The National Association of Scholars (NAS) is calling for the Pulitzer Prize Board to revoke the prize awarded to Nicole Hannah-Jones, the leading author of the New York Times’ “1619 Project.”
In an open letter published Tuesday, 21 scholars and public writers urged the Board to acknowledge that it has “erred” in awarding the 2020 Prize for Commentary to Hannah-Jones’s essay that spearheaded the 1619 Project, which aims to reframe American history by presenting the United States as a nation that is inherently racist, with slavery as its foundation.
The award-winning essay, entitled “Our Democracy’s Founding Ideals Were False When They Were Written,” ran into controversy almost immediately after its publication for claiming that the primary reason for the American Revolution was to preserve slavery—a claim “for which there is simply no evidence,” according to the letter.
“The Project as a whole was marred by similar faults,” the NAS scholars wrote, noting that prominent historians have been pointing out the Project’s “serious factual errors, specious generalizations, and forced interpretations” since September 2019. Hannah-Jones, however, “did not refute these criticisms or answer them in a respectful or meaningful way. Instead, she dismissed them.”
The NAS letter also took issue with the Project’s recent edit to its key claims in secret. Without any public explanation or acknowledgment, New York Times’ editors removed the controversial statement that the Project “aim[s] to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding” from the Project’s online introduction. Nikole Hannah-Jones has also declared it’s a myth that she considered 1619 rather than 1776 as the founding year of the United States.
“One thing in which the right has been tremendously successful is getting media to frame stories in their language and through their lens,” wrote Hannah-Jones in a now-deleted Twitter post. “The #1619Project does not argue that 1619 is our true founding. We know this nation marks its founding at 1776.”
“To err is human. But now that it has come to light that these materials have been ‘corrected’ without public disclosure and Hannah-Jones has falsely put forward claims that she never said or wrote what she plainly did, the offense is far more serious,” the letter stated, adding that neither Hannah-Jones nor the 1619 Project deserve the honor of a Pulitzer Prize. “The Board should acknowledge that its award was an error. It can and should correct that error by withdrawing the prize.”
The NAS letter comes as a pair of bills concerning public school history education move forward in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. If the bills pass, school districts incorporating the 1619 Project as part of their history curricula would lose federal professional development funds. Federal funding would also be reduced to reflect any “cost associated with teaching the 1619 Project, including in planning time and teaching time.”