Top historians are slamming the the New York Times’ “1619 Project” for inaccurately reframing America’s history with slavery and racism at the epicenter.
The project, which is now being added to some public high school curriculums, says that the nation’s “true founding” occurred when the first African slave ship arrived in Virginia in 1619 and argues that “anti-black racism runs in the very DNA” of America.
In a series of interviews conducted by the World Socialist Website (no, that’s not a typo), top American history scholars are berating the project for being “anti-historical,” “one-sided,” and just downright “wrong.”
James McPherson, professor emeritus of history at Princeton University, told WSWS that “from the outset, I was disturbed by what seemed like a very unbalanced, one-sided account, which lacked context and perspective on the complexity of slavery, which was clearly, obviously, not an exclusively American institution.”
Speaking of Nikole Hannah-Jones, the lead writer of the “1619 Project,” McPherson added: “She argues that racism is the central theme of American history. … But the idea that racism is a permanent condition, well that’s just not true.”
In another interview, this time with James Oakes, historian and professor at the City University of New York, Oakes explains how the motive behind the project appears to be identity politics.
“What you really have with this literature is a marriage of neo-liberalism and liberal guilt. When you marry those two things, neo-liberal politics and liberal guilt, this is what you get,” Oakes said.
While discussing the project’s theme of slavery and racism as in the DNA of America, Oakes argued, “These are really dangerous tropes. They’re not only ahistorical, they’re actually anti-historical.”
WSWS also interviewed historian and Brown University professor emeritus Gordon Wood, who has authored a Pulitzer Prize-winning book about the Revolutionary War.
“I had no warning about this. … I was surprised, as many other people were, by the scope of this thing, especially since it’s going to become the basis for high school education and has the authority of the New York Times behind it, and yet could be so wrong in so many ways,” Wood said in the interview.
None of these scholars were contacted by the New York Times before the project was released.
It also is not clear where the Times got its information; there aren’t any sources listed on the project’s webpage.
Nonetheless, lesson plans have been made available, and some school districts, like Chicago Public Schools, have begun adding the “1619 Project” to their curriculum.