NAS's 1620 Project Gets Off the Ground

John David

CounterCurrent: Week of 1/5


In August, The New York Times Magazine launched The 1619 Project, a campaign named after the year in which America’s first African slaves were brought to the shores of Virginia. This project does not merely attempt to retell the history of American slavery, but rather to recast all of American history as being centered on and made possible by the Atlantic slave trade. In the Times’s own words: “No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the years of slavery that followed...It [The 1619 Project] aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.” What has followed is a series of essays, poems, podcasts, speeches, and educational initiatives arguing this fundamental claim.

The most influential contribution to The 1619 Project is Nikole Hannah-Jones’s 7,000 word diatribe, “Our Democracy’s Founding Ideals were False When They Were Written. Black Americans have Fought to Make Them True.” In this essay, Hannah-Jones, the architect of the project itself, contends that the founding fathers did not actually believe that “All men are created equal,” because they wrote these words as slave owners. This argument is indicative of the greater thesis of The 1619 Project. Not only were the views of the founding fathers invalid because their racial sins, but also our entire nation was built on the false premises of 1776 and must be viewed through the true premises of 1619: slavery, oppression, and white supremacy.

In response to this one-sided, oversimplified view of American history, the NAS has launched our own initiative, The 1620 Project. Through this campaign, we aim to counter the claims of The 1619 Project and provide a broader picture of American history, one that is informed by a thorough and unbiased assessment of historical data. This week’s featured article, written by Professor Lucas Morel of Washington and Lee University, is a direct refutation of Hannah-Jones’ essay and shows that the founding fathers did in fact care deeply about equality and liberty, but feared the societal consequences of abolishing slavery immediately. After all, we all know how well it went when this actually happened in the 1860s; imagine the state of the nation (or lack thereof) had this occurred one hundred years earlier without any of the necessary preparation.

Lest Morel’s essay sound like a right-wing hitjob, it is important to note that conservatives are not alone in their critique. Leading historians and editors of the World Socialist Web Site such as Gordon Wood and James McPherson recently lambasted the project, calling it “so wrong in so many ways” and an “unbalanced, one-sided account.” When scholars from both ends of the political spectrum share in their sharp criticism, the Times’s flagrant and ideologically-driven historical violations become all the more transparent.

The 1619 Project is not merely a stand-alone campaign presenting a historical perspective with which we disagree. It is put forth by one of the nation’s foremost publications as the objective truth about American history. What’s more, the “1619 Project view” of history is already being implemented into public school curricula on a national scale. Partnering with the Pulitzer Center, The New York Times provides ready-made lesson plans for teachers of all grades. According to the organization, 

“Teachers across all 50 states have accessed the Pulitzer Center educational resources since the project’s launch...Educators from hundreds of schools and administrators from six school districts have also reached out to the Center for class sets of the magazine. Teachers are using the magazine in their classes to teach subjects ranging from English to History and Social Studies...”

Countless students will be taught this view of history in the coming years, learning to hate their own country and distrust its foundational ideals. It is our hope that The 1620 Project will stem this tidal wave of misinformation and help restore integrity and honesty to American historical education.


CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’  weekly newsletter, written by Communications & Administrative Associate John David. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Image: Public Domain

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