The ‘1619 Project’ is Filled with Slovenliness and Ideological Ax-GrindingHistorians in the News
tags: slavery, historiography, 1619 Project
Confidence in institutions declines when they imprudently enlarge their missions. Empty pews rebuke churches that subordinate pastoral to political concerns. Prestige flows away from universities that prefer indoctrination to instruction. And trust evaporates when journalistic entities embrace political projects. On Monday, however, the New York Times — technically, one of its writers — received a Pulitzer Prize for just such an embrace.
Last August, an entire Times Sunday magazine was devoted to the multiauthor “1619 Project,” whose proposition — subsequently developed in many other articles and multimedia content, and turned into a curriculum for schools — is that the nation’s real founding was the arrival of 20 slaves in Virginia in 1619: The nation is about racism. Because the Times ignored today’s most eminent relevant scholars — e.g., Brown University’s Gordon Wood, Princeton’s James McPherson and Sean Wilentz and Allen Guelzo, City University of New York’s James Oakes, Columbia’s Barbara Fields — the project’s hectoring tone and ideological ax-grinding are unsurprising. Herewith three examples of slovenliness, even meretriciousness, regarding facts:
To establish that the American Revolution was launched to protect slavery, the Times’s project asserts that a November 1775 British offer of freedom to slaves fleeing to join the British army was decisive in the move to independence. But this offer was a response to the war that had been boiling since April’s battles at Lexington and Concord and simmering for a year before that, as detailed in Mary Beth Norton’s just-published “1774: The Long Year of Revolution.”
Misdescribing an 1862 White House meeting with African American leaders, the project falsely says that President Abraham Lincoln flatly “opposed black equality” and adamantly favored colonization of emancipated slaves. Actually, Lincoln had already decided on an Emancipation Proclamation with no imperative of colonization. In Lincoln’s final speech, his openness to black enfranchisement infuriated a member of his audience: John Wilkes Booth.
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