The challenge before the graphics desk was to research and communicate the scale of those directly affected by slavery in the lands that would become the United States. Learn more about this project and its many contributors here: https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/opinion/2019/08/21/slavery-america-behind-usa-todays-1619-series-black-history/2032393001/
Nichelle Smith, an investigations team editor at USA TODAY, recalls attending a lecture at the Library of Congress in early 2018 where she listened to scholars discuss the landing 400 years ago of enslaved Africans at the British colony of Virginia. A name soon caught her attention: “Angela,” among the first Africans brought to Virginia in 1619. Angela survived the first leg from Angola on a slave ship, was taken hostage by British pirates and eventually sold to the commander of Jamestown Island. Her age and the date of her death remain unknown. Smith, along with Deborah Barfield Berry, Kelley Benham French, Rick Hampson and Jarrad Henderson, spent months meticulously reporting and preparing our ambitious series. They were supported by dozens of USA TODAY colleagues – writers, editors, designers, producers, developers, visual specialists – who produced 1619: Searching for Answers, remembering the first enslaved Africans to be brought to the English-speaking colonies that became America.
What was the hardest part of this project?
The 1619 series, 1619.usatoday.com, overseen by Managing Editor Kristen Go, is an exhaustively researched examination of the journey, the protagonists who defined that moment of history and the pain and repercussions that continue today.
Our journalists traveled from Virginia to Angola and beyond to produce a vivid, multi-part series that includes the Tucker family’s quest to connect with its past.
Wanda Tucker, who traces her family roots to the 1800s in Virginia, has been trying to connect her family history back to William – the first recorded African baby baptized in Virginia, a child born to Anthony and Isabella, survivors of the White Lion, a privateer that anchored at Point Comfort, where its captain traded human beings for supplies.
We traveled with Wanda Tucker to Angola; USA TODAY underwrote her journey so we could be alongside her to document her quest, starting at the port city of Luanda and moving deep into the interior to the point of origin of the Portuguese trade, the historic Ndongo Kingdom. Portuguese slave ships, one even named San Juan Bautista – Saint John the Baptist – would sail from Luanda with innocents below deck, never to see their homeland again.
The historical research was extessive, but the concept itself was the most difficult to acheive. It took multiple iterations and ideas from across the team to get it right.
What can others learn from this project?
Pairing reporters of various diciplines and skill levels with visual experts yeilds excellent excellent results, especially when paired with an ambisitous goal.
“I have found myself searching for my own history,” said USA TODAY reporter Berry, who traveled to Angola. “I, too, have done the same. My grandmother’s last name is Tucker, and she was from Virginia.”
Berry recently learned of her own ancestry results while reporting from Angola. She’ll tell her compelling family story in coming installments.
“The landing of the first enslaved Africans in 1619 is one of the most important events and dates in our history, but it hasn’t been treated as such,” said USA TODAY Editor-in-Chief Nicole Carroll. “We set out to correct that. Our goal is to educate and inform Americans about the history that continues to shape and influence the country we are today.”
Carroll also used the project as an opportunity to further educate our newsroom.
Carroll and Smith led a tour of USA TODAY colleagues to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, a true public trust.