Last year, The New York Times launched its “1619 Project” with much fanfare. The project aimed to flip American history on its head, arguing that the “true founding” did not come with the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, but with the arrival of the first slaves to Virginia on August 20, 1619. Following this premise, the project aimed to highlight the stories of black Americans and advance a revolution in American society in the name of racial justice, attacking aspects of American society such as capitalism as inherently racist and oppressive.
Slightly more than a year after the project launched, however, The New York Times threw the 1619 Project’s central claim down the memory hole. The Times stealth-edited the 1619 Project’s website, removing claims about the founding. The project’s founder, Nikole Hannah-Jones, told CNN that the project “does not argue that 1776 was not the founding of the country.” Psyche!
The 1619 Project "does not argue that 1776 was not the founding of the country, but what it does argue for is that we have largely treated slavery as an asterisk to the American story,” creator @nhannahjones says as President Trump has railed against it. https://t.co/2qsfDPKiV2 pic.twitter.com/2AR3Xqlvj0
— CNN (@CNN) September 18, 2020
Has Hannah-Jones read the 1619 Project?
Hannah-Jones’ statement involved some serious historical revision and gaslighting. As Quillette’s Phillip Magness reported, the claim that 1619 was America’s “true founding” proved rather central to the whole 1619 Project.
The interactive version of The New York Times‘ 1619 Project website introduced the project with this paragraph:
The 1619 project is a major initiative from The New York Times observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.
The “true founding” claim didn’t just feature in that bit of text, however. A host of 1619 Project graphics included “July 4, 1776” crossed out and replaced with “August 20, 1619.” In fact, Hannah-Jones’ Twitter profile still includes this background graphic.
Hannah-Jones herself doubled down on the claim that 1619 was America’s true founding. “I argue that 1619 is our true founding,” she tweeted the week after the project launched. “Also, look at the banner pic in my profile.” She repeated this claim multiple times.
Yet it seems The New York Times decided it would deep-six the “true founding” claim. Mysteriously, that central bit of text just disappeared from the 1619 Project’s website. Here’s the original page with the “true founding” text:
Just over a year later, the Times cut out the words “understanding 1619 as our true founding.”
Why change the 1619 Project?
In July, Hannah-Jones admitted that “the fight over the 1619 Project is not about history. It is about memory.” In fact, the 1619 Project has jumbled basic historical facts about America’s founding and slavery, not to mention modern aspects of American society like capitalism.
For one thing, there were black slaves, and black freedmen, in America for about a century before 1619. Whoops!
The Smithsonian Magazine disputed the 1619 Project because the Spanish brought slaves to present-day South Carolina in 1526.
“In 1526, enslaved Africans were part of a Spanish expedition to establish an outpost on the North American coast in present-day South Carolina. Those Africans launched a rebellion in November of that year and effectively destroyed the Spanish settlers’ ability to sustain the settlement, which they abandoned a year later. Nearly 100 years before Jamestown, African actors enabled American colonies to survive, and they were equally able to destroy European colonial ventures,” the magazine reported.
Ignoring these and other pre-1619 slaves “effectively erases the memory of many more African peoples than it memorializes,” the Smithsonian Magazine article argued. Therefore, the New York Times project “silences the memory of the more than 500,000 African men, women, and children who had already crossed the Atlantic against their will, aided and abetted Europeans in their endeavors, provided expertise and guidance in a range of enterprises, suffered, died, and – most importantly – endured.”
The New York Times also had to make a rather embarrassing correction shortly after launching the project. Hannah-Jones had claimed that “one of the primary reasons” the American colonists revolted against Britain in 1776 was to preserve the institution of slavery. Slavery was not one of the motivating factors of the revolution. In fact, the revolution disrupted slavery. The Times eventually posted an embarrassing correction.
Of course, the 1619 Project is also false in a much deeper sense. Its narrative delegitimizes the very real benefits of American freedom and prosperity by claiming that racist oppression is the central truth behind the country’s ideals, while in truth the country was founded in pursuit of freedom and equality but the Founders allowed slavery to persist, laying the groundwork to defeat it eventually.
The political backlash
The Times deep-sixed its “true founding” claim on September 18, one day after President Donald Trump denounced the 1619 Project in a fiery Constitution Day speech. He announced a “1776 Commission” as a response to the Times‘ project, aiming to teach America’s children the true value of patriotism. “We must clear away the twisted web of lies in our schools and classrooms, and teach our children the magnificent truth about our country,” he declared.
Trump has consistently pushed back against efforts to demonize America’s past and its heroes. He gave a powerful Fourth of July speech at Mount Rushmore, condemning the Marxist critical race theory that aims to “deconstruct” various aspects of American society as examples of racist oppression.
Following the police abuse of George Floyd, protests across the country devolved into violent riots, seemingly inspired by Marxist critical race theory and the 1619 Project.
When vandals toppled a statue of George Washington in Portland, they spray-painted “1619” on the statue. When Claremont’s Charles Kesler wrote in The New York Post, “Call them the 1619 riots,” 1619 Project Founder Nikole Hannah-Jones responded (in a since-deleted tweet) that “it would be an honor” to claim responsibility for the destructive riots. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) called for the “dismantling” of America’s “economy and political system,” in order to root out supposed racist oppression.
Portland activist Lilith Sinclair provided a chilling example of Marxist critical race theory and its ability to inspire an aimless revolution. “There’s still a lot of work to undo the harm of colonized thought that has been pushed onto Black and indigenous communities,” she said. As examples of “colonized thought,” she mentioned Christianity and the “gender binary.” She said she organizes for “the abolition of … the “United States as we know it.”
The riots have proved the most destructive (in terms of insurance claims) in U.S. history. While Democratic nominee Joe Biden has condemned violent looting and arson, he refused to condemn antifa or Black Lives Matter agitators, instead attacking “right-wing militias” as if they were the true instigators of violence.
While leftists repeat claims of “institutional racism,” the riots have victimized the black community. The destruction disproportionately hit black communities in Kenosha, Wisc., Minneapolis, and Chicago. The riots destroyed black lives, black livelihoods, and black monuments. At least 26 Americans have died in the riots, most of them black.
For these and other reasons, many black leaders have denounced the official Black Lives Matter movement, the founders of which have described themselves as “trained Marxists.” Over 100 black pastors recently condemned the Black Lives Matter movement and urged Nike to distance itself from it.
Given the destructive riots and the rising backlash against Marxist critical race theory and the 1619 Project, it seems The New York Times decided brush up the project’s claims. Perhaps the project might seem less like a “twisted web of lies” if it acknowledged America’s true founding and stopped claiming that 1619 meant more than 1776.
Yet it seems the Times has not issued a correction, acknowledging the malicious lie as an error. In fact, Hannah-Jones seems adamant on insisting that the 1619 Project never claimed that 1619 was America’s “true founding,” even though the project claimed exactly that.
Ultimately, the 1619 Project is a massive fraud. While America has a complex history and slavery played a very large role in that history, the country has made massive improvements in realizing its greatest ideals. July 4, 1776, still means a great deal more than August 20, 1619, and it always will.
Civil rights veteran Robert Woodson released his “1776 Unites” curriculum for high school, aiming to teach inspiring stories of black Americans who embraced the Founding principles and achieved their own American dreams. His vision of black resilience and agency counters the victimhood culture of Marxist critical race theory. Rather than calling for an unguided revolution in the name of racial justice, his curriculum provides young Americans a roadmap for success inspired by America’s highest ideals.
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Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.