By Mark Anderson
President Donald Trump doesn’t like public school children being taught to hate America. On Sept. 6, he told the Department of Education to carefully examine the growing use of The New York Times Magazine’s highly controversial 1619 Project in public schools. The 1619 Project teaches that American history started in 1619 with the arrival of allegedly the first black people to the Jamestown, Va. colony, in what would one day become the United States. The thrust of the 1619 Project is that the foundation of America is based on the irredeemable sin of slavery.
Saying any educational institutions that teach this ideologically leftist alternative American historical narrative could lose federal funding, the president used his campaign stops Sept. 9 in North Carolina and Sept. 10 in Michigan to reiterate his opposition to the 1619 Project being adopted as part of curricula in elementary and secondary schools.
“We will teach patriotic education,” the 45th president remarked at a Freeland, Mich. rally, in reference to the 1619 Project, sparking uproarious applause at the packed event, and echoing what he said in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Simply put, Trump and others believe the 1619 Project agenda poisons the minds of Americans of all races by enforcing the narrative that the U.S. is a menacing, incorrigible, slave-holding regime infected with systemic racism and that America’s “dark” history lacks anything of significance of which to be proud.
“They want to take away your history, your heroes, your generals. They’re never taking away our past. That’s the way they do it; they take away your ‘guts,’ ” Trump said at the North Carolina rally. This was partly a reference to the recent tearing down of iconic American statues and monuments by often-violent Antifa and BLM “protestors.” In Michigan, Trump added, “We will make American one nation under God again.”
This is not just a matter of Trump using the bully pulpit to push back against what even many mainstream historians see as an atrocious piece of historical revisionism. On Capitol Hill, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) is fighting a lonely battle to get his colleagues to take this matter seriously and implement Trump’s suggestion to stop federal funding of schools that use the project in their curriculum. It’s already shown up in the school systems of Buffalo, N.Y., Newark, N.J., Chicago, Washington, D.C., Wilmington, Del. and more.
Cotton introduced the Saving American History Act (S. 4292) on July 23 with virtually zero mainstream press coverage. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. At press time, Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) is the only co-sponsor.
“Even the lead author recently admitted in response to my legislation that the 1619 Project is not a work of history. It’s a work of ‘journalism.’ I would say it’s a work of activism. But our tax dollars should not be going to fund an effort to teach our kids to hate America,” Cotton told Fox News host Tucker Carlson in a recent broadcast.
Incredibly, the 1619 Project, created by black Times staffer Nikole Hannah-Jones, was awarded the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary. Since the award was for commentary, that suggests accuracy was not a major criterion.
“Multiple historians have criticized the series of articles for multiple inaccuracies, including the argument that the American Revolution was fought not to achieve independence from Britain, but to preserve the institution of slavery,” an online Fox News report noted, without pointing out, however, that in 1619, what would become the United States of America was just a budding British colony (amid the presence of other European powers on the continent). Its leaders under the Crown were the real slave-runners from whom America separated, sparked by the actual birth of the U.S. on July 4, 1776—the date of its “birth certificate,” a.k.a., the Declaration of Independence. Over time, America ridded itself of chattel slavery.
Historian Gordon Wood, author of the 1993 Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Radicalism of the American Revolution and the 1970 Bancroft Prize-winning The Creation of the American Republic 1776-1787, was one of five signatories to write a letter to the editor of The New York Times asking the paper to correct “factual errors” in the 1619 Project which, he said, evince “a displacement of historical understanding by ideology.”
Mark Anderson is AFP’s roving editor. Email him at [email protected].