Amid the coronavirus and stock market dips is a correction—seven months overdue—of one of the many distortions and mistruths that permeate The New York Times’ 1619 Project.
Launched in August 2019, the 1619 Project offers a revisionist narrative of America’s founding. It argues that everything that has happened in our country can be traced to slavery and white oppression.
"Out of slavery—and the anti-black racism it required—grew nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional: its economic might, its industrial power, its electoral system, its diet and popular music, the inequities of its public health and education, its astonishing penchant for violence, its income inequality, the example it sets for the world as a land of freedom and equality, its slang, its legal system and the endemic racial fears and hatreds that continue to plague it to this day."This distressing message tells readers that the United States is an evil nation steeped in white supremacy and its oppression of slaves and their descendants. Every present-day malady affecting black communities, says the 1619 Project, is traceable to slavery, which is deemed part of the nation’s DNA. These include, for example, high levels of illegitimacy, mass incarcerations, and crime.
Nikole Hannah-Jones, the 1619 Project’s creator, argues that the true birth of America occurred not on July 4, 1776 (when the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence), but sometime in 1619. That’s when the first 20 to 30 Africans came to Virginia as slaves. Hannah-Jones’s narrative ignores the fact that the first Africans who came involuntarily served as indentured servants only to eventually become part of the backbone of free blacks in America.
Counterpoint to 1619 ProjectA counterpoint to the 1619 Project, a much-needed one, is the 1776 Initiative, of which I am a member.
Others in this great movement’s assemblage of distinguished scholars, journalists, and activists include Stephanie Deutsch, Beth Feeley, Robert Cherry, Clarence Page, Glenn Loury, Carrie Sheffield, John McWhorter, Shelby Steele, Taleeb Starkes, and Wilfred Reilly.
I believe our activism and Woodson’s numerous interviews are influencing factors behind the decision by NY Times editor Jake Silverstein and Hannah-Jones to make corrections to their deeply flawed project, although they remain only minor, and unsatisfactory, corrections at this point.
In disputing the 1619 Project’s main premise, he points out the achievements of blacks who emerged from slavery without a slave mentality and achieved success. They maintained “a strong moral code and a belief in self-determination and mutual support that allowed them to rise despite their enslavement.” Some died as millionaires.
The mission of the 1776 Initiative is truth, perseverance, and triumph. Its members acknowledge that America has not been a perfect nation, but has always striven to be better. We don’t believe America is forever defined by its past failures. We offer alternative perspectives as we celebrate America’s progress in moving toward greater equality and opportunity. We “highlight the resilience of her people.”
Our focus is on empowering community leaders of all races to improve their lives and rejuvenate their neighborhoods. We extol the accomplishments in many communities today, in which blacks and other disadvantaged Americans have used their ingenuity to solve their own problems instead of looking outside themselves and their communities for rescuers who rarely come.
Our mission is to unite Americans rather than divide them around issues of race and ethnicity: “We do this in the spirit of 1776, the date of America’s true founding.”