Units February 16, 2024

Contextualizing Urban Diversity and The 1619 Project

Lesson Summary: Students explore what defines being American through analysis of 1619 texts about identity, wealth, civil rights and infrastructure, ultimately sharing their own stories about heritage and identity through podcast production. Downloads: Unit resources

This unit was created by the Queens College Urban Studies team as part of the 2023 cohort of The 1619 Project Education Network. It is designed for facilitation across approximately four 75-minute sessions with additional, flexible time for performance task completion.


Students will…

  • Explore the history of Reconstruction Era rights and amendments as well as 20th century Civil Rights laws that shaped the possibilities for livelihood in America
  • Trace the characteristics of contemporary capitalism to practices developed in the era of plantation slavery
  • Discover the social objectives that inform urban design, past and present
  • Review government policies and acts of violence throughout history that were racially discriminatory in their impact on generational wealth

Unit Overview

Grounded in the themes of exclusionary social practice in the urban context and struggles for inclusive citizenship, this four-lesson unit launches with an examination of Nikole Hannah-Jones’ essay “The Idea of America.” This will incubate student reflections on what defines being American, and what rights enshrine our ability to claim an American identity. Next, we will listen to the podcast episode “The Economy That Slavery Built,” and assign the article “Capitalism” by Matthew Desmond to scaffold an interrogation of the term “land of opportunity. Students will critically examine today’s culture of aspiration, work, and wealth accumulation. Listening to the podcast together will also discover the components of a compelling podcast episode. In our third lesson, we will leverage themes and ideas from Kevin Kruse’s essay “Traffic” and Trymaine Lee’s “The Wealth Gap” to lay a conceptual map for students to socially interpret their geographic location in New York City neighborhoods and their near suburbs, defined (as every American city is) by the legacies of redlining, highway construction, and the development of ethnic enclaves. The fourth lesson uses resources from StoryCorps to teach students how to interview ethically and produce a community narrative podcast.

Essential questions for this unit include: 

  • What is your idea of America and being American? What civil rights can you exercise as an individual that frame your idea? 
  • What relevance does the historical trade of enslaved people have to understanding present-day policies and approaches to immigration?
  • How does an enslavement-informed labor history recast the meaning of the phrase “land of opportunity?” 
  • What kind of power do we draw from our sense of community and belonging in particular spaces, regardless of our material wealth? 

Students will practice close listening skills, critical textual analysis, and map study accompanied by demographic data to enable them to document their community history.

Performance Task

Community Narrative: Each student will produce a StoryCorps interview podcast episode (approximately 5 minutes) or textual narrative (approximately 1200 words) that reflects a story from a community with whom they identify or would like to investigate. Guidance will be provided in class on ethical interviewing practices, authoring scripted components of the community narrative, and editing for a polished finished product. 

Finished podcasts or textual narratives are to be submitted on Blackboard and will be featured on a course website. Creating a narrative, whether podcast or text, will employ the skills of close listening, note-taking, and scripting context for an audience. The community narratives will engage the themes of truth-telling, community resilience, and American identity.


For the formative tasks described in the lesson plans, assessments will focus on the attention paid to facts conveyed in the 1619 Project materials, as well as engagement with the classroom discourse of peers. Evaluation for the summative performance task of creating a community narrative will encompass:

scripted historical and contemporary background information specific to the student’s topic 

  • Interview questions for community member(s) that are respectful and empathetic, and are inspired by themes explored in our 1619 Project unit
  • Clarity and cohesion of final edited podcast episode 
  • Commentary on one of the community narratives created by classmates taking note of themes raised in class

Community Narrative Preparation and grading rubric [.pdf][.docx]

Community Narrative Final Submission Guidelines and grading rubric [.pdf][.docx]


Please help us understand your needs better by filling out this brief survey!

Will you use this lesson plan in a class you teach?
By sharing your email address, you are opting in to receive updates from the Pulitzer Center Education team.