History, Journalism, Top Stories

Down the 1619 Project’s Memory Hole

The history of the American Revolution isn’t the only thing the New York Times is revising through its 1619 Project. The “paper of record” has also taken to quietly altering the published text of the project itself after one of its claims came under intense criticism.

When the 1619 Project went to print in August 2019 as a special edition of the New York Times Magazine, the newspaper put up an interactive version on its website. The original opening text stated:

The 1619 project is a major initiative from The New York Times observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative. [emphasis added]

The passage, and in particular its description of the year 1619 as “our true founding,” quickly became a flashpoint for controversy around the project. Critics on both the Left and Right took issue with the paper’s declared intention of displacing 1776 with the alternative date—a point that was also emphasized in the magazine feature’s graphics, showing the date of American independence crossed out and replaced by the date of the first slave ship’s arrival in Jamestown, Virginia.

For several months after the 1619 Project first launched, its creator and organizer Nikole Hannah-Jones doubled down on the claim. “I argue that 1619 is our true founding,” she tweeted the week after the project launched. “Also, look at the banner pic in my profile”—a reference to the graphic of the date 1776 crossed out with a line. It’s a claim she repeated many times over.

But something changed as the historical controversies around the 1619 Project intensified in late 2019 and early 2020. A group of five distinguished historians took issue with Hannah-Jones’s lead essay, focusing on its historically unsupported claim that protecting slavery was a primary motive of the American revolutionaries when they broke away from Britain in 1776. Other details of the project soon came under scrutiny, revealing both errors of fact and dubious interpretations of evidence in other essays, such as Matthew Desmond’s 1619 Project piece attempting to connect American capitalism with slavery. Finally back in March, a historian who the Times recruited to fact-check Hannah-Jones’s essay revealed that she had warned the paper against publishing its claims about the motives of the American Revolution on account of their weak evidence. The 1619 Project’s editors ignored the advice.

Throughout the controversy, the line about the year 1619 being “our true founding” continued to haunt the Times. This criticism did not aim to denigrate the project’s titular date or the associated events in the history of slavery. Rather, the passage came to symbolize the Times’s blurring of historical analysis with editorial hyperbole. The announced intention of reframing the country’s origin date struck many readers across the political spectrum as an implicit repudiation of the American revolution and its underlying principles.

Rather than address this controversy directly, the Times—it now appears—decided to send it down the memory hole—the euphemized term for selectively editing inconvenient passages out of old newspaper reports in George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. Without announcement or correction, the newspaper quietly edited out the offending passage such that it now reads:

The 1619 Project is an ongoing initiative from The New York Times Magazine that began in August 2019, the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.

Discovery of this edit came about earlier this week when Nikole Hannah-Jones went on CNN to deny that she had ever sought to displace 1776 with a new founding date of 1619. She repeated the point in a now-deleted tweet: “The #1619Project does not argue that 1619 was our true founding. We know this nation marks its founding at 1776.” It was not the first time that Hannah-Jones had tried to alter her self-depiction of the project’s aims on account of the controversial line. She attempted a similar revision a few months ago during an online spat with conservative commentator Ben Shapiro.

But this time the brazen rewriting of her own arguments proved too much. Hannah-Jones’s readers scoured her own Twitter feed and public statements over the previous year, unearthing multiple instances where she had in fact announced an intention to displace 1776 with 1619.

The foremost piece of evidence against Hannah-Jones’s spin, of course, came from the opening passage of from the Times’s own website where it originally announced its aim “to reframe the country’s history” around the year “1619 as our true founding.” When readers returned to that website to cite the line however, they discovered to their surprise that it was no longer there.

The Times quietly dropped the offending passage at some point during the intervening year, although multiple screencaps of the original exist. The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine suggests the alteration came around late December 2019, when the 1619 Project was facing an onslaught of criticism over this exact point from several distinguished historians of the American founding.

It wasn’t the only edit that the newspaper made to further conceal its previous denigration of 1776. Prompted by the discovery of the first deletion, Twitter users noticed another suspicious change to the project’s text. The print edition of the 1619 Project from August 2019 contained an introductory passage reading:

In August of 1619, a ship appeared on this horizon, near Point Comfort, a coastal port in the British colony of Virginia. It carried more than 20 enslaved Africans, who were sold to the colonists. America was not yet America, but this was the moment it began. No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the 250 years of slavery that followed.

