NEW YORK—Controversy is brewing over how to teach the American history of slavery in schools. Two groups are working to implement k-12th grade curriculum that will influence how children learn about slavery—and in particular, it’s impact on our nation. The 1619 Project, spearheaded by the New York Times’ investigative reporter, Nikole Hannah-Jones, aims to redefine America’s founding year to 1619—the first year slaves arrived in the British colony of Virginia.
The 1619 Project launched in August of 2019 in the Time’s Magazine. It consists of essays that are meant to “reframe American history,” as a New York Times article describes it. Some essays link modern day socio-economic problems, such as health care and mass incarceration, back to slavery.
Meanwhile, a different group called 1776 opposes this change. The group started by Robert Woodson, president of the Woodson Center, launched shortly after the 1619 Project launched. They enforce the idea that America should not be defined by slavery, but by the freedom and autonomy in which its citizens are entitled.
“We are challenging it by saying no. America can not be defined by it’s birth defect of slavery. None of us should be defined by what we used to be in our past,” Woodson told American Thought Leaders, an Epoch Times show. He goes on to say that black Americans are facing an “internal crisis” dealing with problems such as murder and births out of wedlock. But, he says, it isn’t because of slavery.
“And for 1619 to say that that problem is caused by the shadow of slavey and discrimination is patently untrue and lethal,” Woodson said.
Woodson isn’t the only critic of the project. Several Civil War scholars have described “The 1619 Project” as historically inaccurate. One critic, Phillip Magness, said there is a need to correct some misconceptions Americans have about the history of slavery.
“But at the same time we need to be mindful of not going too far in the other direction and creating our own distorted account of what slavery was and what it entailed historically by basically weaponizing it and appropriating it to the politics of the current day,” Magness, senior research fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research, told NTD.
He points to one essay in the 1619 project which concludes that modern day capitalism is directly rooted in slavery and is thus evil by its very nature. He said that many of the sources used to prove this point have been inverted and misrepresented.
Woodson also sheds light on the fact that many slaves were able to break out of slavery because of the free-market economy.
“In 1929, there was 731 black owned businesses in the city—Chicago’s black neighborhoods. There were hundred million dollars in real estate assets in 1929. The point of this is if blacks achieved this level of self-sufficiency and independence because of the strong moral code of conduct,” Woodson said. “There were several blacks who were born slaves a who died millionaires because of the free enterprise system that [The 1619 Project] says is racist.”
The 1776 group is currently working to construct curriculum that tells the stories of those who broke through slavery—to spark resilience in the hearts of young people. Meanwhile, the 1619 Project has already made it’s way into over 3,000 classrooms in Chicago, Washington, and New York.