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August 2019 marks the 400-year anniversary of the first slaves ever brought to America. To commemorate this ignominious American milestone, the New York Times published the 1619 Project.
In August of 1619, a ship appeared on this horizon, near Point Comfort, a coastal port in the British colony of Virginia. It carried more than 20 enslaved Africans, who were sold to the colonists. No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the years of slavery that followed. On the 400th anniversary of this fateful moment, it is finally time to tell our story truthfully.
The project aims to reframe the conversation around slavery, reveal how intertwined modern America is with its legacy, and highlight the role Black people have in American history.
The #1619Project published online today and it is my profound hope that we will reframe for our readers the way we understand our nation, the legacy of slavery, and most importantly, the unparalleled role black people have played in this democracy. https://t.co/yXKwnJhAf5— Ida Bae Wells (@nhannahjones) August 14, 2019
In other words, the project aims to put the Black experience on par with the white one in the telling of America’s story.
The project features essays from prominent African-American writers and thinkers like Jamelle Bouie, Wesley Morris, and Bryan Stevenson, among others. Although it formally launched this weekend, more essays and articles will be published in the coming days.
In Bouie’s essay, he argues that “America holds onto an undemocratic assumption from its founding: that some people deserve more power than others.”
And wouldn’t you be surprised if a package of essays that posits this idea caused a freak-out from the predominantly white people in power in the Republican party?
You wouldn’t be surprised. Many conservatives are upset that the New York Times isn’t keeping the story of Black Americans secondary.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) thinks that by telling a part of history that has never been properly told, the New York Times is not doing news.
What is the 1619 project? In the Times’ words: “It aims to REFRAME OUR 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” (emphasis Cruz’s).
The idea upset Cruz enough to go on a Twitter bender.
If you care about journalism, or the First Amendt, READ the transcript. The Editor says (in effect) “for 2 yrs, we covered ‘Russia, Russia, Russia,’ facts be damned; now we’ll scream ‘racism, racism, racism’ for 18 mos, and the rest of the media follow us.” That’s not journalism. https://t.co/TPkpB0DjNj— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) August 18, 2019
E.g., NYT: ““One reason we all signed off on The 1619 Project [explained below] and made it so ambitious and expansive was TO TEACH OUR READERS TO THINK A LITTLE BIT MORE LIKE THAT.” Does that sound like news? Or editorial? (Remember, this was the “News” Editor.) 3/x https://t.co/xpXXOhaDLR— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) August 19, 2019
What is the 1619 project? In NYT’s words: “It aims to REFRAME OUR 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.” 4/x https://t.co/iTLNZcafyN— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) August 19, 2019
It’s telling that when you say America has never truly come to terms with the sin of slavery, some people freak out.
The Editor continued: “Race in the next year…is going to be a huge part of the American story. And I mean, race in terms of not only African Americans and their relationship w/ Donald Trump, but Latinos & immigration.” So, he’s explicit that this is the political narrative. 5/x https://t.co/NvAAKRKBE7— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) August 19, 2019
Cruz also highlighted a meeting over a Times headline that was changed after people said it was too generous to Trump’s history of racism, ignoring the fact that a project about the 400-year anniversary of slavery by the Times probably wasn’t thrown together in the past three days to respond to some blowback from readers.
Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House, was also quite bothered.
“The NY Times 1619 Project should make its slogan ‘All the Propaganda we want to brainwash you with,'” he wrote. “It is a repudiation of the original NY Times motto.”
Mara Gay (@MaraGay) Tweeted:— Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) August 18, 2019
In the days and weeks to come, we will publish essays demonstrating that nearly everything that has made America exceptional grew out of slavery.”
This is simply a LIE.Pravda was never more dishonest than this effort to write a “left history”
The NY Times 1619 Project should make its slogan “All the Propaganda we want to brainwash you with”.it is a repudiation of the original NY Times motto.— Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) August 18, 2019
The 1619 Project is saying that slavery has a lengthy legacy (perhaps best evinced by the whiteness of leaders in Congress and the Oval Office over time—like, hey, Newt Gingrich) and that it deserves to be covered in that way instead of willfully ignored, as it is by a great deal of Americans.
Gingrich was so thoroughly trounced after his take that he had to put out a statement clarifying that he thinks slavery is bad.
The left doesn’t get it. Slavery was AND IS terrible (there are slaves today who need liberating). A 1619 history of slavery project is great. Insisting that slavery is THE defining reality of America is simply factually wrong.— Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) August 19, 2019
Gingrich tweeted the project is “great” but that framing slavery as “the defining reality of America” is wrong. He then went on Fox and Friends to say that because white people weren’t enslaved, slavery wasn’t their defining experience.
Fox’s Newt Gingrich calls The New York Times’ #1619Project “a lie” and complains that the “several hundred thousand white Americans who died in the Civil War” don’t get enough credit. Gingrich also suggests that the #1619Project is ultimately about impeaching Trump. pic.twitter.com/W489EABIsX
— Bobby Lewis (@revrrlewis) August 19, 2019
Of course, that’s largely the point of the project. Even if you didn’t own slaves or you think slavery is wrong, if you believe you didn’t in any way benefit from slavery—guess what? You did.
Conservative columnist Byron York, meanwhile, asked if the Times could be considered a news outlet after it published a feature on African-Americans and accused it of “creating curriculum.”
Question raised by leaked New York Times transcript, plus rollout of 1619 project: Should the public still view the Times as a news outlet? Or as something else? https://t.co/28AbrrPgnt— Byron York (@ByronYork) August 17, 2019
New York Times 'reframe American history' project hugely ambitious. You thought founding was Declaration, Constitution? No. NYT says 'true founding' was 1619, when first slaves arrived. Creating curriculum for schools. https://t.co/nINfjRhnV6— Byron York (@ByronYork) August 18, 2019
“Creating curriculum” could also be known as teaching people the truth, which is then told to others. Alas, what a terrible thing for a newspaper to do.
Even while enraged, some conservatives came so close to understanding the project.
“If the land in which the United States was founded has been tainted by racism since the 1600s and everything derived therefrom is therefore tainted, then the US is illegitimate, the constitution is illegitimate, and revolution is the answer,” Erick Erickson wrote.
Yes, some might say.
If the land in which the United States was founded has been tainted by racism since the 1600s and everything derived therefrom is therefore tainted, then the US is illegitimate, the constitution is illegitimate, and revolution is the answer —— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) August 18, 2019
Once you declare the United States a racist enterprise, you light a fire that will eventually consume you too.— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) August 18, 2019
Maybe if this upsets you, and you aren’t African-American, then you need to ask why.
David Covucci is the Layer 8 editor at the Daily Dot, covering the intersection of politics and the web. His work has appeared in Vice, the Huffington Post, Jezebel, Gothamist, and other publications. He is particularly interested in hearing any tips you have. Reach out at [email protected]