THE 1619 PROJECT

 

WHAT IS THE 1619 PROJECT?   It is an effort to reframe K-12 American history curriculum in U.S. public schools.    This includes considering the reset of 1776 to 1619, as the birth-year of the U.S.  The New York Times Magazine introduced The 1619 Project in August 2019.  The following quotes are from the article “Why We Published The 1619 Project”, (NYT, 19 December 2019):

1619 is not a year that most Americans know as a notable date in our country’s history.  Those who do are at most a tiny fraction of those who can tell you that 1776 is the year of our nation’s birth.”  [August 1619 is when] “a ship arrived at Point Comfort in the British colony of Virginia, bearing a cargo of 20-30 enslaved Africans…

“The goal of The 1619 Project is to reframe American history by considering what it would mean to regard 1619 as our nation’s birth year.  Doing so requires us to place the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are as a country.  Out of slavery…grew nearly everything that has made America exceptional.” 

 

At the heart of The 1619 Project is that slavery is much more than America’s original sin, but rather the “source of so much that still defines the United States.*  The book The 1619 Project, “…speaks directly to our current moment, contextualizing the systems of race and caste within which we operate today.  It reveals long-glossed-over truths about our nation’s founding – and the way that the legacy of slavery did not end with emancipation but continues to shape modern American life.*

The 1619 Project calls for cultivating American awareness, including revised K-12 curricula, of how slavery impacted enslaved Africans and how American society since then has inhibited Afro-American economic and political progress.   However, there has been significant push-back from historians, academics and others on many aspects of the 1619 Project.   For example:  There is major disagreement that the introduction and practice of slavery in the New World, is of greater significance than the birth of institutionalized self-rule, in the founding of America.   Other issues include the absence of open debate among a spectrum of views for such a major change to history before implementation, and also, historical oversights / misstatements within The 1619 Project itself.  For example, critics claim The 1619 Project  . . .     

. . .  could provide greater context for slavery as being a standard world-wide practice dating to the ancient world, including the African Slave Trade.  The African Slave Trade had its beginnings as early as dynastic Egypt (3100BCE), and accelerated in subsequent centuries with an annual export of tens of thousands of enslaved Africans to Asia and the Middle East.  In the 1500s, Spanish and Portuguese explorers introduced the African Slave Trade to the Caribbean and to South and North America … making Europeans the late comers to the world-wide African Slave Trade

. . . offers limited emphasis of the initiative, courage, entrepreneurial spirit, contributions, and resiliency of free blacks from their first settling in the colonies.  The number of Free Blacks, including Black slaveholders, grew to approximately 500,000 by 1860.  

. . . raises many questions on basic historical accuracy, for example misstating the inaugural 1619 arrival of enslaved Africans to America as occurring in the British colony of Virginia.  Spanish and Portuguese explorers brought African slaves to North America beginning in the 16th century.  One example:  in 1526 Spanish General Ayllon brought slaves into what later became the British colony of South Carolina. 

. . . misstates Britain’s threat to abolish slavery and the slave trade as the cause provoking the colonists into independence.   “The claim is false. In 1776, Great Britain was not threatening to abolish slavery in its empire … while many of the Virginian planters were struggling with manumission … it was left to the northern states to successfully undertake the immense task of legally abolishing slavery.    Far from protecting slavery, the American Revolution inflicted a massive blow to the entire slave system of the New World.” **  

. . . offers minimal mention of the ideals — individual freedom/rights, self governance, free market economy — as an unprecedented set of governing and economic institutions that were implemented for a new country on the world stage, and how that factored into American success.

“The northern states were the first slave-holding governments in the world to abolish slavery, and the United States became the first nation in the world to begin actively suppressing the despicable international slave trade.  The New York Times has its history completely backwards.” ** 

sources include:  *The 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones, The New York Times Company 2021;  Africa-A Short History, Robert O. Collins, Marcus Wiener Publishers-Princeton 2010; Black Slaveholders, Larry Koger, McFarland & Company Inc., 1985; historyworld.net; britannica.net;  **Gordon Wood – historian speaker – 11/12/21 – American Council of Trustees and Alumni; also see below.

The abhorrent world-wide practice of slavery was sadly standard practice for millennia. That of course provides no justification for slavery ever having existed, it only offers context illustrating the practice of slavery as a regressive, world wide evil of human-kind. 

THE 1619 PROJECT IS COMING TO LOCAL SCHOOL DISTRICTS IN MANY STATES ACROSS U.S.

 

The U.S. Department of Education and some states have passed legislation and/or issued guidance for American History curriculum changes that specifically cite The 1619 Project. 

