As published in Front Line, Vol. XLIII, No. 1, Spring 2022,
PO Box 37054, St. Louis, MO. 63141, (314) 434-7028.
by Dr. Mary Byrne
The New York Times Magazine released its repackaged and rebranded 1619 Project Magazine issue as a book, The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story.1 The Times also posted on the book’s promo website a teacher’s guide and companion children’s book with its own K-12 curriculum guide. Well-respected historians criticized the 1619 Project’s inaccuracies and false statements particularly taking exception to Nikole Hannah-Jones’s lead essay. 2,3,4,5,6 The updated and upgraded book retains and morphs the project beyond a reframing of America’s founding to something else entirely.
Washington Post book critic Carlos Lozada entitled his review of the book, “The 1619 Project started as history. Now it’s also a political program.” 7 As Lozada’s title infers, the book includes original content with some modifications, but its most striking changes include the addition of policy advocacy for socialist priorities (such as a livable wage, universal healthcare, childcare, college, and student loan debt relief as well as cash reparations for Black Americans) and a call to political activism. The New York Times launched an aggressive campaign to promote the book and supplemental materials to America’s K-12 classroom.
Why It Matters
While The New York Times proudly publicizes the 1619 Project as award-winning, and touts that its impact on America was nothing short of reframing our understanding of American history, it promotes a false narrative about America and misrepresents the integrity of the project and its newest iteration to the public. Peter Wood, President of the National Association of Scholars, analyzed the credentials of the original 1619 Project contributors. 8 He noted that,
Of the fourteen main contributors and the suppliers of sidebars, seven are professional journalists, six of whom work for The New York Times. Six are academics, five of whom are historians. … (p. 13)
This gathering of contributors might not be the ideal panel to reconceive the history of America from the ground up. … The participants weren’t invited for the purpose of summoning intellectually diverse views, but because they were known and could be trusted to stay within the agreed-upon framework. They are advocates for a thesis, and it is a thesis that puts racial grievance at the center of America’s story. (p. 14)
The New York Times Magazine’s editor-in-chief, Jake Silverstein, bragged, “Thousands of educators in all 50 states have made use of the Pulitzer Center’s educational materials based on the 1619 Project to supplement — not replace — their standard social studies and history curriculums [italics added].” 9 In other words, the Times is marketing a race-based commentary as history.
While the book version of the project addresses some of its critics’ concerns giving it a veneer of academic respectability, it also adds an activist component consistent with the “action civics” promoted by neo-Marxist Critical Race Theory proponents in education. 10
1619 Project’s False History Repeats Itself
According to Silverstein, Hannah-Jones’s Pulitzer Prize-winning essay (which was categorized as “commentary,” not history) “provides the intellectual framework for the project and can be read as an introduction.”11 Hannah-Jones repeats the text of her original magazine essay in the opening chapter of the book despite historians’ criticisms that she made false statements as shown in the excerpts following:
Conveniently left out of our founding mythology is the fact that one of the primary reasons some of the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery. …, we may never have revolted against Britain if some of the founders had not understood that slavery empowered them to do so; nor if they had not believed that independence was required in order to ensure that slavery would continue. …
Jefferson and the other founders were keenly aware of this hypocrisy. And so in Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration of Independence, he tried to argue that it wasn’t the colonists’ fault. Instead, he blamed the king of England for forcing the institution of slavery on the unwilling colonists and called the trafficking in human beings a crime. Yet neither Jefferson nor most of the founders intended to abolish slavery, and in the end, they struck the passage [Italics added]. 12
Historians lashed out at Hannah-Jones’s deliberate racialist falsification of American history. 13 Had she wanted to write responsible commentary about the motives of Jefferson, she would have read his autobiography that explained why the Continental Congress deleted the paragraph to which she refers.14 But employing “the highest journalistic principles” was the goal. 15 Leslie Harris, a historian who specializes in the study of slavery in America, challenged the false statement weeks before the essay was published but was ignored. 16 Historians David North and Thomas Mackaman confirmed that other historians experienced the same rejection. 17
Silverstein was dismissive of critics’ emphasis on facts as “privilege.” He defended the project saying, “… a knowledge of American historiography, in particular the way our historical profession evolved to take fuller account of the role of slavery and racism in our past, is critical to understanding the debates of the past two years [italics added].” 18 In so many words, Silverstein dismissed journalistic standards of objectivity and documentation, and promoted subjective story-telling as a superior approach to prosecute slavery and racism in America. The purpose of the 1619 Project must have been about something other than a national conversation starter about the history of racism in America.
