A Historian’s View of Critical Race Theory and the 1619 Project, Part 2

Posted on July 27, 2021


A few weeks ago we ventured into the mine field of Critical Race Theory and the 1619 Project which supports it. We did this as a professional historian might, by an examination of both the facts and the hypothesis or interpretation of those facts.

Today let’s examine what other historians have said about CRT and the 1619 Project because if it fails to pass the test of history, then everything that is being peddled on its behalf, such as white guilt, endemic racism, reparations, etc., fails as well. Those peddling it get an F on their exam and told to retake the course on American history.

I’ll be glad to give it with a team of younger historians to assist me. We can even put it online, snazz it up with images and videos, and give Americans new hope in liberty, freedom, personal responsibility, and true diversity of interpretation and analysis in the American classroom. I welcome suggestions on where and how to do this. Just send me your letters, ideas and where to get money. Capitalism at work.

Ok, enough joshing. But learning should not only be about learning, but fun and challenging. Back to work.

What have scholars, good scholars, world class scholars in fact, said about the 1619 Project which is the basis of CRT.

Last summer, 2020, we gave a brief summary of the 1619 project which contends that American history is largely about slavery and race relations, from 1619 when the first African slaves were offloaded in the colony of Virginia to today.

If you believe that, you’ve just missed, or chosen to ignore, what has driven America to be what it is in world history. Capitalism may be a dirty word to some, but it is the engine that drove America to immense prosperity for such a great percentage of the population, even with all the flaws in our culture. We got plenty but don’t make the flaws the driving engine.

Did you know that “that slavery and racism are the foundations of American history?”

How can that be? What happened to “all men are created equal” with liberty and justice for all? Democracy? The Vote? Liberty? Free Enterprise?

Naw, forget all that claptrap. Here’s what our children need to be taught.  

In 2019 The New York Times published its1619 Project “whose aim,” noted a January 2020 article in The Atlantic, “the New York Times announced, was to reinterpret the entirety of American history. ‘Our democracy’s founding ideals,’ the Times noted, ‘were false when they were written.’”

The 1619 Project argues that “one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery,” an interpretation judged by four historians with distinguished credentials as “a striking claim built on three false assertions.”

This is as close as thoughtful and—still—polite historians are likely to disagree in public. But in the article, “A Matter of Facts,” in The Atlantic by one of those historians, Sean Wilentz of Princeton, the gloves came off, for at stake is not some recondite academic debate, but what our country has been about for virtually since its founding.

 Wilentz, of Jewish and Irish extraction, outlines it well. Basically 1619 claims that our history “as a nation rests on slavery and white supremacy, whose existence made a mockery of the Declaration of Independence’s ‘self-evident’ truth that all men are created equal.”

Thomas Jefferson and manuscript draft of the Declaration of Independence

So, “the nation’s birth came not in 1776 but in 1619, the year, the project stated, when slavery arrived in Britain’s North American colonies.”

Read this way, “America’s politics, economics, and culture have stemmed from efforts to subjugate African Americans—first under slavery, then under Jim Crow, and then under the abiding racial injustices that mark our own time—as well as from the struggles, undertaken for the most part by black people alone, to end that subjugation and redeem American democracy.”

Four historians took serious issue with basic inaccuracies in the Project and asked The Times to correct or retract the errors.  The Times responded flatly denying that the project “contains significant factual errors.”

The American Revolution, the Civil War, and the era of Jim Crow were the focus of Project 1619 which argues that “one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery.”

And read this next paragraph carefully. Their evidence is buttressed by three false premises: One, that Britain in the 1770s was avidly devoted to abolishing the slave trade and slavery. It wasn’t. “What 1619 described as a perceptible British threat to American slavery in 1776 in fact did not exist.”

1619 claimed that Britain threatened to end the slave trade. In fact, most of the colonies had already taken steps between 1769 and 1774 to outlaw the slave trade. Britain was not taking the lead in this enterprise.

Moving beyond the Civil War, “For the most part,” Hannah-Jones wrote, “black Americans fought back alone.”

But before, during, and after the Civil War white people were always an integral part of the fight for racial equality. From the biracial NAACP through the murders of civil-rights workers, white and black, during the Freedom Summer, in 1964, and in Selma, a year later, liberal, and radical white people have stood up for racial equality. A. Philip Randolph, the founder of the modern civil-rights movement, stated in his speech at the March on Washington, in 1963, “This civil-rights revolution is not confined to the Negro, nor is it confined to civil rights, for our white allies know that they cannot be free while we are not.”

Silverstein, for the New York Times, observed that civil-rights advances “have almost always come as a result of political and social struggles in which African-Americans have generally taken the lead.” Not true or factual observed Wilentz and his colleagues.

“Our letter,” he wrote, clearly stated that “no matter how … history is interpreted and related, cannot be forwarded through falsehoods, distortions, and significant omissions. Allowing these shortcomings to stand uncorrected would only make it easier for critics hostile to the overarching mission to malign it for their own ideological and partisan purposes, as some had already begun to do well before we wrote our letter,” adding: “When describing history, more is at stake than the past.”

For her work Hannah-Jones was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 2020. The “official education partner,” of the 1619 Project is, by the way, the Pulitzer Center.

Pubished as “Does the 1619 Project pass the test of history?” in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday July 24, 2021