 

The 3 examples that follow were all passed or implemented in early 2021  

Federal guidance citing use of The 1619 Project curriculum as a priority

The 1619 Project is offered as guidance by the U.S. Dept. of Education.  The U.S. Dept. of Ed’s “Proposed Priority 1: Projects that incorporate Racially, Ethnically, Culturally, and Linguistically Diverse Perspectives into Teaching and Learning” is documented in the Federal Register.  See – publication date 04/19/2021- doc# 2021-08068 for complete proposal.

The document’s Background section notes “growing acknowledgement of the importance of including, in the teaching and learning of our country’s history, both the consequences of slavery, and the significant contributions of Black Americans to our country. This acknowledgement is reflected for example, in the NYT’s landmark 1619 Project…” [emphasis added]

 

 

Illinois passed Public Act 101-0654 and on March 8, 2021 it was signed into law by the Governor

Public Act 101-0654 (HB2170) calls for significant changes to the school code/curricula. It also calls for the creation of the  Inclusive American History Commission to develop guidelines and tools to facilitate implementation of those changes for the use of public elementary and high schools.  Their report is due on or before December 31, 2021.  The legislation notes the year 1619 to be of unique importance.

It also calls for (18 of 22) members of the Commission to be appointed by Dr. Carmen Ayala – Illinois State Superintendent of Education.  She was appointed by the Governor on February 26, 2021.  The other 4 members are from the Legislature.  

The legislation includes no viewpoint diversity requirement. 

 

Illinois State Board of Education issued guidance for use of The 1619 Project

Are study materials from The 1619 Project already in use in Illinois classrooms?  Here is one indicator.

The Illinois State Board of Education has provided guidance for use of The 1619 Project.  The ISBE’s Black History Curriculum Task Force issued a report on March 4, 2021. 

Two examples of comments from survey recipients/ respondents:

“(We are) currently using supplemental material with more culturally relevant texts such as Howard Zinn’s A People’s History  of the United States, The 1619 Project … “ 

“We have been looking into the 1619 Project as well.”

 

 

THIS IS THE OPINION FROM A BLACK-LED ALLIANCE ON THE 1619 PROJECT

Robert L. Woodson founded the non-profit Woodson Center in 1981.  He was a leading activist in the Civil Rights Movement during the early 1960s. The Woodson Center focuses on neighborhood empowerment to seek solutions to the problems of low income communities through what he calls the social entrepreneurs that are indigenous to these communities.  

Rather than a top down directed poverty program from a government  agency, the Woodson Center program seeks out families in troubled neighborhoods that have prospered and persevered to learn from their success.

The Woodson Center believes The 1619 Project offers “curricula founded on misleading history and divisive ideology”.  The following lengthy excerpts are from the article “Our Comment on the Department of Education’s Proposed Priority 1 in American History”, published by 1776unites.com on May 24, 2021.

These excerpts are reprinted here by permission of 1776 Unites (1776unites.com).   The parent organization is the Woodson Center, Washington DC (woodsoncenter.org).     

 

1776 Unites – a Black-led alliance of writers, thinkers, and activists – strongly objects to the adoption of the Department of Education’s “Proposed Priority 1: Projects that Incorporate Racially, Ethnically, Culturally. and linguistically Diverse Perspectives into Teaching and Learning.”  While well intended on the surface, this new rule would prioritize funding for curricula founded on misleading history and divisive ideology.  Prioritizing the classroom content and practices that this regulation seeks to normalize will only result in deepening contempt for our nation, its founding, and its institutions; lower standards and a diminishing sense of agency among Black students specifically; and an America plagued by the worst racial animosity in decades.  It will help undo the very progress it pretends to celebrate.

The proposed priority states that “American History and Civics Education programs can play an important role” in supporting “teaching and learning that reflects the breath and depth of our Nation’s diverse history and the vital role of diversity in ur Nation’s democracy.”  We couldn’t agree more.

Unfortunately, the examples cited as models for more inclusive history and civics education in the proposed priority actually undermine its own admirable goals.  “For example, there is growing acknowledgement of the importance of including, in the teaching and learning of our country’s history, both the consequences of slavery, and the significant contributions of Black Americans to our society.  This is certainly true – serious efforts to grapple with the legacy of slavery and to highlight the decisive contributions of Black people to American life have been underway across the country since at least the 1990,’s if not earlier.