Problems with the Project’s Prestigious Pulitzer Prize
The 1619 Project met entry criteria for a Pulitzer Prize, because in 2016, the Board announced expansion of eligibility to print online magazines in all journalism categories.19 According to the October 2016 press release, the Board “also approved a revised set of guidelines … [that] spell out … what the board means by “the highest journalistic principles.”
The Board’s guidelines stated, “The judges seek to experience your work as your readers did” and described the “Commentary” category as, “… for opinion writing containing well-reasoned and compelling arguments on a topic or topics of public interest.” They also stated, “The rigor and completeness of sourcing is an important factor in judging the quality of submissions, whether it involves attribution in the text, footnotes or the citation of documents. These standards apply to all entrants regardless of the medium or form of the entries. [Italics added.]20
On October 6, 2020, the National Association of Scholars sent a letter to the Pulitzer Board requesting that the Board rescind Hannah-Jones’s prize, because The 1619 Project did not meet the Board’s guidelines. After its original publication, the Times changed key wording in its introduction to soften the errors in Hannah-Jones’s essay.21 Attorney Patricia Barnes argued, “The [errorful] essay that was published by the NYT in August 2019 was the essay that was placed before the Pulitzer organization for consideration, not the revised (corrected) essay.”22 Barnes concluded that the Times’s adjustments showed Hannah-Jones’s essay was neither well-reasoned nor compelling. Other critics point out the essay presents no source material.23 The Pulitzer Board responded in an October 12, 2020, statement, “That essay was selected … by a jury judging entries in the ‘Commentary’ category.”24 The Board’s Plan of Award describes the judging process: the Board appoints Nominating Jurors in each prize category who then submit three nominations to the Board.25
Jurors for “Commentary” in 2020 included Brent Staples, an African-American who is a member of the New York Times editorial board; Lydia Polgreen, an African-American who is a former editorial director of New York Times Global and was a New York Times reporter in West Africa, India and South Africa; and Peter Maass, former writer for The New York Times Magazine. The 2019-2020 Pulitzer Board included Pulitzer administrator Dana Canedy, a former New York Times editor and special projects reporter.26 Also on the Board was the Times Opinion Editor Gail Collins.27
Before announcing the Pulitzer Prizes (May 4, 2020, Canedy commented, “Despite relentless assaults on objective truth, … journalists continue to pursue and deliver essential facts and truths to keep us safe and to protect our democracy.” [Italics added.]28 Yet, five months earlier, Hannah-Jones tweeted, “The 1619 Project explicitly denies objectivity.”29 Clearly, the Board applied a different standard regarding sourcing and objectivity to Hannah-Jones’s essay. U.S. Senator Ted Cruz indicated that in violating the Pulitzer organization’s own journalistic principles, its New York Times associates demonstrated that they have an agenda. Cruz tweeted, “NYT Executive Editor Dean Baquet was caught in a leaked transcript admitting it blatantly political.”30 Critics of the project link that political agenda to the Democrat party.31
Critical Race Theory as the Frame for the 1619 Project
Storytelling as evidence is an aspect of neo-Marxist Critical Race Theory (CRT). In the spring 1998 issue of The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, Edward Taylor explained,
As a form of oppositional scholarship, CRT challenges the experience of whites as the normative standard and grounds its conceptual framework in the distinctive experiences of people of color. This call to context insists that the social and experiential context of racial oppression is crucial for understanding racial dynamics, … 32
CRT scholars often use storytelling as a way to engage and contest negative stereotyping. This strategy makes use of the experiences of people negatively affected by racism as a primary means to confront the beliefs held about them by whites. This is what Professor Crenshaw calls a condition for the development of a distinct political strategy informed by the actual conditions of black people. 33 [Italics added.]
The use of storytelling, however, does not exempt a journalist from a comprehensive review of available facts. New York Times’s Bret Stephens opined, “The question of journalistic practices, however, raises deeper doubts about the 1619 Project’s core premises … The job of journalism is to take account of that complexity [of people and their motives], not simplify it out of existence through the adoption of some ideological orthodoxy.”34
Hannah-Jones tweeted out a statement distancing her work from association with CRT.