The website version of the 1619 Project now reads:

In August of 1619, a ship appeared on this horizon, near Point Comfort, a coastal port in the English colony of Virginia. It carried more than 20 enslaved Africans, who were sold to the colonists. No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the years of slavery that followed.

This additional reference to the 1619 origin point, underlined in the original print version, is no more.

Whatever the exact occasion for the changes, the Times did not disclose its edits or how they obscured one of the most controversial claims in the entire 1619 Project. They simply made the problematic passages disappear, hoping that nobody would notice.

 

Phillip W. Magness is a senior research fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research, and author of The 1619 Project: A Critique. You can follow him on Twitter @PhilWMagness.

Comments

  1. So I take it then that the New York Times no longer considers itself the newspaper of record. Neither does it stand by its most woke pronouncements. Just continual trial ballooning in a quest to reformulate fact.

  2. Obviously some at The New York Times believe that Orwell’s 1984 is a HowTo Manual.

  3. What I take from this article is that pushing back on the progressive narrative works. They don’t seem so formidable in retreat.

  4. Yes, and the more that I read and understand about the thinking of the far left, the more I realize that the strategies for engagement have to be more like a battle in the religious realm, instead of the academic/facts world. I read recently ‘when you go from merely thinking your opponent is wrong, to thinking he is evil, you have moved from politics to religion’. I believe that is where we are (‘Orange man BAD’, the evil oppressive white patriarchy, Nazi, hater, etc ad nauseaum).

  5. The intent here is to reframe the present, by changing the past. The West comprises the least oppressive, most egalitarian and inclusive countries in the history of the world. No other civilisation has ever come close to level of positive relations between people regardless of race, sex, gender or creed than those of the Enlightenment culture. The mistake made in assigning blame for disparities between the races is in looking to history as the culprit with some form of nebulous bias or systemic racism at the root of disparities by race.

    This is the problem with narrative. It ignores the empirical evidence, which in this points to a heartbreaking track record of well-intentioned Government policies which have directly harmed African Americans. The use of whole word in schools (as opposed to phonics), and postmodern theories of knowledge, with a more than liberal dollop of Rousseau, has had a disastrous impact on kids from poorer backgrounds across the board.

    Schools are supposed to be the great leveller. But the stubborn insistence by educators that children should discover knowledge for themselves, instead of having it imparted by an adult, makes for a hugely inefficient pedagogy which magnifies differences by class, as wealthier, more often White children are forced to rely on their parents and homes full of books for the source of much of their knowledge, a resource which their poorer peers often lack. Affluent mothers sneakily listen to their children read at night and teach them phonics!

    Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty should take its share of the blame as well. Despite being well-intentioned it, it disincentivises fatherhood. We all know the statistics by now for fatherlessness. 5 times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime, 9 times more likely to drop out of school and 20 times more likely to end up in prison. Dr Raj Chetty’s study on the subject of social mobility sheds light on the subject. His data shows the proportion of productive fathers in a community is key to social mobility from the bottom 20% of the population to the top 20%.

    But the greatest and most terrible sin on the Left is the way their single minded obsession with power has blinded them to the truth about economic disparities. It’s why their efforts will always fail. It’s why 60% of African Americans have already joined the middle class, but a persistent and slowly shrinking percentage remain in relative poverty. Their focus on the professions and boardrooms betrays the fact that they have forsaken the blue collar worker, even in concept. Because whilst it would be nice to see a few more Black CEO’s, doctors, lawyers and STEM graduates, it’s not really the issue if you want to level the playing field.

    There will always be a certain percentage of any population which doesn’t have want it takes to graduate high school in any meaningful way. And the combination of bad methodology and the pathological obsession with making curricula more accessible for girls (along with the failure to provide boys with the type of reading materials which might engage them), has had disastrous consequences.



    On the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress 12th Grade Reading Level Assessment (2015), 46 percent of white students scored at or above proficient. Just 17 percent of black students and 25 percent of Latino students scored proficient.

