A group of African-American scholars has come together to confront the negative view of United States history depicted in The New York Times’ 1619 Project, which, among other falsehoods, holds that a primary reason the colonists declared independence from Great Britain was to protect slavery.
The 1619 Project derives its name from the year the first slaves were sold to English settlers in Jamestown.
Nikole Hannah-Jones, The Times’ lead writer on the project, argued in her introductory essay to it “that the year 1619 is as important to the American story as 1776.”
The Pulitzer Center, which is partnering with The Times, reports that the curriculum has been adopted in 3,500 classrooms in all 50 states.
“If you read the whole project, I don’t think you can come away from it without understanding the project is an argument for reparations,” she told the Chicago Tribune in October.
Bob Woodson Sr. — a 1960s civil rights activist and prime mover behind the “1776” initiative — believes the view of America espoused in The 1619 Project is not healthy.
“The mission of ‘1776’ is to provide information and context that explains the promise of America and what people have done in response to this wonderful system of ours,” Woodson said on a video released Friday announcing the launch of the project.
“Blacks are told that a lot of the problems that we are facing today are the legacy of slavery,” he explained. “It’s the shadow of slavery and Jim Crow. This is a defeatist mentality…
“Nothing is more lethal than to convey to a people they have an exemption from personal responsibility. Race grievance really is an exemption from personal responsibility, and ‘1619′ is the culmination of that.”
The group’s website further defines its purpose:
“‘1776′ is an assembly of independent voices who uphold our country’s authentic founding virtues and values and challenge those who assert America is forever defined by its past failures, such as slavery. We seek to offer alternative perspectives that celebrate the progress America has made on delivering its promise of equality and opportunity and highlight the resilience of its people. Our focus is on solving problems. We do this in the spirit of 1776, the date of America’s true founding.”
Brown University economics professor Glenn Loury, like Woodson, rejects the pessimistic view of today’s African-Americans as victims offered by the ‘1619’ narrative.
During a symposium on Friday in Washington regarding the “1776” project (video here), Loury contrasted the elevated viewpoint offered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with the take of Hannah-Jones and The Times.
“What should black people do?” the professor asked. “You have Martin Luther King. You have this idea, the magnificent promissory note. You have this notion of belief in America. You have on the other side of that a very different narrative. A narrative of reparations, and so on and so on.”
In his famous “I Have a Dream,” speech delivered in front of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, King said, “In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.
“This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” King argued. “We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.”
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” the civil rights icon said later in his remarks.
King’s was a call for equal chance at the American dream, to be able to pursue happiness as the Declaration promised.
During the symposium, Loury observed concerning The 1619 Project, “Some of what’s happening is a use of grievances of African-Americans to discredit the American project.”
“This is what I get from reading The New York Times collection: ‘1776’ is hype. Don’t believe the hype,'” he continued. “‘They tell you all persons are created equal… That’s not really what it’s about. It’s about white supremacy. It’s about rapacious capitalism. It’s about the preservation of slavery. It’s not really a city on a hill. It’s not a light onto the nations.'”
“I worry about the fact that my grandchildren are being taught to hate their country,” Loury observed. “They’re being told how to vote. How to think.”
“The 1619 Project offers a very crippling message to our children,” said Carol Swain, a former political science and law professor at Princeton and Vanderbilt universities, at a media event Friday for the launch of the ‘1776’ project, The Washington Free Beacon reported.
“I was spared from having that message brought to me,” she added. “And I believe that if I had been exposed to that, if I had internalized that negative message, I don’t believe I would have been able to do the things I’ve done in life.”
Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Clarence Page, who like Woodson came of age during the civil rights era in the 1960s, wrote in an essay for the 1776 initiative, “Yes, blacks have fought to make true the ideals in our nation’s founding documents, as the New York Times says.
“But its statement that the ‘founding ideals were false’ is misleading and even counterproductive to our understanding of the founding documents as aspirational.”
Page also pointed to Martin Luther King as the embodiment of the overcoming mindset that African-Americans should continue to embrace over victimization.
“He assured friends and foes alike that his civil rights movement had come not to deny the gospel of the American dream, but to fulfill it,” Page wrote.
“We must disrupt the long-held stereotypes of black people as helpless bystanders in their own history,” the columnist contended. “We have had entrepreneurs, skilled tradesmen, military officers, inventors, organizers, and many others who responded to adversity by marshaling resources, building local enterprises, and creating jobs.
“We organized and acted to defeat slavery, segregation, and deprivation, and then we persevered to build businesses that included banks, hotels, small factories, and a black-owned railroad.”
It’s wonderful that these African-American thinkers are not letting The 1619 Project go unchallenged.
In my book “We Hold These Truths,” I make the case that American history is the story of the advancement of liberty under God, which ultimately set the example for the rest of the world.
What other nation in the late 1700s even came close to setting the bar the U.S. did in the Declaration of Independence: That all men are created equal, with certain God-given unalienable rights?
The ideals found in the Declaration quickly brought forth the fruit of the death of slavery in the northern states during the Revolutionary War era decades before the institution ended in the British empire.
These same principles were what abolitionists like Frederick Douglass, and political leaders like Abraham Lincoln grabbed onto to first argue for and then bring about slavery’s demise during the Civil War era.
And the march of freedom went onward in the decades ahead, including granting women the right to vote a century ago.
These truths then shone bright in World War II, as the U.S and its allies fought to liberate millions from fascist tyrannies. And these beliefs then lit the way during the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
There is no question what the most important date in American history is, and it’s not even close: July 4, 1776.
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