On the 400th anniversary of the first presence of African slaves in colonial Virginia, The New York Times published “The 1619 Project,” a compilation of essays related to American slavery.
When the project was first published in August 2019, Anne C. Bailey, a professor of history at Binghamton University, contributed an article on what slave auction locations look like today. On Feb. 12, Bailey expanded the article, publishing an essay on all of her historical research identifying where these auctions occurred throughout the country and sharing the stories of some of the people sold during that time period.
“At that time, during much of the period of slavery, the voice of the enslaved would not have been honored, would not have been something documented in any important way,” Bailey said. “Their experience would not have been worthy of documentation or worthy of giving any kind of substantial attention to. It is incumbent upon us here in the present to go back and restore that perspective lost from history.”
As the reader scrolls through “The 1619 Project” page, essays on other topics relating to American slavery emerge, such as “Myths about physical racial differences were used to justify slavery — and are still believed by doctors today,” by Linda Villarosa, and “Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true,” by Nikole Hannah-Jones.
Bailey’s essay is titled, “For hundreds of years, enslaved people were bought and sold in America. Today most of the sites of this trade are forgotten,” and is published alongside a photography gallery by Dannielle Bowman. Bailey said she finds inspiration for her research in the necessity of it.
“I am certainly honored to be a part of this project,” Bailey said. ”I say to students and to others, ‘Just do the work you think needs doing and you let the rest take care of itself.’”
Bailey did not compile the information entirely on her own — she worked with research assistants Morgan Rachlin, ‘19, Mone’t Schultz, ‘18, Kelly Wu, a sophomore majoring in biology and The New York Times editorial team at the Harriet Tubman Center for the Study of Freedom and Equity. Bailey and her research assistants used primary sources from the Civil War era to document both marked and unmarked slave auction sites in America, and her research expands upon the historical record of these sites.
Kent Schull, chair of the history department and an associate professor of history, said Bailey’s work advocates for the awareness of inequalities and diversity throughout history. Schull also said he is fortunate to be her colleague and that her accomplishments will positively impact the department.
“Having our faculty publish in such a well-known platform always raises the department’s profile and demonstrates to a broader audience the need for a historical perspective for understanding past and current issues, challenges and successes,” Schull wrote in an email. “Bailey’s piece is doing this same thing for our department.”
Bailey’s history of researching slave trades and auctions in America extends beyond these articles. She also published two books on the topic: “African Voices of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Beyond the Silence and the Shame,” and “The Weeping Time: Memory and the Largest Slave Auction in American History,” in 2005 and 2017, respectively.
Bailey highlighted the importance of recognizing auction sites and other significant locations. During a recent trip to Richmond, Virginia, she said she was walking across a bridge and found a small marker stating that the bridge was built by slaves.
“It’s a simple thing, but here that bridge stands 150 years later and we are driving across it,” Bailey said. “The very infrastructure we all use was built by people of African descent, built by slaves. How can you not acknowledge that contribution?”