Is the project “racially divisive” or a meaningful retelling of American history from the perspective of a too-often-excluded demographic?
Started in August 2019, the New York Times’ 1619 Project is an initiative by the publication to reframe the origins for many of today’s current political issues in the context of slavery and its aftermath. Named after the year that slaves first arrived in the colonies, the project’s essays, photography collages, and podcast episodes have titles such as:
- “Why doesn’t the United States have universal health care? The answer begins with policies enacted after the Civil War.”
- “Myths about physician racial differences were used to justify slavery — and are still believed by doctors today.”
- “The sugar that saturates the American diet has a barbaric history as the ‘white gold’ that fueled slavery.”
One essay by Nikole Hannah-Jones — “Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true.” — won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary, considered the highest award in opinion journalism.
However, the Project has been criticized by many as historically revisionist and inaccurate, including by several other Pulitzer Prize winners. Simultaneously, a curriculum for schools based on the 1619 Project has been incorporated into lessons for tens of thousands of students so far, including citywide in Buffalo, New York; Chicago; Washington, D.C.; Wilmington, Delaware; and Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
What the bill does
The Saving American History Act would ban federal funding for public schools to teach the 1619 Project curriculum.
It was introduced in the Senate on July 23 as bill number S. 4292, by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR).
What supporters say
Supporters argue that the project is biased, presenting a wrong and perhaps even dangerously wrong view to children about the underlying principles animating America.
“The New York Times’s 1619 Project is a racially divisive, revisionist account of history that denies the noble principles of freedom and equality on which our nation was founded,” Sen. Cotton said in a press release. “Not a single cent of federal funding should go to indoctrinate young Americans with this left-wing garbage.”
“The project’s purpose is to displace the nation’s actual 1776 founding, thereby draining from America’s story the moral majesty of the first modern nation’s Enlightenment precepts proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence and implemented by the Constitution,” Washington Post conservative opinion columnist George Will wrote.
The Constitution “did not acknowledge ‘property in man,’ and instead acknowledged slaves as persons. This gave slavery no national validation. It left slavery solely a creature of state laws and therefore susceptible to the process that, in fact, occurred — the process of being regionally confined and put on a path to ultimate extinction,” Will continues. “Secession was the South’s desperate response when it recognized this impending outcome that the Constitution had facilitated.”
What opponents say
Opponents counter that the project is a long-overdue and sorely needed reframing of American history not from the perspective of rich white slaveholding founders like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, but from the perspective of Black Americans.
“Out of slavery — and the anti-black racism it required — grew nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional: its economic might, its industrial power, its electoral system, its diet and popular music, the inequities of its public health and education, its astonishing penchant for violence, its income inequality, the example it sets for the world as a land of freedom and equality, its slang, its legal system and the endemic racial fears and hatreds that continue to plague it to this day,” New York Times Magazine Editor-in-Chief Jake Silverstein wrote in the project’s introduction.
“The seeds of all that were planted long before our official birth date, in 1776, when the men known as our founders formally declared independence from Britain,” Silverstein continued. “American history cannot be told truthfully without a clear vision of how inhuman and immoral the treatment of black Americans has been. By acknowledging this shameful history, by trying hard to understand its powerful influence on the present, perhaps we can prepare ourselves for a more just future.”
Odds of passage
The bill has not yet attracted any cosponsors. It awaits a potential vote in the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee.
Odds of passage are low in the Democratic-controlled House.