    And this is exactly the problem, because whilst greater access at the top might make a marginal difference, it is disparities at the bottom which urgently need addressing. Money needs to be diverted away from higher education to vocational training for kids from poorer backgrounds who are unlikely to do well without this lifeline. Apart from anything else, until quite recently America had a 7 million employee shortfall in vital skilled work, and nice kids from middle class backgrounds are unlikely to want to roll up their sleeves and to the types of dirty jobs which Mike Rowe advocates for.

    These jobs could be vital in transforming poor America and bringing hope to shattered communities. Granted, fathers will need to travel for much of the year, but I can tell you as someone whose father was a supply and tug boat captain, in many ways this is preferable, because as a son you get more extended periods with your father, more quality time. Plus gifts every time he returns home- don’t forget the gifts.

    Another factor is the credentialisation of jobs which should be accessible to those who didn’t finish school. There is no earthly reason why an American farrier should have to sit a written test, and no reason why a British chef should need the modern equivalent of a C at GCSE Maths (basic Maths is necessary, but not trigonometry or quadratic equations). By placing many jobs beyond reach for those who didn’t do well at school, we hurt the Blue Collar Class in general, and Black kids who have grown up in single mother homes within poor, urban, high crime communities worst of all.

    And this is the thing that has lead to the current strife between Antifa and BLM and police, our Westwide civil unrest. God knows Policing needs reform, as does the American Criminal Justice system, but nothing changes without tackling the root causes of higher rates of incarceration and police interaction- the very real differences in crime rates by race. Drugs may have caused the War on Drugs, but it was a dearth of viable economic opportunities to those with little schooling which fuelled it, whether through addiction and despair, or the shady chance to make real money.

    50% of all violent crime happens in 2% of districts in America, and its almost all gangs. Without fathers in the community to stop gang grooming, and vocational training to provide a viable alternative, nothing changes. The latter solves the former- because whilst women might sleep with a guy who is attractive and popular, even have his baby- she won’t settle down him unless he’s productive. Providing a generation of young men with the skills that they need to succeed, will fill the desperate need for reasonably well-paid young men willing and able to be fathers, and create the healthy homes for the future which will see many of the persistent problems that plague us disappear over time.

  6. One of the most effective techniques of the progressive left is to posit ridiculous theses that offend common sense and accepted norms. Climate change, gender theory, feminism, Covid, slavery, Islam, etc: all the subjects begin with an issue that most people can agree raise a worthwhile point of view, and then by degrees the proponents push the argument into the provocative realm, aiming to engage the negative emotions of anger, jealousy, resentment and revenge to serve their political ends; it always devolves into a Manichaean choice between Good (left) versus Evil (everyone else).

    The very act of engaging these arguments feeds the process. Calmly pointing out contrary evidence and dishonest rhetoric of the proponents opens the door for them to begin the attack in the purely negative emotional register, which usually means abuse and name calling: “Denier”, “Racist”, “Homophobe”, “Islamophobe”. Etc. Agreeable people (of which women form a higher percentage of the population) — even when they have otherwise strong intellectual powers — opt for the sentiment of good over fear of association with evil, and sympathize with the proponents, even when they are willing to concede the flaws in the original thesis.

    It is an invidious process. The only solutions I see are: (a) don’t engage unless you have to, which may lead to estrangement of friends and family, and (b) speak the truth but don’t argue. I have noticed that over time the first policy tends to raise doubts in agreeable moderates, who then begin the process of returning to balance, and the proponents lose influence. I suspect this may actually be a socio-biological process, but that is the purest of uninformed speculation.

    This is my long winded way of saying that the 1619 Project is pure foolishness, and does not deserve the dignity of reply.

  7. Johansen for minister of education.

    It is not pure foolishness it is pure evil. The goal is to create a new Original Sin from which there is no escape and for which reparations will be eternally required. From whitey. This Original Sin only applies to him.

  8. UPdate: I ran out of time to finish editing this comment. I’ve only corrected errors, not meaning.
    What a perfect example of the intellectually corrupt nature of the left. It’s very simple. The purpose of this effort is political and social. Note the author makes a phony defense of her own based on the lack of evidence for her own position - that’s how little the facts matter.

