mitchell (Princeton), Kevin Dawson (UC Merced), and Greg O’Malley (UC Santa Cruz) explored the question: What actually happened in 1619?

These three historians of slavery were brought together for public discussion at the Music Center Recital Hall in UCSC— one focused on the importance of slavery to colonial empires, one focused on captive experiences and health in the slave trade, and one focused on the introduction of African maritime culture (and surfing!) into the Americas.

The 1619 Project of The New York Times sparked controversy and conversation across the United States about the history and legacies of slavery. The project drew its name from a date, 1619, connected to the origins of American slavery, and its publication coincided with the four-hundredth anniversary of that event.

But what actually happened in 1619? The essays collected in The 1619 Project and the important public conversations that followed only touch on the events of that year, or even on the slave trade more generally. The 1619 Project focuses crucial attention on “arguing that slavery and its legacy have profoundly shaped modern American life,” with essays on slavery’s long-term impacts on American democracy, capitalism, incarceration, and even modern transportation.

Exploring these modern legacies is crucial, but many people still have only hazy notions of why 1619 was a key turning point.

Dan White also wrote about the event for UC Santa Cruz.



Photography by Crystal Birns

This public event was presented by the Humanities Institutes and funded by a UC-MRPI Grant.