- Historian Sean Wilentz dissected key details in the NYT’s “1619 Project” that he said taint the project.
- The article Wilentz wrote, published in The Atlantic Wednesday, follows up a letter written to the NYT urging it to correct various errors.
- The NYT’s editor-in-chief Josh Silverstein previously said that the project is not wrong. He has refused to issue any corrections.
Historian Sean Wilentz dissected the New York Times’ controversial “1619 Project” in an article published Wednesday by The Atlantic after the publication refused to acknowledge its “factual errors.”
Wilentz, a Princeton professor, previously signed a letter alongside four other historians urging the NYT to issue corrections to parts of the project. In a formal public letter, NYT’s editor in chief Jake Silverstein responded December 20. He denied that the project, which aims to “reframe” American history, contained any errors and offered evidence to disprove the historians’ case.
The historian’s article in The Atlantic followed Silverstein’s letter and pointed out key details that taint the “1619 Project.” Titled “A Matter Of Facts,” it delved into exactly how, in his view, the project is failing the American people and the country’s history.
“In the interest of historical accuracy, it is worth examining his denials and new claims in detail,” Wilentz began in Wednesday’s article. (RELATED: ‘It’s Embarrassing That The New York Times Is Doing This’: Conservatives React To The NYT ‘1619 Project’)
Wilentz’s main issues focus on “the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the long history of resistance to racism from Jim Crow to the present.” Wilentz ripped NYT writer Nikole Hannah-Jones’ lead essay about the Revolution to begin his analysis of the project’s faults.
“The essay argues that ‘one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery,'” according to Wilentz. “That is a striking claim built on three false assertions.”
One of the false assertions, according to Wilentz, is that Hannah-Jones suggested “by 1776, Britain had grown deeply conflicted over its role in the barbaric institution that had reshaped the Western Hemisphere.” He wrote that, in fact, “Britain was hardly conflicted at all in 1776 over its involvement in the slave system,” providing key historical details to back up his argument.
Wilentz also ripped Silverstein in the article, noting that he “ignored the errors we had specified and then imputed to the essay a very different claim.” Silverstein’s claim came after the historians disagreed with the project’s argument that the Revolution was largely fought “to protect slavery.”
“In place of Hannah-Jones’s statement that ‘the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain … because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery,’ Silverstein substituted ‘that uneasiness among slaveholders in the colonies about growing antislavery sentiment in Britain and increasing imperial regulation helped motivate the Revolution,'” Wilentz explained.
Princeton’s distinguished liberal historian Sean Wilentz absolutely pile-drives Jake Silverstein, Nikole Hannah-Jones, & the 1619 project: “No effort to educate the public…to advance social justice can afford to dispense with a respect for basic facts.” https://t.co/twvMmQVhF5 pic.twitter.com/GKoEmXM1X0
— Dan McLaughlin (@baseballcrank) January 22, 2020
Silverstein’s substitution “makes a large concession … about the errors in Hannah Jones’s essay,” Wilentz wrote.
“There is a notable gap between the claim that the defense of slavery was a chief reason behind the colonists’ drive for independence and the claim that concerns about slavery among a particular group, the slaveholders, ‘helped motivate the Revolution,'” he continued.
The article notes numerous other instances where both the “1619 Project” and Silverstein’s defenses are incorrect. Wilentz pointed out specific cases where the project’s reconstruction of the Civil War and Jim Crow contain “factual errors.”
Regarding the Civil War, Wilentz reported that Hannah-Jones’ argument based on former President Abraham Lincoln “is built on partial truths and misstatements of the facts, which combine to impart a fundamentally misleading impression.” He also pointed out specific falsehoods peddled by the project regarding the Jim Crow era.
“Before, during, and after the Civil War, some white people were always an integral part of the fight for racial equality,” Wilentz argued.
The historian ended his article in The Atlantic by once again urging the publication to consider the errors in its project.
“When describing history, more is at stake than the past,” according to Wilentz, who then invoked sociologist and civil rights activist W. E. B. Du Bois.
“No historian better expressed this point, as part of the broader imperative for factual historical accuracy, than W. E. B. Du Bois … In exposing the falsehoods of his racist adversaries, Du Bois became the upholder of plain, provable fact against what he saw as the Dunning School’s propagandistic story line.”