Last August, the New York Times published The 1619 Project, a multimedia endeavor that commemorates the 400th anniversary of bonded Africans arriving in North America at Port Comfort, Virginia. Spearheaded by Times reporter and MacArthur Genius Grant recipient Nikole Hannah-Jones, it has become a major event, with sales figures reaching into an orbit the periodical has not seen since they published the front page announcing President Obama’s 2008 electoral victory.
But the acclaim has not been universal. In a strange convergence that elicits Don King’s proclamation “Only in America,” a coterie of Ivy League scholars who clearly have nothing better to do, The Wall Street Journal, and the ultra-bonkers Trotskyist World Socialist Website created a strange united front from the depths below to repudiate this publishing initiative, which includes educational curriculum materials and a wider publicity campaign. In the December 29, 2019 issue of the Times weekend magazine, a Letter to the Editor authored with the condescending, smug elitism inherent to the ivory tower proclaimed:
We ask that The Times, according to its own high standards of accuracy and truth, issue prominent corrections of all the errors and distortions presented in The 1619 Project. We also ask for the removal of these mistakes from any materials destined for use in schools, as well as in all further publications, including books bearing the name of The New York Times. We ask finally that The Times reveal fully the process through which the historical materials were and continue to be assembled, checked and authenticated.
Victoria Bynum, distinguished emerita professor of history, Texas State University;
James M. McPherson, George Henry Davis 1886 emeritus professor of American history, Princeton University;
James Oakes, distinguished professor, the Graduate Center, the City University of New York;
Sean Wilentz, George Henry Davis 1886 professor of American history, Princeton University;
Gordon S. Wood, Alva O. Wade University emeritus professor and emeritus professor of history, Brown University.
Dr. Gerald Horne, the John J. and Rebecca Moores Professor of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston, has published over the past decade a series of volumes that align with the thesis of The 1619 Project, “placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative” while consequently dismantling Progressive-era historiography that claims the events of 1776 as a step forward in human governance as opposed to a fortification of North American chattel slavery in the face of ascendant European abolitionists.
“I have an iron in this fire. On Twitter, Hannah-Jones acknowledged that she was familiar with my work. But I don’t blame them for not quoting me, they are in enough trouble already with the ruling class without saying they were relying upon my work!,” Horne said in an interview.
While Horne’s efforts have slight variance with 1619, arguing that the plight of Africans in this hemisphere can be dated back to the Spanish invasion a century prior to the Virginia landing in his forthcoming The Dawning of the Apocalypse: The Roots of Slavery, White Supremacy, Settler Colonialism, and Capitalism in the Long Sixteenth Century, he still has positive appraisal of the effort and scorns these attacks.
“This has been a very interesting and revealing episode. In some ways I think it is a rebuke of the U.S. Left, which has not updated its historical analysis (to put it mildly), and is still relying on outdated theses. It would be as if in biology class there were no acknowledgement of DNA, you’re still acting as if Watson and Crick never existed!”
“It begs the question ‘why in the New York Times?’ And I think that’s a very good question. I think that, number one, Black people in general have less room for error and and are less susceptible to being seduced by the creation myths of the United States, we’re more sensitive to the rise of incipient fascism as signaled by Trumpism because that’s why you have #BlackLivesMatter and campaigns against the death penalty where we are over-represented on death row. And then, in terms of the New York Times, as the investor class can tell you, they are in real danger, from the point of view of the Sulzberger family, that paper might not survive! Journalism is a slowly-dying enterprise. The Graham family sold the Washington Post to Jeff Bezos for what he would consider coins found hidden in his couch,” Horne continued.
“The New York Times, like any enterprise, is looking for new markets,” he said. “As well they should! They are in New York, which has the largest Black population in the United States of America, so understandably they are trying to reach out to this Black population.”
Prof. Willentz, a longtime Clinton standard bearer who honked mightily in 2008 about the Obama campaign using the worst kinds of race-based tactics since the Willie Horton ad (no really!), plays a strange role here. The author of an apologetic biography of Andrew Jackson, he expressed a particular sense of offense in this affair.
“One of his sternest critics was his now-retired colleague Nell Irvin Painter,” says Horne. “They were at Princeton together. I always wondered how their conversations in the hallway went.”
“At Princeton he was involved in an episode to liquidate African American Studies under the guise of ‘Integration Now!,’ which of course was understandably and justifiably rebuffed and repudiated.”
Need more be said?