The New York Times Begins Correcting the Historical Record on ‘1619 Project’

“I have been thinking about this and reading obsessively
for 25 years about all the inequalities in American life that can be traced
back to slavery,” Nikole Hannah-Jones of the New York Times told
an audience
at Harvard in December.

Now the Times admits: Her obsession bested her reason.

On March 11, the Times issued a correction to its 1619 Project, a sprawling journalistic exercise that has proved more editorial than historical.

And this wasn’t just any correction. The 1619 Project
was based on the idea that slavery was “one primary reason the colonists fought
the American Revolution,” but the Times is now hedging on that assertion.

In the paper’s correction, editors changed the wording
of Hannah-Jones’ leading article in the series to say that “some of” the
colonists fought the American Revolution to defend slavery.

The editors called this a “small” clarification, and it was indeed very small, although considering that the 1619 Project’s full-throated commitment to demonstrating that American history can only be explained through the lens of slavery, this correction appears nothing short of essential.

But the correction did not go far enough.

Writing in National Review, Timothy
Sandefur explained
, “The New York Times’ ‘1619 Project’
purports to ‘reframe’ American history by positing not only that the United
States was founded ‘as a slavocracy,’ but that ‘nearly everything that has
truly made America exceptional’ is the result of ‘slavery—and the anti-black
racism it required.’”

The 1619 Project wanted no confusion: American history began
with slavery.

Yet historians from both sides of the ideological divide
and even one of the Times’ own fact-checkers cited problems with the Project. On
March 6
, Leslie M. Harris, a history professor at Northwestern
University, wrote in Politico that she had “vigorously argued against”
Hannah-Jones’ contention that “patriots fought the American Revolution in large
part to preserve slavery in North America.”

“Despite my advice, the Times published the incorrect
statement about the American Revolution anyway,” Harris wrote, even as she
maintained her support for the project as a whole.

Sandefur and Harris aren’t alone in their critiques. The Wall Street Journal cited criticism from Pulitzer-winning historians Gordon Wood and James McPherson, with Wood saying, “It still strikes me as amazing why the New York Times would put its authority behind a project that has such weak scholarly support.”

Unfortunately, the Times’ correction may be too little,
too late for thousands of students.

The 1619 Project’s creators accompanied their essays
with sets of curricular materials designed for K-12 schools, and now some of
the nation’s largest school districts are using these essays and instructional products.

Chicago
Public Schools CEO Janice K. Jackson
said the 1619 Project
materials are “invaluable tools for our classrooms” in her announcement that
the district would be using the materials.

Schools in Buffalo,
New York, have “[infused] 1619 Project resources into the mainstream English
and Social Studies curriculum.” According to Real
Clear Investigations
, five schools systems, including Washington,
D.C.’s, are using the materials across their districts.

Scholars warned that schools should not use this
material for historical instruction. Phil Magness of the American Institute for
Economic Research told the libertarian Reason magazine that using
the 1619 Project curricula in school “is at best premature”

until corrections are made to some of the Project’s central ideas on the
“economics of slavery.”

Concerned parents and educators should alert school
district leaders about the correction and emphasize that many scholars have
already said the curriculum is not appropriate for students.

Now that schools around the country are either closing,
or considering doing so, due to the coronavirus, parents have an opportunity to
talk with their children about the 1619 Project’s claims and to find
alternatives.

Those looking for other materials have options, including the 1776 initiative, which was founded by leading black professors, journalists, and intellectuals, including Robert Woodson Sr., founder and president of the Woodson Center, and Columbia professor John H. McWhorter. 

This rebuttal to the Times’ essays says that America is
not “forever defined by its past failures” and offers “alternative
perspectives” celebrating the “progress American has made on delivering its
promise of equality and opportunity.”

The Times ushered the 1619 Project into classrooms, ignoring warnings that the material contained inaccuracies. In a strange twist of fate, a brief respite from classrooms due to the coronavirus allows families to intervene.

Let’s hope this and any future corrections receive as much attention as the original Project itself.

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Source material can be found at this site.

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