Analysis of the 1619 Project suggests she knows otherwise. Johns Hopkins School of Education’s Institute for Education Policy developed a social studies knowledge map that confirmed the Marxist lens of the Project’s content stating,
In narrowing the motivations of the nation’s white population to a singular intent, the 1619 Project’s framework is reminiscent of the structuralist meta-narratives of Marxist or feminist structuralism, to wit: there is only one controlling force that underlies and thus ultimately explains the totality of individual and collective human behavior. The 1619 Project thus reflects both the inherent strengths and weaknesses of other structuralist accounts.35
The Origin of Hannah-Jones’s Origin Story
Nikole Hannah-Jones, who had been a staff writer of The New York Times since 2015, pitched the idea of the 1619 Project at a staff meeting in January 2019.36 Silverstein noted that Hannah-Jones had been cultivating the idea for the project for many years. The unveiling of the 100-page opus in August 2019, was timed to coincide with the four-hundredth anniversary of the arrival of the first slaves in the British colony of Virginia. The 1619 Project issue enjoyed instant acclaim and high volume of sales.
In the spring of 2020, the Pulitzer Board awarded Hannah-Jones a prize for her lead essay as “Commentary,” but that did not stop Silverstein from marketing the project as “history.” A Washington Examiner reporter quoted Hannah-Jones’ claim that the 1619 Project is not a history, but an “origin story” of America, stating:
… I am not an historian [Italics added]. I am a journalist. The 1619 Project involves historical research, reporting, and argument to tell a story about the modern legacy of slavery. Historiography does something completely different.
I’ve said consistently that the 1619 Project is an origin story, not the origin story, … Our intro says explicitly, what would it mean to consider 1619 our founding — not that it is our founding. [Emphasis added.]
The reporter commented, “Perhaps she is backtracking now on ‘history’, because even interpretive history, like journalism, must rely on solid facts. Unfortunately for Hannah-Jones, her contributions to the 1619 Project have been criticized far and wide as being counterfactual.”37
In the preface of the book version, Hannah-Jones includes a kind of disclaimer that the Project is “not the only origin story of this country – there must be many.” Then, her opening chapter repeats the text of her original magazine essay. Washington Post book critic Carlos Lozada observed, “Some 400-plus pages later, in a concluding chapter, she writes that the origin story in the 1619 Project is ‘truer’ than the one we’ve been told … For all of the controversy the project has elicited, this muddle over the starting point is an argument that the 1619 Project is also having with itself.”38 In other words, internal contradictions in the text do not make for an enduring origin story and exposes the Time’s goal as something else.
New York Times writer Bret Stephens revealed that, “About a month before the project’s publication, Silverstein reached out to the Pulitzer Center to propose a 1619 curriculum for schools.” 39 The timing of Silverstein’s outreach combined with reports that the Times knew of Hannah-Jones’s false narratives about America’s history suggests that dissemination of negative messaging about America’s founding to K-12 social studies classrooms was a politically-calculated goal.
Common Core State Standards: A Backdoor to Promulgating the 1619 Project as History
In one article, Silverstein described at length Lynne Cheney’s failed attempt in the 1990s to develop and promulgate national history standards as the director of the National Endowment of the Humanities.40 National standards would create a national market for instructional resources and materials designed to meet those standards. Cheney’s goal may have surreptitiously been achieved with the 2010 Common Core State Standards (CCSS) that conflate standards for English Language Arts with History/Social Studies.41
For example, Reading Standards for Informational Text 6–12 includes a section entitled Integration of Knowledge and Ideas. Item 9 for grades 9-10 states, “Analyze seminal U.S. documents of historical and literary significance. … including how they address related themes and concepts.” Item 9 for grades 11-12 states, “Analyze seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century foundational U.S. documents of historical and literary significance (including The Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address) for their themes, purposes, and rhetorical features.”
The form and content of the 1619 Project perfectly aligns with the CCSS in that, it doesn’t have to meet standards of objectivity associated with the discipline of history while it can use historical documents as material for commentary meeting standards of English Language Arts. The 1619 Project and materials based on the Project’s narrow and race-biased content can be camouflaged as information literacy without having to meet historians’ standards of objective facts.
