In the most recent episode of “Crossroads” on EpochTV, Joshua Philipp addresses the factual inaccuracies of the 1619 Project, a new form of revisionist education being taught in some schools across America. The 1619 Project is rooted in a report written by the New York Times that has gained national attention in recent months. What is less known about the report is the falsified history it contains. Mary Grabar, author of “Debunking the 1619 Project: Exposing the Plan to Divide America,” joins host Joshua Philipp to discuss this important topic.
What Is the 1619 Project?
“The 1619 Project” is the title of an essay printed in a special issue of the New York Times Magazine on Aug. 18, 2019, commemorating the anniversary of the arrival of the first Africans to Jamestown, Virginia. The essay reframes American history, saying that the country was not founded in 1776, but rather was founded in 1619. Furthermore, it states that America was not founded as a “democracy,” but arguably as a “slavocracy,” based upon some of the founders being slaveholders.
How Did the 1619 Project Enter the Classroom?
In the interview, Grabar notes that it normally takes around seven years for a textbook to go through the necessary review process to be admitted into schools. However, the 1619 Project went through no such process, being simply slipped into schools nearly immediately, circumventing the public vetting system and the academic approval process.
Do Historians Agree With the 1619 Project Claims?
The main claim that the 1619 Project makes is that the United States declared independence from Britain in order to defend the institution of slavery, because the colonists were afraid that their right to own slaves would be taken away. Grabar explains how this claim goes against historical fact, showing that the abolitionist movement in England did not arise until a couple decades after it started in the colonies.
She also explains how the historians hired to review and fact check the 1619 Project were completely ignored, and how various groups of historians and scholars have come together to object to this essay on historical, factual grounds.
What Actually Happened in Jamestown, 1619?
Grabar puts forth the true historical events of 1619, explaining that the people who landed in Jamestown were in fact slaves who had been captured by a warrior tribe and put on a Portuguese slave ship. The ship was attacked, and the people were transferred to a British ship, which eventually landed in Jamestown. Upon arrival, their status was blurry because slavery had not yet been established in the colonies. After landing in Jamestown, the slaves were exchanged for food and provisions and set to work side by side with the indentured servants from England.
The first court case that established the right to own African slaves was established by Anthony Johnson, a man of color who was either a former slave or former indentured servant himself. His servant was being held by two white men, and the servant was suing for his freedom saying his indenture had been completed. Johnson argued that the man was his slave and belonged to him, and he won the case in 1654. This was the first established court case for slavery.
Slavery went on to evolve in the 1660s when further laws were established such as stating any child born to a slave woman was automatically a slave, creating restrictions on African movements, and laws that whites could not be enslaved. Slavery did not become solidified until the very late 17th century, showing the factual inaccuracies of the 1619 Project. Europeans at the time could not go into Africa and capture African slaves—they were slaughtered if they tried. Grabar says that the Africans were first brought to the colonies by fellow African warring tribes or by muslims.
Mary Grabar: The New York Times Falsified History With Its ‘1619 Project’ | Crossroads [Full Episode]
Watch the full episode here.
Reframing the Reason for the Founding of the United States
The 1619 Project claims the reason Thomas Jefferson signed and helped draft the Declaration of Independence was to protect slave ownership, when in fact, Jefferson had included a passage in his draft of the Declaration of Independence that condemned King George for imposing slavery on the colonies. This passage was eliminated from the final draft by slave supporting colonies. Although Jefferson was born into a slave-holding family, Grabar says that he hated the institution. Although he did own slaves, he had inherited them upon his father’s death. At that time, there were very restrictive laws regarding the freeing of slaves. He would have many obstacles to get through before simply freeing slaves, and he knew any measures he took nationally to end the slave trade needed to be done carefully. Grabar notes that from a historical perspective, Jefferson did what he could.
Many Americans Wanted to Free the Slaves
Abolitionist movements began in the colonies, primarily among Quakers in the 1680s. There were divided opinions, but the abolitionist movement was brewing, and one of the inspirations for this was the Declaration of Independence. Americans saw the disconnect between the principles the country was founded on and what was happening in practice. The movement in America inspired abolitionist events and movements in Great Britain.
Grabar says that it is important to note that almost the entire world was practicing slavery at the time. “You can’t make the blanket statement that all white people wanted more slavery and supported the institution. Some did, but very many did not. In terms of what was happening in the world, when you look at other governments and slavery in other areas, we were ahead,” says Grabar, noting that slavery has always existed throughout history, and at the time of America’s founding, slavery was being practiced all throughout the world. She recognizes that the practices of slavery in the colonies were cruel, however, at the same time in Africa, many of the tribes practiced cruel human sacrifice and torture. These methods weren’t stopped until the colonial powers put a stop to it, and these historical realities are not acknowledged whatsoever in the 1619 Project.
Grabar says that factual history must paint slavery in the context of a multicultural world history and not pretend that it is exclusively limited to North America and the United States.
Was Abraham Lincoln An Oppressor?
Despite Abraham Lincoln being the president who freed the slaves, the 1619 Project claims that Lincoln is part of the system of oppression. Grabar says this is due to a lack of acknowledgement of what he as a person was able to do. Lincoln adhered to the Constitution first and foremost, saying that he wanted to keep the union together. This belief is taken by the 1619 Project to mean that he didn’t want to free the slaves. Grabar notes that Lincoln couldn’t simply free the slaves, constitutionally, he could only make strides in that direction as commander in chief during wartime, which he did through the Emancipation Proclamation. Again, Grabar shows that the 1619 Project ignored the complexities and the political realities of Lincoln’s time.
The 1619 Project minimizes history by not looking at reality in its historical context. Grabar says that it is historically false to claim that one group of people can project centuries into the future and be exclusively progressive in their views, and that if they don’t do this, they must be condemned. She calls this idea presentism—putting our present standards onto things that happened in the past. Grabar also notes this is uniquely done to the United States. “You’ll notice that these people hardly ever, if ever, say anything bad about communist regimes or other slave holding countries. Their attention is focused on the United States and it magnifies out of proportion what was practiced here. It is false. If you’re going to study slavery, you need to do it in a multicultural way because it is a multicultural institution.”
Grabar says she wrote her book because people know the 1619 Project is wrong and that it is not what America is about. Many are going to their school boards and representatives objecting to it being taught in schools, and she wants to give them one book that they can use to point to exactly where the essay is factually wrong and prove it has no place in the classroom. “I hope it’s a good resource and a good weapon for people.”
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