The 1619 Project just won a 2020 Pulitzer Prize. More specifically, Nikole Hannah-Jones, the coordinator of the project and a staff writer for the New York Times, has been awarded a Pulitzer for her essay that serves as the introduction for the 1619 Project.
The Pulitzer Committee cited their rationale for the award saying it was, “For a sweeping, deeply reported 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 a public conversation about the nation’s founding and evolution.”
This news is deeply troubling.
Superficially, the goals of the project appear reasonable. For many years, the contributions of African-Americans to the nation’s history were overlooked. Depictions of slavery in textbooks did tend to be thin and one-dimensional. The history and culture of 13.4 percent (2010 Census) of our fellow citizens did deserve a more complete treatment.
Deeply Flawed Ideas Masquerading as Facts
No one disputes the need for historical accounts of the African-American contribution to the nation’s history. However, this award is troubling because the 1619 Project is so facile in combining facts, opinions, and provably false statements. Consider the following passage from Nikole Hannah-Jones’s essay:
“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. By 1776, Britain had grown deeply conflicted over its role in the barbaric institution that had reshaped the Western Hemisphere. In London, there were growing calls to abolish the slave trade.”
The essay presumes to be conveying factual information. However, the only fact in that paragraph is that the United States declared its independence from Great Britain in 1776. On the other hand, it is untrue that “Britain had grown deeply conflicted” over slavery. The anti-slavery movement in Great Britain was negligible in 1776.
Gordon Wood won a Pulitzer Prize for his book “The Radicalism of the American Revolution” in 1993. In a letter to New York Times Magazine editor-in-chief Jake Silverstein, he said, “I have spent my career studying the American Revolution and cannot accept the view 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.’ I don’t know of any colonist who said that they wanted independence in order to preserve their slaves. No colonist expressed alarm that the mother country was out to abolish slavery in 1776.”
Another Pulitzer Prize winning historian also takes exception to The 1619 Project. James McPherson is the author of The Battle Cry of Freedom, a history of the U.S. Civil War. In reference to Nikole Hannah-Jones, he said, “She argues that racism is the central theme of American history. It is certainly part of the history. But again, I think it lacks context, lacks perspective on the entire course of slavery and how slavery began and how slavery in the United States was hardly unique. And it also doesn’t account for the countervailing tendencies in American history, because opposition to slavery, and opposition to racism, has also been an important theme in American history.”
James Oaks is a professor at the City University of New York and author of The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Anti-slavery Politics. He disagrees with the project’s reference that slavery is built into our “DNA” as America’s “original sin.” “They’re not only ahistorical, they’re actually anti-historical. The function of those tropes is to deny change over time.… [They argue that] there’s nothing we can do to get out of it. If it’s the DNA, there’s nothing you can do.”
The opinions of these historians are not biased in favor of the right because they are not conservative. The excerpts above came from three interviews that appeared on the World Socialist Web Site.
The Danger of “Intersectionality”
These center-left historians still hold classical notions about history. The 1619 Project authors adhere to an idea called intersectionality. Developed in the early nineties, intersectionality supposedly creates a “matrix of domination” that explains how “race, nationality, gender, class, and sexuality intersect” around the idea of “privilege.” The privileged dominate the less privileged.
This plays into the fallacy of relative truth. Nikole Hannah-Jones might argue that her “truth” is fundamentally different from that of the three historians. They are privileged white males, and she is a black female trying to express her previously repressed “truth.”
Intersectionality is deeply anti-Christian. Christianity teaches that the unchanging God is the ultimate Truth that never changes. Intersectionality also denies both free will and divine intervention. Intersectional status is fixed at birth. There is no room for improvement; neither God nor any individual can change the hierarchy of domination.
In awarding Nikole Hannah-Jones a Pulitzer Prize, the committee was not commending her for the accuracy of her work. They were putting their influence behind the worldview of intersectionality.
The Peril Facing America’s Children
If the discussion stopped there, the award would be of little importance. Liberals love to congratulate themselves by giving awards to those who think as they do, and most of society takes little notice. Thus, they award the Pulitzers (news), Oscars (movies), Emmys (television), Tonys (live theater) and Grammys (recorded music). The selections have been skewed to the left for many years.
However, the 1619 Project is not just another movie, television show or song that can be safely ignored. This effort extends outside the liberal arts world. It is a concerted attempt to make its version of history the only accepted view in America’s schools. The Pulitzer Center has developed and is strongly promoting an entire curriculum based on 1619. They have made significant inroads. They list their successes as:
- Tens of thousands of students in all 50 states are engaged with the curricular resources, which include reading guides, lesson plans, and extension activities.
- Tens of thousands of copies of the magazine were shipped by The New York Times and the Pulitzer Center to students and educators at K-12 schools, community colleges, HBCUs, and other campuses.
- Five school systems adopted the project on a broad scale: Buffalo, New York; Chicago; Washington, DC; Wilmington, Delaware; and Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Parents with children in public schools should acquaint themselves with the 1619 Project and the Pulitzer Center’s curriculum. They need to recognize these ideas as they crop up in their children’s assignments and attitudes. The 1619 Project must be resisted at parent-teacher conferences and school board meetings. Those parents should also inoculate their children by expressing their own Christian and patriotic values regularly.
An old idiom says, “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” It refers to the parents’ role in developing their children’s values. In modern society, schools have taken over much of that role. Parents and community must sound the alarm as the cradle is now being rocked in only one direction – left.