Short Take: It Was Never 1619

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.

28 thoughts on “Short Take: It Was Never 1619

  1. Charles

    From the Pulitzer website, here is the stated reason for Hannah-Jones winning:

    “For a sweeping, provocative and personal essay for the ground-breaking 1619 Project, which seeks to place the enslavement of Africans at the center of America’s story, prompting public conversation about the nation’s founding and evolution.”

    Seeing as how that never happened, a check for $15,000 made payable to The Pulitzer Prizes — Columbia University should be mailed to 709 Pulitzer Hall, 2950 Broadway, New York, NY 10027. The prize certificate can be thrown in the trash.

  2. Quinn Martindale

    The SEP, which runs that website, is as anti-identity politics as any conservative group, although their reason is that ‘racialist’ politics delay the inevitable worldwide proletarian revolution.

  3. Rob McMillin

    And then she memory-holed her entire Twitter feed after memory-holing the tweets saying people shouldn’t pay attention to the tweets (which she also deleted) where she said the 1619 Project reframed the founding to the date of the importation of the first African slaves.

    She knows what she’s typing is a lie; she got caught in it; and will continue to backtrack until people stop paying attention.

    She is a serial liar, deserving of all the criticism she’s getting and more. Academia will continue to applaud until cornered, just as they applauded Michael A. Bellesiles’ “Arming America” until it turned out the dog ate Bellesiles’ homework.

    1. SHG Post author

      As she blocked me on the twitters long ago, I’ve relied on the kindness of strangers to learn of her shenanigans.

  4. Erik H

    Conor Freidersdorf has been fighting this issue with her, hard, on the twitters.

    I don’t understand why this is the hill she’s dying on. So what if she changed her mind? If so, that is commendable! Why lie, and double down on the lie, to claim you never thought otherwise?

    The only rational conclusion is that she’s trying as hard as possible to push the pure-power dynamic that “things are as she says they are,” which I guess is not entirely surprising but come on, this is dumb.

  5. Nick Allen

    Whilst slavery had already begun in what would be called America, I still find that 1619 would be the foundation of what would become American slavery and politics, whether you want to play revisionist history or not. It was the first time that people from England had captured slaves, and given what would happen with the colonization of this country by the English and what was done to the Native people as well as slavery, the story still holds a grain or more of truth. You’re just playing semantics because you could Google any of this and read exactly what I read. Then again, are you just feeling inferior because Ms. Hannah-Jones received a Pulitzer?

      1. Nick Allen

        So you are feeling inferior because she got a Pulitzer and you didn’t. Tough luck, mate. Is this something you’ve discussed with your psychiatrist? I mean, I’m a History professor (double majored in history and psych) and I’ve never even met this author, but the fragility coming off of you is just…yikes.

          1. Nick Allen

            I don’t know if that’s something you should confidently announce. People are people and they’re free to do whatever they like, but the only penis I’m fascinated with is my own and I’m not interested in having a discussion about my penis on your blog. We were discussing the Pulitzer Prize. Stay focussed.

            1. SHG Post author

              You were discussing the Pulitzer Prize. We were watching you being an obnoxious ass. But now it’s done. Have fun with your penis.

            2. Miles

              So how many more comments has this asshole posted to try to defend his honor? This gets so tedious after a while.

            3. David Meyer-Lindenberg

              The reference to “this country” notwithstanding, between “mate” and “whilst,” I’m pretty sure you’ve been arguing with some flavor of Brit. You have my sympathies.

              Just because of the admission that he’s fascinated with his own penis, I’m gonna put an extra $5 on Aussie.

    1. Skink

      You lost everyone outside England at “Whilst.” It’s a word used by those that want to appear smarter, especially when they’re dopes. Leave the word for the Crumpeteers–they have a history of needing to feel smarter.

      And, no, there isn’t a “grain or more of truth,” and anyone with a modicum of knowledge about constitutional history could educate you on the subject. There are a bunch of those in this here Hotel. Sadly, none of us are into educating those that convinced themselves they already know stuff they clearly don’t, even if that enlightenment was the result of a Google search.

      1. Nick Allen

        Who said I wasn’t in England, and that I haven’t studied constitutional history? You Americans want to focus on the Mayflower and even if you did that, you still slaughtered the people that were there before you, ethnically cleansed them, and enslaved some of them. So, it’s a matter of admitting that we English folk brought slaves to Virginia in 1619 or you double crossed the Native Americans, damn near wiped them out and then brought on the slaves. Neither paint you in a positive light. So, I hope you enjoy that hotel, mate.

        1. SHG Post author

          Is your purpose in squandering my bandwidth to just have everyone here enjoy you making an obnoxious ass of yourself? Much as that’s appreciated, I think the joke has run its course.

        2. Kathleen E. Casey

          Feh. You sure lost us. What in the history of England’s treatment of indigenous people can we paint in a positive light anyway.

          1. KP

            “You’re going to get over-run and colonised, we can do it the harder way (USA, Australia) or the easier way (India, NZ) but the result will be the same…”

            A lot of people are currently upset about America’s enslaving of the world via its dollar trade and its sabotage of countries that don’t bow down to it.

            Those living in the world now should be thankful the Brits dragged most of it into the current civiisation. You didn’t get killed or enslaved and you enjoy an amazing standard of living compared to your ancestors.

            1. Kathleen Casey

              Enslaving the world. Sabotaging countries. You may be right.

              My ancestors? An amazing standard of living in 18th (Caseys) and 19th century (Murrays) Ireland which they left with their children in order to avoid being killed and better yet to prosper. Away from the Brits. Oh okay.

    2. Angrychiatty

      People- Intelligent people- prefer more than just “a grain” of truth in historical accounts. Like, we expect the whole thing to be true. You may be in a different category of course.

      1. DaveL

        The problem with narratives that contain a grain of truth is that this grain is usually embedded in a big, steaming turd, making the whole unfit for human consumption.

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