The 1619 Project
And Some Popey Hijinks
I sucked at history in high school. First time I brought home a C grade, except for algebra. Our history teacher was a stickler for dates and memorization. No visual learning at all. Seymoure Herbert Shawver, III, (RIP) relished torturing us dumbbells at Riley County High School. I heard after graduation that, after marrying a woman who’s father was on the school board, he made the decision to ‘come out’ – the details were never provided to my young-ish ears. The last time I saw him he was holding court in the Student Union cafeteria at KU in Lawrence, sometime in the late 70s. I’m glad he found his tribe.
So, have you heard of this? The 1619 Project, named for the date of the first arrival of Africans on American soil, sought to place “the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.” In early 2019, Nikole Hannah-Jones, who has been a staff writer at The New York Times Magazine since 2015, proposed to devote the entire August (2019) issue of the New York Times Magazine to the project. And shortly after a book was published of the same name.
The project, and its ties to Critical Race Theory, offers a new version of American history in which slavery and white supremacy become the dominant organizing themes. Not a totally popular stance amongst regular folk and some academics.
In December, after receiving rebuttals to the claims in the project, the editors of the Times responds. One argument, authored by five academics from four different institutions, stated that On the American Revolution, pivotal to any account of our history, the project asserts that the founders declared the colonies’ independence of Britain “in order to ensure slavery would continue.” This is not true. If supportable, the allegation would be astounding — yet every statement offered by the project to validate it is false. Some of the other material in the project is distorted, including the claim that “for the most part,” black Americans have fought their freedom struggles “alone.”
The editor responds with, in part, The British often tried to undermine the patriots by mocking their hypocrisy in fighting for liberty while keeping Africans in bondage, and colonial officials repeatedly encouraged enslaved people to seek freedom by fleeing to British lines. For their part, large numbers of the enslaved came to see the struggle as one between freedom and continued subjugation. As Waldstreicher writes, “The black-British alliance decisively pushed planters in these [Southern] states toward independence.” The culmination of this was the Dunmore Proclamation, issued in late 1775 by the colonial governor of Virginia, which offered freedom to any enslaved person who fled his plantation and joined the British Army. A member of South Carolina’s delegation to the Continental Congress wrote that this act did more to sever the ties between Britain and its colonies “than any other expedient which could possibly have been thought of.” The historian Jill Lepore writes in her recent book, “These Truths: A History of the United States,” “Not the taxes and the tea, not the shots at Lexington and Concord, not the siege of Boston; rather, it was this act, Dunmore’s offer of freedom to slaves, that tipped the scales in favor of American independence.” And yet how many contemporary Americans have ever even heard of it? Enslaved people at the time certainly knew about it. During the Revolution, thousands sought freedom by taking refuge with British forces.
The Atlantic reported that Hannah-Jones said, “I think had any of the scholars who signed the letter contacted me or contacted the Times with concerns [before sending the letter], we would've taken those concerns very seriously. And instead there was kind of a campaign to kind of get people to sign on to a letter that was attempting really to discredit the entire project without having had a conversation.”
The Heritage Foundation’s Samuel Gregg, Visiting Scholar, wrote that the 1619 Project Contains factual errors, presents ambiguous genealogies of ideas, draws heavily upon one particular and deeply contested school of thought about slavery and capitalism, and effectively puts history at the service of contemporary ideological and policy agendas. It also fails to teach students how to critically assess what they are reading and pays no attention to alternative accounts that call into question the central thesis that American capitalism is deeply tarnished by slavery, even to this day. You may want to keep in mind that The Heritage Foundation is a conservative think tank (is there where a hot tub full of white guys sit around with their expensive scotches and shoot the shit?) and worked closely with the Reagan Administration, if not actually calling the shots.
These materials are intended to enhance traditional curricula, not replace them. Jake Silverstein, the editor of the Times Magazine, said “I think that there is a misunderstanding that this curriculum is meant to replace all of U.S. history. It's being used as supplementary material for teaching American history." Given the state of American education on slavery, some kind of adjustment is sorely needed.
BTW, the Balsz School District in East Phoenix has implemented curricula from the project. And, of course, Arizona Representatives John Fillmore and Mark Finchem (they who praised the rioters who stormed the building and disrupted Congress) got their panties in a bunch about it, quoting from the Heritage Project I mentioned above. Stay tuned…
Today’s added bonus:
Very Important Man who has no children criticizes couples who choose to have pets instead of children as selfish, arguing that their decision to forgo parenthood leads to a loss of "humanity" and is a detriment to civilization.
Thanks for reading Tales From the Homestead! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.