    I’m not sure most people understand this is nothing new for the New York Times, nor the legions of self-styled activists and pseudo-intellectual hacks who monetize this institutionalized anti-history from the Left for a living. The academics, the NGOs, the nonprofits, the think tanks, the universities, the journalists - it’s an ecosystem that feeds itself now and extracts a rent from the rest of us via very opaque charities and taxes you don’t realize are going into leftist activists politics. The latest shakedown is giving Crit Race Theory lectures on Anti-Racism to companies - do you realize how many radical activists are getting paid to do this “consulting”? But they need outrage and content to rest their radical actions and speech upon - and voila, here it is. So what if we have to change a few words to deal with the backlash from the fascists, we still got The 1619 Project into the schools though…That’s the goal anyway. I refer to the NYTimes quietly editing the leading claim of the 1619 Project.

    I can’t remember who said it and I don’t care. But we went through this same insanity with the Left in the '60s and it was said, “the issue is never the issue, the revolution is always the issue”. or something like that. The Left has been at war with the classical liberal order our declaration, constitution and founders instantiated in our society since the late 18th century.

    When is to to be done with leftism? How much rot and insanity does it need to cause in our society? It’s utterly destroyed the NYTimes. I read the NYTimes cover to cover at least 2-3 times a week, and from time to time would spend days devouring the Sunday NYTimes for a long time when younger. I was a hard conservative but found some news coverage of stuff I wanted to know about regularly and it presented a somewhere sensible version of the Dems at some times that I could at least understand.

    Today? It’s all disinformation. It’s all subversion. The primary weight is the ideological value. This is depraved and unsustainable. A self-governing people must be virtuous. Are the authors of 1619 or the NYTimes editors showing any virtue at all? Nope, they are merely trying to survive the consequences of their perfidy. It’s galling, sickening and all too familiar.

  9. Well I think there’s a sort of inertia involved in this process. Most people think that science and academia are sort of above the fray…

    Speaking out against something that seems to have gained acceptance in the university crowd makes me seem foolish. After all, who am I to speak against the wisdom of the professors.

    One can quote Peterson, Scruton, or Murray all day long, but until recently most blue collar types would look at me like I’m speaking Martian or something,

    But now that the progressives have over played their hand, with the rioting in the cities, and destroying statues of revered historical figures, I think the veil has been lifted.

    Everybody suspects the progressive narrative has jumped the shark, but are sort of looking around the room to see if it’s safe to say so. People who believe that Western Civilization is worth saving need to speak out in it’s defense.

  10. RyCol: You have adopted the language of racism to explain the world around you. To be clearer: you are a racist.

  11. @RyCol Welcome to QC! You have wandered into a forum where your anti-racist, anti-facist, anti-intellectual thought failures will be corrected promptly and with objectivity. If you decide to react by throwing insults and accusations, you will get them thrown right back in your face! Maybe start your time here by being open-minded and making a few friends before you start flipping tables and throwing tantrums!

  12. Okay, here’s a problem right there. What you just said is that being white, although surprisingly not being Asian, brings with it an innate something. A superiority, is the normal language.

    You’re basically targeting people due to their race. You’re stating that they have characteristics based on their race. This is a Jim Crow argument, just turned around. If it was racist for Jim Crow to make it, it’s racist for you.

  13. I’m not so sure the 1619 Project is necessarily as cynical as a political power grab. Here in Australia, we have a similar situation to the ‘1619 Project’.

    We have a fellow named Bruce Pascoe who claims without evidence (and there is plenty of disproof) to be of Aboriginal descent. He wrote a book claiming to have discovered that the early explorers documented Aborigines broadacre farming, keeping livestock and living in sizable towns. However, there is no corroborating evidence for any of this, such as archeological remains or indigenous folklore. Further, a skeptic went to the sloppily-cited source material and found the crucial quoted passages from explorer’s journals supporting this ‘discovery’ were all fabricated by Pascoe (who, as I say, also faked his heritage).