Awareness of the composition of the CCSS ELA/History standards is evident in Secretary of Education Cardona’s first Proposed Priorities-American History and Civics Education. 42 The administration proposed “priorities to support the development of culturally responsive teaching and learning and the promotion of information literacy skills.” The purpose of teaching, according to the proposed rule, was “the teaching of American history, civics, and government in elementary schools and secondary schools, including the teaching of traditional American history. But the proposal specifically identified the 1619 Project as meeting the purpose of the rule. Had the revised proposal not removed reference to the 1619 Project, federal dollars would have been dedicated to spreading the falsehood about America’s founding in K-12 classrooms.
New York Times’s Partnership with the Pulitzer Center and the CCSS
The Pulitzer Center announced its partnership with The New York Times Magazine to develop instructional materials for teaching K-12 students with the 1619 Project.43 The Center’s Education Materials Collection website provides free lesson plans to teachers that are generated to teach from the project content.44 Those lessons are structured to meet the CCSS ELA/History standards as illustrated in the Educator Notes for the lesson plan entitled “Exploring ‘The Idea of America” by Nikole Hannah-Jones.45 (See images below.)
Clandestine Purposes of the 1619 Project
Stephens summarized the motive of the Times and Hannah Jones as follows:
If there’s one word admirers and critics alike can agree on when it comes to The New York Times’s award-winning 1619 Project, it’s ambition. Ambition to reframe America’s conversation about race. Ambition to reframe our understanding of history. Ambition to move from news pages to classrooms. Ambition to move from scholarly debate to national consciousness.46
In other words, the Times and Hannah-Jones and their sympathizers in government and the private foundations are working to fuel the fundamental transformation of America by infusing the 1619 Project in K-12 classrooms. In addition, they enjoy national recognition from prestigious awards, profit from book sales and speaking engagements, and the power to steer the upcoming generation’s perception of the United States. Mary Grabar, author of “Debunking the 1619 Project,” gives readers a call to action:
“The 1619 Project [and by extension, its book sequel] is a mortal danger to the American experiment in self-government. If we want to keep the Republic … We must understand The 1619 Project: its divisive aims and its dishonest methods, its sweeping historical misjudgments and its blatant errors of fact. And we must drive its lies and its poisonous race-baiting out of our public institution, beginning with the official curricula of our schools.”
Americans who understand the precious gift of America’s founding ideas must act to preserve them and extend them to all Americans – especially those of the next generation – if we are to keep the Republic.
Dr. Mary Byrne is a national speaker and co-founding member of Missouri Coalition Against Common Core. She has an M.A. in special education from The Ohio State University, and an M.Ed. in curriculum and instructional design, and a doctorate in special education from Teachers College at Columbia University. In 2015, Dr. Byrne served on Missouri’s academic standards work group for secondary social studies which was constituted by the 2014 Missouri legislation HB 1490. Dr. Byrne recently testified to the Missouri legislature’s Joint Committee on Education about CRT’s history and the state’s role in supporting aspects of CRT in Missouri schools.
1 Hannah-Jones, Nikole, “A New Origin Story, The 1619 Project,” 2021, https://1619books.com/.
2 The Pulitzer Prizes, “Nikole Hannah-Jones of The New York Times, Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true.,” August 14, 2019, https://www.pulitzer.org/.
3 Wilentz, Sean, “American Slavery and ‘the Relentless Unseen’. ’’ The New York Review, November 19, 2019, https://www.nybooks.com/
4 Wood, Peter W., “1620: A Critical Response to the 1619 Project,” Encounter Books, NY, 2020.
5 LumenLearning, “African American History and Culture. The Impact of the Revolution on Slavery.,” https://courses.lumenlearning.com/.
6 Guelzo, Allen C., “The 1619 Project’s Outrageous, Lying Slander of Abe Lincoln,” March 5, 2020, https://www.heritage.org/.
7 Lozada, Carlos, “The 1619 Project started as history. Now it’s also a political program.” The Washington Post, November 19, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/.
8 Ibid., Wood, Peter.
9 Silverstein, Jake, “The 1619 Project and the Long Battle Over U.S. History, Fights over how we tell our national story go back more than a century – and have a great deal to teach us about our current divisions,” The New York Times, November 9, 2021, updated November 12, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com.
10 Delgado, Richard & Jean Stefancic, “Critical Race Theory, An Introduction,” New York University Press, New York and London, 2003.
