By Ben Weingarten
JUNE 26, 2020
Hannah-Jones’ words matter. They are the same words that may well emanate from our children’s lips if we do not take our institutions back.
How would you feel if the person teaching your children American history argued that “the white race” — or any race — “is the biggest murderer, rapist, pillager, and thief of the modern world”? What if she claimed, “Christopher Columbus and those like him were no different then [sic] Hitler”? And what if she concluded that “the descendants of these savage people … continue to be bloodsuckers in our communities”?
Unfortunately, these are not mere academic questions. The New York Times’ Nikole Hannah-Jones has claimed them. The teachings of Times’ 1619 Project, Hannah-Jones’ brainchild, are being incorporated into the curricula of classrooms across the country. Her above-mentioned writings, as The Federalist recently reported, come from her days as a student at the University of Notre Dame.
The 1619 Project simply spreads an intellectual veneer onto the hatred and bigotry of her sophomore musings. “1619” marks the year English colonists first brought African slaves to what later became Virginia. Hannah-Jones and her followers view this as the pivotal year in American history, rather than 1776, when we declared independence from Great Britain.
In its own telling, the 1619 Project seeks to “reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding.” It says:
Out of slavery — and the anti-black racism it required — grew nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional: its economic might, its industrial power, its electoral system, diet and popular music, the inequities of its public health and education, its astonishing penchant for violence, its income inequality, the example it sets for the world as a land of freedom and equality, its slang, its legal system and the endemic racial fears and hatreds that continue to plague it to this day.
That is, in the eyes of the 1619 Project’s progenitors, all of America is the poisoned fruit of the seed of slavery and bigotry. Tyranny, not liberty, is at the heart of our country.
Hannah-Jones’ Arguments Drip with Inaccuracy
To proffer such a claim, one must either be wholly ignorant of the foundational principles upon which America was based, and the key historical events that demonstrate our commitment to them, or find oneself so filled with contempt for the American experiment as to ignore such truths in framing a false narrative.
Readers themselves can judge whether the 1619 Project’s sins are ones of omission or commission. In Hannah-Jones’ Pulitzer Prize-winning essay around which the project is based, she makes a number of specious arguments.
She claims America was “founded … on an ideal and a lie.” That lie comes in the Declaration of Independence, which “proclaims that ‘all men are created equal’ and ‘endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights,’” while “the white men who drafted those words did not believe them to be true for the hundreds of thousands of black people in their midst.”
A bevy of words and deeds from the likes of George Washington, James Madison, and John Adams, along with Adams’ Declaration of Independence drafting members — including Roger Sherman, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson, to name a few — lay waste to this argument.
Hannah-Jones also states that “one of the reasons we even decided to become a nation in the first place is over the issue of slavery.” Everyone from the most eminent of mainstream historians to avowed socialist ones have debunked this claim, and The New York Times itself was forced to issue a correction of it.
Hannah-Jones suggests that with the Constitution, “the framers carefully constructed a document that preserved and protected slavery without ever using the word.” She concludes, “Some might argue that this nation was founded not as a democracy but as a slavocracy.”
This argument fails to grapple with the reality of the prudential decisions facing the founders if we were to have a country. It minimizes their efforts to reduce the strength of the slaveholding South through the Three-Fifths Compromise, their effective writing out of slave importation via Article I, Section 9, Clause 1, and the reality that by omitting the words “slave” or “slavery” from the document, they undermined the practice’s legitimacy, keeping the greatest violation of our founding principles from tarnishing the document.
The Founders’ Own Words Betray the 1619 Project
As Abraham Lincoln — whom Hannah-Jones later slanders — said in his 1854 Peoria speech, the founders:
Hid away [slavery], in the constitution, just as an afflicted man hides away a wen or a cancer, which he dares not cut out at once, lest he bleed to death; with the promise, nevertheless, that the cutting may begin at the end of a given time. Less than this our fathers COULD not do; and NOW [MORE?] they WOULD not do … the plain unmistakable spirit of that age, towards slavery, was hostility to the PRINCIPLE, and toleration, ONLY BY NECESSITY. (Emphasis Lincoln’s)
Frederick Douglass, a hero unmentioned in Hannah-Jones’s lengthy essay, who provided perhaps the greatest rebuke of all to her vision of America, called the charge of a pro-slavery Constitution a “slander upon [the memory]” of the founders, noting that “the Constitution is a glorious liberty document.”
As he said in his 1857 speech in response to the Dred Scott decision: