The New York Times has issued a significant correction to its 1619 Project, a series of articles that has prompted fierce backlash from historians for revising the historical relationship between slavery and the founding of the country.
In the August article titled “Our Democracy’s Founding Ideals Were False When They Were Written. Black Americans Have Fought To Make Them True,” Nikole Hannah-Jones, an investigative journalist who is not a professional historian, makes the following sweeping claim:
Conveniently left out of our founding mythology is the fact that one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery.
In the correction announcement, the news agency reports that the specific passage has “elicited criticism from some historians and support from others,” and that the article has been amended to add two words — “some of” — in order to prevent the impression that all of the colonists were fighting to protect slavery.
The update passage now states “the primary reason some of the colonists decided to declare independence …”
According to Politico, one historian has publicly admitted that before the article was published, she was asked by the Times to fact-check the passage in question and was subsequently ignored even though she “vigorously disputed the claim.”
“Weeks before, I had received an email from a New York Times research editor. Because I’m an historian of African American life and slavery, in New York, specifically, and the pre-Civil War era more generally, she wanted me to verify some statements for the project,” Leslie M. Harris, a history professor at Northwestern University, wrote in an op-ed for Politico.
“Although slavery was certainly an issue in the American Revolution, the protection of slavery was not one of the main reasons the 13 Colonies went to war,” Harris recalled telling the Times’ fact-checker, who she says, after some back and fourth, eventually stopped replying.
“Overall, the 1619 Project is a much-needed corrective to the blindly celebratory histories that once dominated our understanding of the past—histories that wrongly suggested racism and slavery were not a central part of U.S. history,” writes Harris, who says she supports the goal of the project.
James McPherson, one of the United States’ foremost historians on the civil war, has lambasted the project for reducing the complexities of American history, saying that he was “disturbed by what seemed like a very unbalanced, one-sided account, which lacked context and perspective on the complexity of slavery,” reports the New York Post.
James Oaks, an authoritative historian on the Reconstruction era, has blasted the historical revisionism required to assert that slavery is “built into the DNA of America,” saying that people who claim so are “not only ahistorical, they’re actually anti-historical. The function of those tropes is to deny change over time,” reports the news agency.
The Pulitzer Center for Investigative Reporting, which is not affiliated with the Pulitzer Prize, currently offers a host of lesson plans and information for teachers who want to integrate the 1619 project into the school curriculum.