Project 1619 and its detractors


IMAGE/The 1619 Project logo/The New York Times – Public Domain

Last August, the New York Times Sunday Magazine devoted an entire issue to Project 1619, an attempt to root today’s racism in the institution of slavery dating back to the seventeenth century. In 1619, British colonists in Point Comfort, Virginia bought twenty African slaves from Portuguese traders who had landed there, fresh from a body-snatching expedition. Times reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones wrote the introduction to ten articles in the magazine that focused on different aspects of Black oppression, such as Traymaine Lee’s on the wealth gap between black and white Americans.

Four months later, five prominent historians of the Civil War signed a letter demanding that the newspaper correct “errors” and “distortions” in Project 1619. Rumor has it that Princeton professor Sean Wilentz wrote the letter and lined up four others to co-sign: Victoria Bynum, James M. McPherson, James Oakes, and Gordon S. Wood. I would only add that Bynum wrote a book that chronicled the armed resistance to wealthy slave-owners by poor white southerners and served as a consultant for the inspiring movie “The Free State of Jones”.

There has been an overlapping two-pronged attack on Project 1619, one from the five historians and the other from the World Socialist Web Site ( Alongside Wilentz, et al, the sectarians earned a spotlight in the bourgeois press for their campaign against Project 1619. On December 17th, the Wall Street Journal celebrated the WSWS’s denunciation of Project 1619 as a “racialist falsification” of history. It was good to see the WSJ standing up against racialism in keeping with publisher Rupert Murdoch’s well-known progressive editorial outlook.

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