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"The 1619 Project is a major initiative from The New York Times observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country's history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are." - The New York Times, August 15th, 2019
The 16 writers, including Jesmyn Ward, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Rita Dove, Barry Jenkins, and Tyehimba Jess were invited "to bring consequential moments in African-American history to life" through works of fiction and poetry. Their writing creates what The New York Times refers to as a "literary timeline" of the past 400 years of African American history. (Poet Tyehimba Jess will be reading for the Cleopatra Mathis Poetry & Prose Series at Dartmouth College this November.)
The opening poem of the collection is titled "August 1619" by Clint Smith, and the works that follow trace the effects of slavery in America from the life of poet Phyllis Wheatly to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Professor Bennett's poem is named for the date, "Oct. 15, 1966". A brief note provides the context;
"1966, in response to police brutality against African-Americans, the Merritt College students Huey Newton and Bobby Seale created the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. The organization, declared an enemy of the government by J. Edgar Hoover's F.B.I., held that ending the economic exploitation of black people is central to achieving racial equity."
His poem opens, "Anything that wants to be can be a panther. The black lion / or ocelot, the black cheetah or cornrowed uptown girl sprinting / up her neighborhood block just like one, in dogged pursuit / of the future world." Bennett's poem is one of three to address dates and events of the 1960's, alongside the work of Rita Dove and Camille T. Dungy, but his is the timeline's sole illustration of the Black Panther Party.
Assitant Professor Joshua Bennett, a previous reader for the Cleopatra Mathis Poetry & Prose Series, is author of The Sobbing School, with an upcoming poetry collection, Owed, due to release in 2020.