A Pulitzer for a Howard Zinn History

May 14, 2020 Updated: May 24, 2020

Commentary

When The New York Times’ “The 1619 Project” came out the same week as my book debunking Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States,” I noticed that lead writer Nikole Hannah-Jones’s introductory essay, for which she has now won a Pulitzer (in spite of rebuttals from multiple historians), had a familiar ring.

She followed Zinn so closely that I wondered if she had been educated, as millions of students have been, with Zinn’s book.

First is the date of 1619, significant for being the year of the first arrival of slaves (as claimed). Over a photograph on the magazine cover was bold type dramatically announcing that “a ship” appearing on the “horizon, near Point Comfort” carried “more than 20 enslaved Africans.” With a Zinn-like promise to reveal a long-suppressed history, readers were told “our story” would be told “truthfully”; 1619 was “the moment” of our real founding, not 1776.

I immediately recalled how Zinn opened Chapter Two (after dishonestly demolishing the discovery of America) with a paragraph-long description from a 1951 book by Hampton Institute English professor J. Saunders Redding, “They Came in Chains,” of “a strange ship … a frightening ship, a ship of mystery” with yawning “black-mouthed cannons” approaching Jamestown in 1619. Saunders’s creative rendering was punctuated at the end with Zinn’s declaration: “There is not a country in world history in which racism has been more important.”

I was reminded of that by Hannah-Jones’s bold, “Anti-black racism runs in the very DNA of this country.”

For Zinn, too, racism was “always a national fact” because the country was founded upon it.

For both, racism is a sin that can never be expiated because it emerges from the very foundations of this country, which is based on exploitation. And the worst form of exploitation was of slaves.

Additionally, according to Zinn, “American slavery” was the worst in the world because of its “frenzy for limitless profit that comes from capitalistic agriculture” and “the reduction of the slave to less than human status.” For Hannah-Jones, “The shameful paradox of continuing chattel slavery in a nation founded on individual freedom … led to a hardening of the racial caste system. This ideology … maintained that black people were subhuman.”

According to Zinn, slavery developed “into the normal labor relations of blacks to whites in the New World,” producing “that combination of inferior status and derogatory thought we call racism,” which remains to this day. Like Hannah-Jones’s claim of genetic imprint, Zinn presents “the memory of slavery, and after that of segregation, lynching, humiliation.” Indeed, “The memory of oppressed people” was “a living presence—part of the daily lives of blacks in generation after generation.” Even “new ‘civil rights’ laws did not change the root condition of black people.”

Slavery was important to the “dominant economic interests” that were behind the Constitution, according to Zinn’s recycling of the long-discredited thesis by Charles Beard. Zinn disabuses the reader of the idea that the Constitution was “put together by wise, humane men who created a legal framework for democracy and equality.” No, it was “the work of certain groups trying to maintain their privileges.” These “upper classes,” in order to rule, made “concessions to the middle class, without damage to their own wealth or power, at the expense of slaves, Indians, and poor whites.”

In Hannah-Jones’s historical rendering, “This nation’s white founders set up a decidedly undemocratic Constitution that excluded women, Native Americans and black people.” Indeed, with 10 of the first 12 presidents “enslavers,” “this nation was founded not as a democracy but as a slavocracy.”

Like Zinn, she presents American slavery as uniquely cruel: “a brutal system of slavery unlike anything that had existed in the world before.” In fact, “[the white colonists] created a network of laws and customs, astounding for both their precision and cruelty, that ensured that enslaved people would never be treated as [human beings].”

Recalling Zinn’s reference to ancestral memory, Hannah-Jones writes, “This belief, that black people were not merely enslaved but were a slave race, became the root of the endemic racism that we still cannot purge from this nation to this day.” The problems of “black poverty, out-of-wedlock births, crime and college attendance” are due to an enduring “racial caste system.”

For both Zinn and Hannah-Jones, American history is a series of “struggles.” For Hannah-Jones, “black rights struggles paved the way for every other rights struggle, including women’s and gay rights, immigrant and disability rights.” In fact, there was no democracy until the “bloody freedom struggles of the civil rights movement laid the foundation for every other modern rights struggle.”

Hannah-Jones, like Zinn, doesn’t allow that appeals to a common humanity and the founding principles, from Frederick Douglass on, formed the basis for reform, however imperfectly achieved.

Like Zinn, she uses personal stories filled with pathos. Zinn’s stories are unverifiable. Presenting himself as the champion of the oppressed, he puts the skeptical reader into the category of oppressor. Hannah-Jones uses her own family history, specifically of her father, who at age 17 in 1962 enlisted in the military, but was “discharged under murky circumstances.” Relegated to low-level jobs and living in a rundown house in a segregated neighborhood, he nevertheless prided himself on flying a well-cared-for flag.

Hannah-Jones, who had seen the flag as a “marker of his degradation,” came to understand that he “knew exactly what he was doing when he raised that flag. He knew that our people’s contributions to building the richest and most powerful nation in the world were indelible”—true—but then Hannah-Jones goes on to state, “the United States simply would not exist without us.” No doubt the United States would not be the same kind of country. But it does not mean it would not exist. This is emotional blackmail: Either completely sympathize and agree or coldly reject her testimony of suffering.

Hannah-Jones recognizes no distinction between whites who were racist, those who were apathetic, and those who were activist to the point of being willing to give up their lives. Like Zinn, she introduces the Nazis to indict “White America,” which constructed “a savagely enforced system of racial apartheid that excluded black people almost entirely from mainstream American life—a system so grotesque that Nazi Germany would later take inspiration from it.”

History is a weapon for both Zinn and Hannah-Jones. Both leave out inconvenient countervailing facts and historical context, and employ emotional blackmail.

There are reasons for writing dishonest history. The communists did so. Zinn, a one-time card-carrying member of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), in writing his book, followed Party chairman William Z. Foster’s “Outline Political History of the Americas” published in 1951, the same year that Zinn was working on his Ph.D. in history on the GI bill and teaching a course on Marxism at the Brooklyn headquarters of the CPUSA.

Zinn’s book repeatedly points to the communist revolution as the solution for America’s racism.

The 1619 Project has been adopted for use in schools. The added prestige of a Pulitzer Prize will only reinforce the idea that a Zinn-like history is the true history of our country.

Mary Grabar holds a doctorate in English from the University of Georgia and is a resident fellow at the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization. Grabar is the author of “Debunking Howard Zinn: Exposing the Fake History that Turned a Generation against America,” published by Regnery History.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.