But to say that “this acknowledgement is reflected, for example, in the New York Times’ landmark “1619 Project” and in the resources of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History,” is an appeal to contemporary intellectual fads and fashions, not serious scholarship or pedagogy.  Key arguments of the “1619 Project” have been so thoroughly refuted at this point that to see the project receive such unqualified praise in an official document is shocking.   And while the NMAAHC makes a vital contribution to preserving and disseminating knowledge of both the horrors of slavery and the heights of Black American achievement, its public messaging has also been marred by pseudo-scholarship proclaiming universal values of objectivity, literacy, and self-reliance as aspects of “whiteness”.  Ideas like that do incalculable damage to the cause of actually combating racism and instilling a sense of agency to Black American youth.    

Go to 1776unites.com to read the entire article.

 

MANY OTHER WELL KNOWN AND ESTABLISHED PROFESSIONALS ARE CRITICS OF THE 1619 PROJECT CLAIMING THE 1619 CURRICULUM OVERLOOKS AND MISSTATES HISTORY AND LACKS CONTEXT. 

Listed here are 12 historians who questioned the accuracy of the 1619 Project curriculum.   As the group concluded in a letter detailing their concerns to the New York Times – 12/30/2019 – they stated “We therefore respectfully ask the New York Times to withhold any steps to publish and distribute the 1619 Project until these concerns can be addressed in a thorough and open fashion.” 

William B. Allen, Emeritus Dean and Professor, Michigan State University;  Michael A. Burlingame, Naome B. Lynn Distinguished Chair in Lincoln Studies, University of Illinois, Springfield;  Joseph R. Fornieri, Professor of Political Science, Rochester Institute of Technology;  Allen C. Guelzo, Senior Research Scholar, Princeton University;  Peter Kolchin, Henry Clay Reed Professor Emeritus of History, University of Delaware;  Glenn W. LaFantasie, Frockt Family Professor of Civil War History and Director of the Institute for Civil War Studies, Western Kentucky University;  Lucas E. Morel, Professor of Politics, Washington and Lee University;  George C. Rable, Professor Emeritus, University of Alabama;   Diana J. Schaub, Professor of Political Science, Loyola University;   Colleen A. Sheehan, Professor of Political Science and Director, The Matthew J. Ryan Center, Villanova University;  Steven B. Smith, Alfred Cowles Professor of Political Science, Yale University;   Michael P. Zuckert, N. Reeves Dreux Professor of Political Science, University of Notre Dame.   (New York Times, 1/26/2020)


Listed here are 5 historians who sent the New York Times Magazine a letter noting their concern about the misstatements of fact and the misleading nature of the 1619 Project.   In their letter they said “We applaud all efforts to address the enduring centrality of slavery and racism to our history … nevertheless we are dismayed at some of the factual errors in the project and the closed process behind it.” nytm – 12/29/2019

Victoria Brown, Distinguished Emeritus Professor of History, Texas State University;   James M McPherson, George Henry Davis 1886 Emeritus Professor of American History, Princeton University;   James Oakes, Distinguished Professor-the Graduate Center, the City University of New York;   Sean Wilentz, George Henry Davis 1886 Professor of American History, Princeton University;  Gordon S. Wood, Alva O. Wood University Emeritus Professor and Emeritus Professor of History, Brown University.

 

SUGGESTED READING

The 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Masters Degree 2003, Roy H. Park Fellow, from University of North Carolina Hussman School of Journalism and Media, investigative reporter, in 2015 became staff writer for New York Times, awarded MacArthur Fellowship (2017) and Pulitzer Prize for Commentary (2020) for her work on The 1619 Project.  – wikipedia.org, also see nikolehannahjones.com for 47 additional awards and honors.

I Helped Fact Check the 1619 Project – The Times Ignored Me”, Leslie M. Harris, Professor of History, Northwestern University:  https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2020/03/06/1619-project-new-york-times-mistake-122248

 

UPDATE TO THE FEDERAL GUIDANCE AND THE 1619 PROJECT . . .

Due to the extensive pushback that was received by the Department of Education regarding The 1619 Project, the U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona responded by stepping back from the grant requirements.  In July of 2021, he wrote in the Department blog that “This (grant) program however, has not, does not and will not dictate or recommend specific curriculum be introduced or taught in classrooms.  Those decisions are and will continue to be made at the local level.”   Washington Post, July 19, 2021. 

Thank you Secretary Cardona for the reminder to monitor what is happening at the local level.   This is more relevant in some states than others.  For example – consider Illinois.  Governor Pritzker signed the legislation on March 8, 2021 creating the Inclusive American History Commission.  Governor Pritzker also appointed Dr. Carmen Ayala as the Illinois Superintendent of Education.  Dr. Ayala appoints 18 of the 22 member Commission.   The legislation forming the new Commission includes no requirement for viewpoint diversity among the members of the Commission.  How will your local school board deal with this questionable Commission diversity if they decide to “reframe” American History?