These are days fraught with political battles over cultural histories abjuring complexity. Today it’s The Wall Street Journal and the reactionary path to critical race theory, the latest bit of Trumpist ignorance now projected into personnel policies and the larger revisionist history project that would deny the historical relevance of slavery that now presents itself in wage inequality and human trafficking. RWNJs are workshopping the false dichotomy of 1619/1776 in advance of the mid-term elections, because that binary somehow ignores a Civil War and Jim Crow, among other crimes.

“The worthy historical task of documenting the horrors of American slavery has been cynically repurposed into an ideological attack on free-market capitalism.”

(Robert) Woodson also makes time to push back at the machinations of progressivism. After the New York Times published its “1619 Project”—which posits that America’s true founding was not 1776 but 1619, the year African slaves arrived in Virginia, and that the American Revolution was fought primarily to preserve slavery—he became incensed. Not only was it junk history, but it would be disseminated through school curriculums in the name of helping blacks. Mr. Woodson responded by initiating his own project, “1776 Unites,” which enlisted a group of black scholars, journalists and social activists “who uphold the true origins of our nation and the principles through which its founding promise can be fulfilled.”

Last week, Mr. Woodson released “Red, White and Black: Rescuing American History from Revisionists and Race Hustlers.” The book is a collection of essays by 1776 Unites participants, and its publication is a public service.


In another essay, John McWhorter, a professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia, says the problem is not merely the project’s numerous and well-documented inaccuracies but also its simpleminded approach to a complicated subject. “The 1619 kind of perspective, for all of its elaborate terminology and moral passion vented in serious media organs and entertained by people with PhDs, demands that we abjure complexity,” he writes. “It is a call for dumbing ourselves down in the name of a moral crusade.” 


The 1619 Project is not an intellectual exercise in search of truth. It’s a political exercise in search of power. More scholars could and should be calling out this false history, but let’s be grateful to the ones who have risen to the occasion.…

The 1619 Project has been under attack from across the political spectrum since it was released in August 2019. President Trump denounced it as anti-American propaganda in his call for “patriotic history.” Some historians have picked at the details, claiming they “applaud all efforts to address the foundational centrality of slavery and racism to our history,” but heatedly dispute it on “matters of verifiable fact.” Their applause often seems more of an all-out war against the project than support. 

As a historian, social studies teacher educator, and former New York City high school teacher, I strongly endorse the 1619 Project’s claim that the roles slavery, race and racism have played in shaping the United States, past and present, are fundamental to understanding the history of this country and need to be highlighted in secondary school curricula. I have minor disagreements with some of the details, but also confidence that those can and will be resolved over time through dialogue. 

The 1619 Project and the companion curriculum, developed in conjunction with the Pulitzer Center, are vitally important because there is no national history curriculum in the United States. Each state has its own and the curriculum outline is often suggested, not required. With its focus on slavery and race, the 1619 Project challenges gaps, minimizations, and distortions in what gets taught in American schools. 

I am most familiar with New York State, where recommendations for the social studies curriculum are embedded in its Grades 9-12 Social Studies Framework, a framework that minimizes the role of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the sale of people, and the sale of slave-produced commodities in global and United States history. 

When I was a high school teacher, the break point for semesters in Global History was European New World exploration, which meant the Columbian Exchange and the impact of the trans-Atlantic slave trade were featured at the start of a new semester or a new school year. New York now starts tenth grade with the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, which means the Columbian Exchange and the trans-Atlantic slave trade are squeezed together into the last month of 9th grade – if there is time.…

  • May 27, 2021