America is unique among nations in being founded on a set of ideas and values rather than having a shared “identity” based solely on “blood and soil.” The founding of America during the revolutionary era of the 1770s and ’80s was based on principles that provide the sinews of our national identity. They are what create a unity out of the diverse peoples that have settled and occupied this country since its founding. They have been the inspirational force that enabled America to abolish slavery, become a global symbol of freedom, and provide the world’s chief bulwark against global tyrannies.
It is this inspirational memory that the political left has set out to erase and destroy. The most disturbing manifestation of this sinister aggression is the “1619 Project,” the brainchild of a staff writer at the New York Times named Nikole Hannah-Jones. It is supported by the Pulitzer Foundation, the Smithsonian Institution, and the nation’s cultural elite. Six months after its launch, the 1619 Project is already a curriculum in 3,500 public high schools in all 50 states. Given the extreme left-wing nature of the teachers’ unions and the public education establishment, this is hardly surprising.
Here’s how Times editorial board member Mara Gay describes the project’s mission: “In the days and weeks to come, we will publish essays demonstrating that nearly everything that has made America exceptional grew out of slavery.”
In a formal statement, the Times editorial board elaborated: “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 the story we tell ourselves about who we are.”
In other words, in its very conception, the 1619 Project is an historically illiterate lie, whose self-evident purpose is to erase the actual foundation of the nation born in 1776 and memorialized by Lincoln as a “new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
The creator of the 1619 Project, an African American Times staff writer and pro-Castro leftist, has written an introduction to the project called “America Wasn’t a Democracy Until Black Americans Made It One.” The title reveals the thinly veiled racist attitudes of both the author and her project by suggesting that blacks wrote the Declaration of Independence, created the abolitionist movement, drafted and financed the Union army, sacrificed 350,000 lives to win the Civil War, wrote the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, created and financed the NAACP and other civil rights organizations without major support from white Americans, and wrote and passed the Civil Rights Acts. Of course, these are absurdities, and the only reason they are even entertained is that anti-white racism is so fashionable among the nation’s cultural elites at this troubled moment in our history.
Hannah-Jones’ explanation of the project to make 1619 America’s Founding instead of 1776 or 1787, describes the event in these words:
In August 1619, just 12 years after the English settled Jamestown, Va., . . . the Jamestown colonists bought 20 to 30 enslaved Africans from English pirates. The pirates had stolen them from a Portuguese slave ship that had forcibly taken them from what is now the country of Angola. Those men and women who came ashore on that August day were the beginning of American slavery. They were among the 12.5 million Africans who would be kidnapped from their homes and brought in chains across the Atlantic Ocean in the largest forced migration in human history until the Second World War. (Emphasis added.)
This description is a tissue of fictions beginning with the insinuation that 12.5 million Africans were shipped to America in the Atlantic Slave Trade. The proper figure is 330,000—bad enough—but a sign that African slavery in the Western Hemisphere was significantly less than Hannah-Jones and her enablers would have us believe.
Moreover, the 20 Africans brought to Virginia in 1619 whom Hannah-Jones describes as the beginning of African slavery weren’t even slaves. As the distinguished African-American Princeton historian Nell Painter has observed in a critique of the 1619 Project, the Africans brought to Virginia in 1619 were indentured servants, meaning that they would be free within a set number of years (usually five to seven). In fact, the majority of laborers in the Virginia colony were indentured servants, almost all of them white.
What’s more, neither the 20 indentured servants who arrived in Virginia in 1619 nor the vast majority of actual slaves who came later were “kidnapped” by white Englishmen or any other whites. They were bought at slave auctions centered in Ghana and Benin from black African slave owners. The 20 indentured servants who arrived in Virginia in 1619 had been captured and indentured by black African warlords as spoils of war.
All of these facts undermine the Times’ attack on America’s Founding, so Hannah-Jones omits them.
The ideological character of the 1619 Project is manifest in the subtitle of Hannah-Jones’ historically illiterate introduction: “Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true.” This claim is based first of all on a grammatical misunderstanding of the word “ideals,” and then on an extravagant distortion of the historical record. “Ideals” are by their very nature aspirations, not facts. The Founders’ ideals were actually commitments they made which they and their heirs carried out.
In the second place, Hannah-Jones characterization of the Founders as pro-slavery in her introduction is just an offensive slander. In the words of C. Bradley Thompson’s scholarly study of the Founders’ attitudes, America’s Revolutionary Mind:
Not a single revolutionary leader ever publicly praised slavery as a positive good. Benjamin Franklin, speaking as president of the Pennsylvania Society of Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, described slavery as “an atrocious debasement of human nature.” George Washington, a slaveholder, told a friend, “There is not a man living, who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of [slavery].” At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, James Madison told his colleagues, “We have seen the mere distinction of color made in the most enlightened period of time, a ground of the most oppressive dominion ever exercised by man over man.”
Hannah-Jones’ claim that the Founders led a revolution to protect slavery is also transparently false. The year 1787 saw the passing of the Northwest Ordinance, which established the settlement of the region that would become Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. It was a geographical area as large as the existing 13 states. Article IV outlawed slavery in this unsettled land. What rationale would the allegedly pro-slavery Founders have for doing that?
Inspired by their commitment to equality and liberty, the American founders immediately began dismantling the institution of slavery in the northern states, which were soon referred to as the “Free States,” a process completed by 1804. So why didn’t they simply abolish slavery throughout all the United States? An obvious, compelling reason was that they feared the catastrophe of a civil war which eventually did kill more Americans than all of America’s other wars to the present day combined.
