On Monday, the Pulitzer Prize Committee announced that it had given its commentary award to Nikole Hannah-Jones, a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine who was the creator of the 1619 Project. The New York Times reported that the award was given for “her essay that served as the leading piece in the 1619 Project, a series centered on reframing United States history by focusing on the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans.”
The 1619 Project has come under withering criticism for its perspective on American history. Many historians have questioned its accuracy and its attempt to undermine the salutary and historic effects of the American founding. Among them are Pulitzer-Prize winning author James McPherson, professor emeritus of history at Princeton University, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Battle Cry of Freedom,” widely regarded as the authoritative account of the Civil War. He stated: “I was disturbed by what seemed like a very unbalanced, one-sided account, which lacked context and perspective on the complexity of slavery, which was clearly, obviously, not an exclusively American institution, but existed throughout history.”
MacPherson said of Hannah-Jones’ statement in her essay that “anti-black racism runs in the very DNA of this country,” “the idea that racism is a permanent condition, well that’s just not true. And it also doesn’t account for the countervailing tendencies in American history as well. Because opposition to slavery, and opposition to racism, has also been an important theme in American history.” Of Hannah-Jones contention that “black Americans have fought back alone” to make America a democracy, MacPherson responded:
From the Quakers in the 18th century, on through the abolitionists in the antebellum, to the radical Republicans in the Civil War and Reconstruction, to the NAACP which was an interracial organization founded in 1909, down through the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, there have been a lot of whites who have fought against slavery and racial discrimination, and against racism. Almost from the beginning of American history that’s been true. And that’s what’s missing from this perspective.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Gordon Wood, professor emeritus at Brown University and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book “The Radicalism of the American Revolution,” as well as “Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789–1815,” and many books and articles on the colonial period and the American Revolution, was asked about the 1619 Project and Hannah-Jones’ essay. Wood stated:
I read the first essay by Nikole Hannah-Jones, which alleges that the Revolution occurred primarily because of the Americans’ desire to save their slaves. She claims the British were on the warpath against the slave trade and slavery and that rebellion was the only hope for American slavery. This made the American Revolution out to be like the Civil War, where the South seceded to save and protect slavery, and that the Americans 70 years earlier revolted to protect their institution of slavery. I just couldn’t believe this.
I was surprised, as many other people were, by the scope of this thing, especially since it’s going to become the basis for high school education and has the authority of the New York Times behind it, and yet it is so wrong in so many ways.
Wood added of the 1619 project, “No one ever approached me. None of the leading scholars of the whole period from the Revolution to the Civil War, as far I know, have been consulted. I read the Jim McPherson interview and he was just as surprised as I was.”
James Oakes, Distinguished Professor of History and Graduate School Humanities Professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, who has written two books winning the prestigious Lincoln Prize, was asked about the 1619 Project dovetailing with the identity politics of the Democratic Party. The questioner continued, “And the claim that is made, and I think it’s almost become a commonplace, is that slavery is the uniquely American ‘original sin.’”
Oakes answered, “Yes. ‘Original sin,’ that’s one of them. The other is that slavery or racism is built into the DNA of America. These are really dangerous tropes. They’re not only ahistorical, they’re actually anti-historical.”
Prompted by the questioner asserting that Jones presented Lincoln as a “garden-variety racist,” Oakes said of Jones “ … she also says somewhere else that he issued the Emancipation Proclamation simply as a military tactic … It’s ridiculous. Most of what Abraham Lincoln had to say about African Americans was anti-racist, from the first major speech he gives on slavery in 1854, when he says, ‘If the negro is a man, why then my ancient faith teaches me that ‘all men are created equal’; and that there can be no moral right in connection with one man’s making a slave of another.’ Lincoln says, can’t we stop talking about this race and that race being equal or inferior and go back to the principle that all men are created equal. And he says this so many times and in so many ways.”
Richard Carwardine, professor emeritus at Oxford University, the author of the Lincoln-award winning biography “Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power” and other books on antebellum and Civil War-era American history, also criticized the 1619 Project. Carwardine stated of Jones’ work:
I have read your interviews with James McPherson and James Oakes. I share their sense that, putting it politely, this is a tendentious and partial reading of American history … the idea that the 1619 Project’s lead essay is a rounded history of America—with relations between the races so stark and unyielding—I find quite shocking. I am troubled that this is designed to make its way into classrooms as the true story of the United States, because, as I say, it is so partial. It is also wrong in some fundamentals … the idea that the central, fundamental story of the United States is one of white racism and that black protest and rejection of white superiority has been the essential, indispensable driving force for change—which I take to be the central message of that lead essay—seems to me to be a preposterous and one-dimensional reading of the American past.
Asked about Hannah-Jones’ treatment of Abraham Lincoln, Carwardine stated, “Where in Nikole Hannah-Jones’s reading of Lincoln, and in her wider perspective, is the voice of the greatest of all African-Americans, Frederick Douglass? He doesn’t appear. Douglass was not uncritical of Lincoln: he famously said that the black race were only Lincoln’s stepchildren. But he also came to extol Lincoln, too, as a white man who put him at his ease, treating him as an equal, with no thought of the ‘color of our skins,’ and showing he could conceive of a society in which blacks and whites lived together in a degree of harmony, that racial relationships in the US America were not irredeemably fixed by its 17th and 18th century past.”
The goal is to mainstream the rewriting of American history and philosophy as a garbage heap of evil — not as a corrective to whitewashed traditional history, but as a complete replacement of it https://t.co/aPU7HwmstW
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) May 4, 2020
Pulitzer epically beclowns itself. Prize supposed to go to work that “adheres to the highest journalistic principles.” NYT’s 1619 project is explicitly not journalism; it is propaganda. In NYT’s words: “It aims to REFRAME OUR COUNTRY’S HISTORY.” It’s based on FALSE premises. 1/x https://t.co/sIZ5iZkqOm
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) May 4, 2020
2/x NYT: "[America’s] founding ideals were false when they were written."
"The US is a nation founded on both an ideal & a lie."
"[O]ne of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare independence was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery." ALL FALSE.
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) May 4, 2020
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