11 Ibid., Silverstein.
12 Ibid., The Pulitzer Prizes.
13 North, David & Tom Mackaman, “The New York Times’ 1619 Project and the racialist falsification of history,” Oak Park, MI: Mehring Books, 2021, https://www.wsws.org/.
14 Jefferson, Thomas, “Autobiography of Thomas Jefferson 1743-1790,” 1914. https://ia600303.us.archive.org.
15 Ibid., Pulitzer, “Pulitzer Prizes open all journalism categories to magazines,” October 18, 2016, https://www.pulitzer.org/.
16 Harris, Leslie, “I helped fact check the 1619 Project. The Times Ignored me,” Politico, March 6, 2020, https://www.politico.com/.
17 Ibid., North.
18 Ibid., Silverstein.
19 Ibid., The Pulitzer Prizes, “Pulitzer Prizes Open All Journalism Categories to Magazines,” October 19, 2016, https://www.pulitzer.org/.
20 Ibid., The Pulitzer Prizes, “2020 Journalism Submission Guidelines Requirements and Faqs,” https://www.pulitzer.org/.
21 Wood, Peter, “Pulitzer Board Must Revoke Nikole Hannah-Jones’ Prize,” National Association of Scholars, October 6, 2020, https://www.nas.org/.
22 Barnes, Patricia, “Ideology Over Excellence: Awarding The Pulitzer Prize to The 1619 Project,” Forbes, September 27, 2020, https://www.forbes.com/.
23 Feld, Ian, “The divisive effect of the 1619 project’s evidence, Gateway Journalism Review, Gale Academic Online, Winter 2020, https://go.gale.com/.
24 Ibid., The Pulitzer Prizes, “A Statement from the Pulitzer Prize Board,” October 12, 2020.
25 Ibid., The Pulitzer Prizes, “2022 Plan of Award.”
26 Ibid., The Pulitzer Prizes, “Journalist, Author Dana Canedy is Elected Administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes,” July 12, 2017.
27 Ibid., The Pulitzer Prizes, Pulitzer Prize Board 2019-2020.
28 Ibid., The Pulitzer Prizes, “Announcement of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize Winners,” May 3, 2019.
29 Wells, Ida Bae, “Nikole Hannah-Jones explains why the 1619 Project should not be taught in schools,” Twitter, November 30, 2019, https://twitter.com/conceptualjames/status/1303466102434017280.
30 Cruz, Ted, Twitter, May 4, 2020, https://twitter.com/tedcruz/status/1257407721441300481.
31 Kaufman, Elliot, “The ‘1619 Project’ Gets Schooled,” The Wall Street Journal, December 16, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/.
32 Taylor, Edward, “A Primer on Critical Race Theory,” The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, Spring 1998, No. 19, pp. 122-124, https://www.jstor.org/.
34 Stephens, Bret, “The 1619 Chronicles,” The New York Times, October 9, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com.
35 The Johns Hopkins School of Education Institute for Education Policy, “Social Studies Knowledge Map, The 1619 Project,” Summer 2021, https://drive.google.com/file/d/1lb1T6F-d2lfzgCofgAHl6OTpGsUSjEQR/view.
36 Ibid., Silverstein.
37 Adams, Becket, “1619 Project founder claims her project is simply an “origin story,’ not history,” Washington Examiner, July 28, 2020, https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/.
38 Ibid., Lozada.
39 Ibid., Stephens.
40 Ibid., Silverstein.
41 The Common Core State Standards Initiative, Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy, in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects, 2010, http://www.corestandards.org/.
42 Federal Register, “Proposed Priorities-American History and Civics Education,” April 19, 2021, https://www.federalregister.gov/.
43 Pulitzer Center, “Pulitzer Center Named Education Partner for The New York Times Magazine’s ‘The 1619 Project’,” August 14, 2019, https://pulitzercenter.org/.
44 The New York Times, “Teaching the 1619 Project, Education Materials Collection,” https://1619education.org/.
45 Pulitzer Center Education, “Exploring “The Idea of America by Nikole Hannah-Jones,” The 1619 Project: Pulitzer Center-created Resources, May 29, 2020, https://1619education.org/builder/lesson/exploring-idea-america-nikole-hannah-jones
46 Ibid., Stephens, B.