‘The 1619 Project’: A true picture of American history?
Remember when “The New York Times used to at least feign impartiality?” said Joshua Lawson in TheFederalist.com. Those days are gone. The Paper of Record last week launched “The 1619 Project,” a sprawling, ongoing series of essays seeking, in the Project’s own words, to “reframe the country’s history” by putting the evil of slavery “at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are.” Named for the year that African slaves first arrived in Virginia, the Project claims that “anti-black racism runs in the very DNA of this country” and that “our founding ideals were false when they were written.” That is leftist propaganda. Slavery was “an abomination,” but it also existed in British, French, Portuguese, and Dutch colonies into the 19th century, in China and Korea until the 20th, and in several Middle Eastern countries until roughly 50 years ago. So why portray the U.S. as uniquely evil? In fact, the Founders purposely kept the term “slavery” out of the Constitution—setting in motion the forces that led to the Civil War and slavery’s abolition, said Rich Lowry in the New York Post. Our nation was and is imperfect, but to pretend that racism constituted one of “the country’s founding principles is an odious and reductive lie.”
White supremacy wasn’t a stated principle of our founding, said Eric Levitz in NYMag.com. But it’s undeniable that the economic expansion of early America was fueled by the forced labor of black slaves, whom whites insisted were inferior creatures designed by God for servitude. The 1619 Project’s great triumph is in how it draws the “genealogical lines” between that openly racist system and its legacy in modern America, including the vast chasm between average white and black family wealth, “the huddled masses in its prisons,” and the abandonment of black inner cities.
Indeed, the legacy of slavery can be “found in every nook and cranny of the American experience,” said Jeet Heer in TheNation.com. For a century after the Civil War, whites literally stole land from freed slaves, enacted Jim Crow laws that stripped blacks of nearly all rights, used lynchings and violence to terrorize them into submission, and even excluded blacks from New Deal and post–World War II programs designed to build middle-class wealth. Without the persistent, heroic efforts by African-Americans to force America to live up to the promises in our Constitution, the Times series points out, our democracy “might not be a democracy at all.” The battle isn’t won yet, said Ellis Cose in USA Today. Almost every week, angry “white supremacists with guns” who long to restore America’s historic racial hierarchy are slaughtering their fellow citizens. It is deeply irresponsible to pretend that “the past does not matter—or that it no longer influences who we are.”
The 1619 series is right about a lot, said Timothy Sandefur in Reason.com, but it goes wrong in trying to prove that slavery was—as its authors put it—the source of “nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional.” Slavery was abolished only because millions of people, both white and black, did believe that “all men are created equal” and laid “their lives on the line, not only in the 1860s but ever since, to make good on the promissory note of the Declaration.” That struggle, and our painful progress toward our founding ideals, is also central to our national story. ■