    Nevertheless, the Australian cultural elites have thrown their weight behind Pascoe. The schools, primary and secondary, are now indoctrinating children that Pascoe has finally told “a truer history” than the old conspiritorial lies of the historians, anthropologists and archaeologists. The national broadcaster (we have such a thing) is soon due to deliver a TV documentary endorsing the charlatan Pascoe’s fabrications as official Australian history. Pascoe himself has been elevated to Professor status at one of the old stone universities (now degenerated into a woke madrassa); and the academic anthropologists, archaeologists and historians remain stumm, sensing the mood of the campus activist mob.

    So why are the Woke pulling every string they have --many strings, since they dominate academia, education and the media – to enshrine this obvious hoax as the national origin story? To say ‘for power’ is too simple. Rather, it is because in previous decades, filmmakers and activist historians have cast settler Australians as genocidal racists, and a pall of collective guilt has descended upon the nation – or at least upon the wokerati and the impressionable youth of the nation. To atone for this, for the wrongs done, the thinking is this: one thing we can do is raise the status of the downtrodden Aboriginal peoples by giving them a cultural history that defends then against the legal doctrine of terra nullius, that the British discovered a land that was uncultivated, therefore essentially void, and within right to claim for the Crown. Never mind that this new history looks like a kitsch version of early Mesopotamia (Livestock? Really? Like wombats, koalas and kangaroos?).

    The point of this woke national project of re-imagining a “truer history” (as it is touted), is to redress past wrongs, a step toward reconciliation, and instating “first peoples” as symbols of white failure. Of course, rent-seekers line the side alleys of this project, and old comrades smell victory over the old capitalist foe, but in the main, why Australia’s woke and schoolkids are so wilfully blind to this embarrassing deceit is just good and simple white guilt, with, in Australia at least, the possibility of redemption. Just believe Pascoe’s “truer history” and everything will be alright. The nation will finally be healed and become whole.

    So, might something like this not also be driving the emotions behind the 1619 Project?

  14. I agree with you. The problem with your program of “can’t we all just get along?” is that it’s not going to work. I know from long experience that those who arrive chanting the term “racist” or “sexist” or “xenophobe” will not be swayed.

    I’ve been engaging in a year-long discussion in my religious context about this post-modernist white supremacist shit. It all began in June 2019 with a book about how UUism (Unitarian-Universalism) is being badly damaged by Woke bullying, safetyism, pressures to convert our non-theistic religion to an anti-racism chanting group, and so forth. I began a conversation with others, on my side and on the “anti-racist side”, by discussing why I found the new “anti-racist” order to be a dreadful assault on the religion. Some on the other side “engaged”. It took me 6 months to realize that the “engagement” they offered was not a discussion, but a process of stalling, obfuscation, pilpul discussion (Talmudic term for a discussion about the hair color of the 73rd angel on the head of the pin), and so forth. There was no actual discussion from the other side. There was only ad hominism, guilt by association, and charges of bad faith.

    It really comes down to the notion of culture. I am in the culture of dignity, which extolls the ability of persons to improve, holds out the hope of progress for all based on the advancement of the capable and educated, and views merit in a color-blind manner. The Woke hold out a culture of victimhood, which extolls the virtues of the victims, gives honor to those who have done nothing, and promotes a world in which the incompetents with the right skin color are elevated to the status of the Elect based on their lack of accomplishments and general incompetence. In the world of the Woke, actual accomplishment is a strike against you, because it means that you have chose agency rather than victim status.

    Let those SJWs come to us in a spirit of open-minded questioning. When they arrive calling everyone a “racist”, there is truly no prospect of a dialog, and I am not interested in the 83,000 ways that a person who is a racist is corrupt…

  15. Boy, you hit the nail on the head with that one! You’ve got our number, it’s true. Them beauty pageants are only half the story. You’re forgettin’ about Evel Kneval, Big Daddy Garlits (That’s Swamp Rat Don Garlits, of course) fan-boat racing and debutante balls. All the white folks I grew up with knew how to measure success… blue ribbons on the banister and a long pair of steer horns on hood of the El-Dorado didn’t hurt none neither! That’s why we have to stick together, teach our kids to say “sir” and “pappy” and vote Trump come what may…!

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