Two years ago, The New York Times tried to flip American history on its head. “The 1619 Project” claimed that America’s “true founding” came with the arrival of the first slaves in Virginia, not with the Declaration of Independence. Scholars immediately raised objections and the Times has issued a series of stealth corrections tacitly admitting that its project was based on a lie. The 1619 Project also arguably helped inflame the destructive and deadly riots last summer. Yet schools across the country are adopting curriculums based on the project.
While Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) filed a bill to block federal funding from schools that teach the 1619 Project, his effort went nowhere in Congress. Yet Republicans in five states have stepped up, filing bills to combat the destructive ideology of the 1619 Project on the state level.
Republican lawmakers have filed bills to stop the 1619 Project from invading schools in Arkansas (H.B. 1231), Iowa (H.F. 222), Mississippi (S.B. 2538), Missouri (H.B. 952), and South Dakota (H.B. 1158). These bills would cut funding to K-12 schools and colleges that use a curriculum based on the 1619 Project.
The South Dakota bill aims “to prohibit the use of curricular materials that promote racial divisiveness and displace historical understanding with ideology.”
Indeed, the 1619 Project twists American history along the lines of Marxist critical race theory, reframing many aspects of American life as rooted in race-based slavery and oppression, including capitalism, the consumption of sugar, and America’s rejection of 100 percent government-funded health care. The project goes right to the heart of America, featuring graphics crossing out “July 4, 1776” and replacing the founding date with “August 20, 1619.”
Until September 2020, the 1619 Project website announced that the project “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.” In September, the Times stealth-edited the website to remove the claim about 1619 being America’s “true founding” and 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!
Historians have often criticized the project for twisting the truth. For instance, 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.
Citing these and other errors, scholars have demanded that the Pulitzer Prize board revoke the prize awarded to Hannah-Jones and the 1619 Project.
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.
Schools should teach about America’s noble ideals and its struggle to achieve them, along with the horrific moral stain of race-based slavery. Yet Marxist critical race theory claims that race-based slavery spoiled the whole project. According to this ideology, the central aspect of society is racial oppression — the historic abuses white people have committed against people of other races. “White supremacy” secretly rules everything, even when policies explicitly consider people on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.
It does not matter that American law expressly forbids racial discrimination, according to this theory. If white people have more money than black people, that is ipso facto proof of white supremacy, regardless of how Asians are doing and regardless of the true reasons behind any disparity.
The Smithsonian briefly showed how this works when it published a “teaching tool” infographic on “whiteness.” That infographic claimed that the nuclear family, science, capitalism, the Judeo-Christian tradition, individualism, “objective, rational linear thinking,” and even values such as “be polite” are aspects of oppressive whiteness. The Smithsonian rightly removed the graphic after facing criticism, but this noxious ideology has spread throughout American society.
Marxist critical race theory inspired much of the destruction of the Black Lives Matter and antifa riots over the summer. While protesters rightly expressed outrage at the treatment of George Floyd, many of the protests devolved into looting, vandalism, and arson in which lawless thugs — acting in the name of fighting racism — destroyed black lives, black livelihoods, and black monuments.
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,” Hannah-Jones responded (in a since-deleted tweet) that “it would be an honor” to claim responsibility for the destructive riots.
The 1619 Project does not belong in public schools, which aim to educate children to be good citizens. Schools should rely on real history, not this kind of ideological activism.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.