While Nikole Hannah-Jones’ 1619 Project, undertaken in partnership with the New York Times and Hulu streaming service, was on its way to becoming a multi-media phenomenon, I was focused on completing texts and artwork for my Black and Blue Letters from the Red Zone initiative. It was not until I joined an impromptu watch party with millions of others and watched ABC’s (partnering with Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Studios) 3-hour network TV broadcast of the 1619 Project, on May 31, 2023, that I made a big discovery.
In our individual quests to explore different aspects of the legacy of African Americans, Hannah-Jones and I both encountered, and documented, the story of the remarkable Wilson Moran. The 1619 Project segment on Moran primarily dealt with the loss of his family’s, and that of other Black families in Harris Neck, Georgia, land to the U.S. Government during the early 1940s. This was very much in synch with the 1619 Project’s noted goals to prompt dialogues on “a new origin story of America’s founding,” and, on possible reparations for African Americans whose ancestors were slaves.
My essay, published in The American Poet Who Went Home Again, also discusses the displacement of the Harris Neck families. In addition, however, it recounts the story of a song passed down to Mary Moran, Wilson’s mother, and how that song led to a journey to the family’s ancestral village in Sierra Leone, Africa.
Conversations and Controversies
A number of controversies have erupted challenging the historical accuracy of specific statements in the original published version of Hannah-Jones’ Pulitzer Prize-winning essay. None of these debates, however, have muted the call for continued discussions of potential reparations for African Americans in one form or another.
Nor have they changed the fact that the case of Wilson’s family and other former African-American residents of Harris Neck are only one, among many, involving the destruction of once-prosperous Black communities under the guise of various justifications. That reality became painfully clear to me while writing about Black Wall Street and riots in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance.
‘We Lost a Way of Life’
It was a shock to see Wilson discussing Harris Neck as part of the ongoing Hulu docuseries because, as shared on a Facebook post, a lot of years had passed since we last communicated. I’ve been forced to reconsider whether my work documenting the story of Harris Neck and wider implications is complete. When doing so, this paragraph from The American Poet Who Went Again (p. 61) keep coming back to me:
“The story of the Moran family’s descent from the resourceful amplitude of 2,670 acres to 1.5 is a story that charges Wilson’s voice with more than a little bitter regret and sweet longing. 'It’s not just a matter of having lost the land and the wealth that came with it. It’s a matter of the fact that we lost a way of life that we should have been able to pass on to our children and to their children, but which we can’t because of what was taken from us. I think that if we did have that culture to pass on to not just our family but our people as a whole, we wouldn‘t see a lot of the negative things that we do in urban communities, things like severe drug abuse, extreme crimes, and extreme poverty.‛”
The Concept of Democracy
Was it only a coincidence that the 3-hour network television stream of The 1619 Project occurred on the first-year anniversary of Mary Moran’s passing at 100 years old? More than likely, it was not. Planning is a major part of any hopes for success when working in electronic and digital media.
Chances are as well that it was not merely coincidental that access to the content was made available to an expanded viewing audience only a few weeks before Americans celebrate Juneteenth and July 4th 2023. At the heart of the issues involved, after all, is everything that gives the concept of democracy real value: “…Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Contemporary award-winning American author of classically-styled works in history, poetry, creative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and journalism.