But there was an even worse prospect for them to consider. If the Founders had attempted to abolish slavery in the South in 1787, Southerners would have joined forces with the British—the greatest empire in the world, whose soldiers managed to burn the White House in the War of 1812. Such an alliance would likely have defeated the free states of the North, and the victorious South might have extended the reign of slavery for who knows how long. So they sought to delay a bloodbath that might result in an extension of slavery, believing it was a backward economic system that was bound to fall of its own weight.
Because of their racist attitudes against whites, neither Hannah-Jones nor the Times editors even bother to ask the serious question of why the anti-slavery signers of the Declaration of Independence might have reason to compromise with the Slave South. For them, the only possible answer is white hypocrisy, white perfidy, and racism.
The real purpose of the 1619 Project is revealed in Nikole Hannah-Jones baseless claim that, “Anti-black racism runs in the very DNA of this country.” This was a slander infamously voiced by Barack Obama and other anti-American leftists some years earlier.
James Oakes, himself a leftist, was also one of four major American historians to sign a joint statement challenging the historical distortions and ideological nature of the 1619 Project. “These are really dangerous tropes,” he warned.
They’re not only ahistorical, they’re actually anti-historical. The function of those tropes is to deny change over time . . . . They say, look at how terribly black people were treated under slavery. And look at the incarceration rate for black people today. It’s the same thing. Nothing changes. There has been no industrialization. There has been no Great Migration. We’re all in the same boat we were back then. And that’s what original sin is. It’s passed down. Every single generation is born with the same original sin . . . There’s nothing we can do to get out of it. If it’s the DNA, there’s nothing you can do. What do you do? Alter your DNA?
The obvious point of the DNA metaphor is that racism rather than liberty and the proposition that all men are created equal are the essence of America’s democracy. This is a transparent incitement to destroy what these determined enemies of America’s actual democracy are intent on portraying as a hypocritical, racist, sham.
But the actual history of slavery in America refutes this claim and tells the opposite story. In City Journal, the American historian Allen Guelzo dismissed the Times project as a “conspiracy theory” developed from the “chair of ultimate cultural privilege in America, because in no human society has an enslaved people suddenly found itself vaulted into positions of such privilege, and with the consent—even the approbation—of those who were once the enslavers.”
Even more powerful scholarly testimony comes from Orlando Patterson, a man of the Left and a renowned African American Harvard sociologist who has written award-winning books on slavery and race. America, in Patterson’s words, “is the least racist white-majority society in the world; has a better record of legal protections of minorities than any other society, white or black; offers more opportunities to greater numbers of black persons than any other society, including those of Africa.”
The anti-American animus of the 1619 Project is not inspired by the history of American slavery and emancipation, but by the anti-capitalist and anti-white racism of the projects’ authors. This is evident from the actual articles that make up the project and its curriculum, which do not examine the facts—complex as they are—of what took place in August 1619, but use slavery as a brush with which to tar every aspect of American life.
The 100-page special issue of the New York Times Magazine that launched the 1619 Project tells one all one needs to know about its purpose. The issue includes the following articles (and only these): “America Wasn’t a Democracy Until Black Americans Made It One,” “American Capitalism Is Brutal. You Can Trace That to the Plantation,” “Why Is Everyone Always Stealing Black Music?,” “How Segregation Caused Your Traffic Jam,” “How False Beliefs in Physical Racial Difference Still Live in Medicine Today,” “The Barbaric History of Sugar in America,” “Why Doesn’t America Have Universal Healthcare? One word: Race,” “Why American Prisons Owe Their Cruelty to Slavery,” “How America’s Vast Racial Wealth Gap Grew: By Plunder,” and finally one that overtly displays the relentless political agenda—“What the Reactionary Politics of 2019 Owe to the Politics of Slavery”—in other words the Trump administration is a legacy of slavery.
The 1619 Project is an outrageous, racist, falsification of American history. A metastasizing curriculum in America’s schools, it is a dagger aimed at America’s heart, at its self-esteem and self-understanding, at its national pride. It aims to destroy America’s shield against its real-world enemies. These enemies are legion because tyrannies around the globe hate democracy in general and America in particular, as the most tolerant and most inclusive nation among all nations with large internal minorities. For comparison, there is not a black, brown or Asian nation that has elected as its commander-in-chief a white countryman the way white American majorities elected Barack Obama—not once but twice.
As a result of Nikole Hannah-Jones’ role in creating this racist, anti-capitalist and historically illiterate attack on a country that has given her extraordinary freedoms and privileges, she has been showered with awards and prizes by the cultural elite—including a $624,000 MacArthur “Genius Award.” This is the real danger embedded in the 1619 Project: It has the support of America’s disloyal, seditious elites. These are the privileged, misnamed “liberals,” who for three years have sabotaged a duly elected president through witch-hunts, beginning with a thinly veiled attempted coup by the nation’s intelligence agencies.
Inspired by identity politics, and leftist pie-in-the-sky promises, the Democratic Party supports a pro-terrorist, Jew-hating caucus in the House, promotes lawlessness at the country’s borders, casually tolerates anti-white racism, and anti-male bigotry, and sponsors presidential candidates who want to criminalize free speech, rule by executive diktat and confiscate private wealth—and who are plausibly described as Rip Van Winkle Marxists whom the Communist horrors of the 20th century seem to have passed by unnoticed.