The question wasn’t whether slavery in the “New World” existed and was a horrible thing. The question wasn’t whether we failed to teach its horrors adequately, or to place our rosier perspective of American virtues over the nightmare of a nation that made human beings chattel. The question was whether the United States of America was formed and existed primarily for the purpose of maintaining slavery, such that slavery, not freedom, was its core reason for being.
The New York Times and Nikole Hannah-Jones answered the question in the 1619 Project, which won Hannah-Jones a Pulitzer Prize in Commentary. The only issue was that her history project was false, albeit a very popular sort of false for a time when any story that put race ahead of facts was embraced. And quietly, oh so quietly, the New York Times and Hannah-Jones changed their story*.
The New York Times, without announcement or explanation, has abandoned the central claim of the 1619 Project: that 1619, the year the first slaves were brought to Colonial Virginia—and not 1776—was the “true founding” of the United States.
The initial introduction to the Project, when it was rolled out in August 2019, stated that
The 1619 Project is a major initiative from the New York Times observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are.
The revised text now reads:
The 1619 Project is an ongoing initiative from The New York Times Magazine that began in August 2019, the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.
And there were more sub rosa changes, and then came the interview and revisited twits that what was said was never said.
The deletion of the claim that 1619 was the “true founding” came to light this past Friday, September 18. Ms. Hannah-Jones was interviewed on CNN and asked to respond to Donald Trump’s denunciation, from the standpoint of a fascist, of the 1619 Project. Hannah-Jones declared that the “true founding” contention was “of course” not true. She went further, making the astonishing, and demonstrably false, claim that the Times had never made such an argument.
Except she did.
Had the thrust of the 1619 Project been to highlight our failure to teach, to recognize, to acknowledge the significance of chattel slavery to our nation and convey the horrors inflicted on fellow human beings, it would still have been controversial, as few want to hear about the horrors “we” inflicted. It kinda ruins the story. But it would have been more honest. But that wasn’t the thrust.
The core message of the 1619 Project was that America was nothing more than a nation whose very existence was dedicated to slavery. All that talk of freedom and rights was a steaming pile of crap used to cover up our true purpose, to keep black people in bondage. All that we had taught and believed, our patriotism and love of country, was built on a lie to conceal our true purpose: Slavery.
No matter how deeply our original sin of chattel slavery tainted our founding and our claim to the moral high ground, and no matter how racism permeated our national existence and persists despite our efforts to eradicate it and provide equal opportunity to everyone, it does not justify the creation of a false historical narrative that 1619 is our “true” founding and that America was never dedicated to any good cause but merely a sham to allow the perpetuation of slavery.
We, as a nation have done terrible things. We, as a nation, have done great things as well. That’s just the facts, no matter how you feel.
*It’s worth noting the source here, as it might be assumed that this came from some arch conservative article rather than the World Socialist Web Site.