‘1619 Project’ Creator Explains Why Black Americans Are Owed $14 Trillion in Reparations

“I already know the objections that are formulating in your mind so I’m going to set them all up and I’m going to knock them down,” Nikole Hannah Jones says

Nikole Hannah-Jones during "The 1619 Project" docuseries

“Justice,” the final episode in Hulu’s “The 1619 Project” docuseries, argues that the federal government owes $14 trillion to the descendants of enslaved Black people.

Nikole Hannah-Jones, the creator of the series, calculates the federal government owes the 4 million Black Americans whose ancestors were enslaved $350,000. She argues these reparations — made in the form of land and money — are a way to address the unequal wealth distribution, redlining and other institutional practices that harmed Blacks for decades. And she has the statistics to back it up.

“When I constructed the essay, it was a benefit having every possible objection to reparations and every possible excuse as to why we can’t do it or we shouldn’t do it. For me, the answers are in the data,” Hannah-Jones explained. “I already know the objections that are formulating in your mind so I’m going to set them all up and I’m going to knock them down. That was extremely intentional because the truth is, it’s not just Conservatives who oppose reparations for Black Americans. The polling shows that even a majority of white Democrats oppose it, and that to me is coming from a lack of information.”

Hannah-Jones began the project as a journalist at The New York Times, collaborating with other journalists to create a print article series. Since the publishing of the magazine series in 2019, the project has transformed into a podcast, a book, and now a docuseries.

“Bringing the medium to the screen democratizes the work in many ways. I want people to be thinking about these arguments and understanding their country in a different way,” Hannah-Jones told TheWrap. “Some people are more audio and they will take it in podcast [form]. Some people need to sit down and read and process and many people need that kind of visual medium.”

Hannah-Jones was quick to credit her team of creatives and producers who added rigorous research in order to televise the stories and arguments she has made in the previous iterations. Showrunner Shoshana Guy’s background in news helped immensely. Executive producers Roger Ross Williams, Kathleen Lingo, Caitlin Roper and Oprah Winfrey also backed the docuseries, which pieces together personal anecdotes from Hannah-Jones’ life, case studies and conversations with all kinds of sources on their experiences and findings of race.

“We approached it with that understanding that this was journalism, that it was rigorous, that we had to bring stories that would both connect with the heart and the intellect. So I didn’t do this on my own,” she said. “So much of this was a very different experience for me as a journalist and a longtime print reporter. So much other reporting and the people that you meet were found by the producers who were doing the research. It was not necessarily a product of my own digging.”

All six episodes of “The 1619 Project” are now streaming on Hulu.