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December 2 2019

Real Historians Weigh in on New York Times' 1619 Project

by Charlotte Hays

The New York Times attempted to “reframe” American history with its by now infamous 1619 Project.

Racism, as the New York Times sees it, is the defining trait  of our country, in the past and now. 

If you take seriously The 1619 Project, you will believe that we started out racist and remain racist to our core.  

The year 1619 was, as you'll recall and, as I noted in a previous item, the year the first slaves came to the Jamestown Colony, but it was also the year of the first representative assembly, the House of Burgesses, in the New World. 

The year brought good and ill.

For the New York Times, however, only slavery mattered.

The editors were clear about their intentions:

“The goal of The1619 Project is to reframe American history.”

Maybe the Times should have been more modest.

Now, professional historians are weighing in and finding The 1619 Project seriously wanting. 

Yay, maybe we’re less horrible than the nation’s most prestigious newspaper thinks!

Hot Air spotted the interviews with historians. They found The 1619 Project ideologically motivated. 

But, as Hot Air notes, there is a twist: this isn’t some conservative website but rather is the World Socialist Website.

One of the most famous historians in the U.S. is James McPherson, Pulitzer Prize winner and emeritus professor at Princeton. 

Here is an intriguing portion of McPherson’s interview with a representative of the World Socialist Website:

Q. Nikole Hannah-Jones, the lead writer and leader of the 1619 Project, includes a statement in her essay—and I would say that this is the thesis of the project—that “anti-black racism runs in the very DNA of this country.”

A. Yes, I saw that too. It does not make very much sense to me. I suppose she’s using DNA metaphorically. She argues that racism is the central theme of American history. It is certainly part of the history. But again, I think it lacks context, lacks perspective on the entire course of slavery and how slavery began and how slavery in the United States was hardly unique. And racial convictions, or “anti-other” convictions, have been central to many societies.

But the idea that racism is a permanent condition, well that’s just not true. And it also doesn’t account for the countervailing tendencies in American history as well. Because opposition to slavery, and opposition to racism, has also been an important theme in American history.

Q. Could you speak on this a little bit more? Because elsewhere in her essay, Hannah-Jones writes that “black Americans have fought back alone” to make America a democracy.

A. From the Quakers in the 18th century, on through the abolitionists in the antebellum, to the radical Republicans in the Civil War and Reconstruction, to the NAACP which was an interracial organization founded in 1909, down through the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, there have been a lot of whites who have fought against slavery and racial discrimination, and against racism. Almost from the beginning of American history that’s been true. And that’s what’s missing from this perspective.

It is a fascinating interview, and it goes on to debunk the ideas, expressed in the Times opus, that Lincoln always regarded African Americans as an “obstacle to national unity” and that the Civil War did not accomplish much.

Lincoln Prize winner and City of New York University Graduate Center Professor James Oakes, discussed the Times’ linking of capitalism and slavery. 

Pulitzer Price winner and Brown University emeritus professor Gordon Wood found the project “wrong in so many ways:”

Well, I was surprised when I opened my Sunday New York Times in August and found the magazine containing the project. I had no warning about this. I read the first essay by Nikole Hannah-Jones, which alleges that the Revolution occurred primarily because of the Americans’ desire to save their slaves. She claims the British were on the warpath against the slave trade and slavery and that rebellion was the only hope for American slavery. This made the American Revolution out to be like the Civil War, where the South seceded to save and protect slavery, and that the Americans 70 years earlier revolted to protect their institution of slavery. I just couldn’t believe this.

I was surprised, as many other people were, by the scope of this thing, especially since it’s going to become the basis for high school education and has the authority of the New York Times behind it, and yet it is so wrong in so many ways.

Yes, that’s right. The 1619 Project is going to be used in schools. Ever wonder why so many young people seem to have a skewed idea of America’s past? The use of The 1619 Project in high schools will contribute to the vast sea of historical ignorance.

 





Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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