In Jamaica a few years ago, during a period when I was doing research on slavery for USA TODAY’s 1619 project, I heard reggae songs that spoke about “the half that has never been told.” I learned that Rastafarians and many others believe that much of history has been censored, recounted inaccurately or omitted altogether.
Thinking about it more, I recalled what I learned in middle school about the renowned explorers of old. Men like Marco Polo, Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus sailed around the world recording their impressions of the people and lands that they saw and colonized. Their white, male worldview has for centuries defined our worldview. In the United States, the expression of our national story has been largely through the eyes and experiences of white American founding fathers. What we most often learn is HIS story, not history. It's certainly not OUR story – the narrative that includes the lives, sacrifices and triumphs of people of color.
With a new yearlong project we are building at USA TODAY, we intend to fill in the gaps in the national story. Never Been Told: The Lost History of People of Color seeks to elevate, through investigative and explanatory journalism, the people, places and ideas that are often left out of the history books.
Starting May 20, you can find stories in the project at neverbeentold.usatoday.com.
Stories of people of color aren’t always found in the usual public records or data sets. Often, the stories are hidden in slave schedules and plantation accounting books. They are packed away with family secrets in an attic. They are in plain sight carved on monuments and statues. Or they exist only in the minds and memories of our elders.
Through our project, we will find the little-seen records and documents and draw out the eyewitness accounts to set this ambitious series of longform articles, videos, historical galleries and personal essays apart.
Our project is designed for thoughtful, provocative impact, down to the very typeface. For the Never Been Told wordmark you’ll see on every story, we’ve chosen to use the open-source Redaction typeface, created for a project by visual artist Titus Kaphar and attorney-poet Reginald Dwayne Betts that speaks to the injustices within the criminal justice system. While indicative of obscured justice as used by the artists, for us it fittingly signifies the distortions and omissions of history that leave people of color out of the American story.
In a time when we are relying more than ever on the internet for information, it’s easy to think that because we know a name, we know a story. The minute we hear a name nowadays, we instinctively Google it. Up pops a blog, a video, or an encyclopedia entry. It’s easy to pull up a bit of something that looks like history. It’s easy for summaries to misguide us into thinking that we know the whole story.
But history isn’t a website brief. Nor is it a static document, delivered to us by the founding fathers as the biblical Moses handed down commandments written on stone. History is a fluid, living, energetic thing fed continuously by the stories of the people creating that history. They include all the people of color whose labor and thought built our society. African, Asian, Latino and Native Americans -- history is made by the participation of all people of all races and ethnicities.
We want everyone to participate in our storytelling. If you know a good story about people of color that has not been told, tell us about it. Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org and lead reporter Javonte Anderson at email@example.com. Help us bring the hidden history of people of color into the light.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: USA TODAY project Never Been Told shares stories of people of color