The New York Times “1619 Project” made a clarification Wednesday to a portion of one of its essays after major debate online.
The “1619 Project” has seen backlash from many historians who have urged the publication to issue corrections to its glaring factual inaccuracies. Written by journalists and opinion writers, the project attempts “to reframe the country’s history” by suggesting America’s “true founding” was when the first slaves arrived in 1619.
The project’s lead writer, Nikole Hannah-Jones, announced a “clarification” to one of her essays that caused much controversy. The essay in question is titled “Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true.”
The “clarification” is just two words, but Hannah-Jones writes that it is “important.” Specifically, the words “some of” were added into one sentence of the essay to make it clear that slavery was not the only alleged reason for colonists to declare independence. (RELATED: As Top Historians Ring Alarm Bells About NYT’s 1619 Project, Defiant Public Schools Refuse To Answer Questions)
“We add tht [sic] slavery was one of the primary motivations for ‘some of’ the colonists to declare independence,” she tweeted. “As written, it appears that I am saying this was a universal motivation of ALL colonists. I wasn’t clear enough.”
The clarification is small — just two words –but important. We add tht slavery was one of the primary motivations for “some of” the colonists to declare independence. As written, it appears that I am saying this was a universal motivation of ALL colonists. I wasn’t clear enough
— Ida Bae Wells (@nhannahjones) March 12, 2020
An editor’s note at the bottom of the lengthy essay now notes that “a passage has been adjusted to make clear that a desire to protect slavery was among the motivations of some of the colonists who fought the Revolutionary War, not among the motivations of all of them.”
This “clarification” is not the first change made to Hannah-Jones’s essay. The NYT was forced to issue a correction August 2019 after incorrectly referring to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The article also misspelled the name of a Revolutionary War-era writer.
“An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to the signing of the Declaration of Independence,” according to the 2019 correction. “It was approved on July 4, 1776, not signed by Congress on that date. The article also misspelled the surname of a Revolutionary War-era writer. He was Samuel Bryan, not Byron.”
Editor-in-chief of the NYT Jake Silverstein also addressed the “clarification” in a note Wednesday. The publication still believes in the essay’s main point, he writes. The essay in question argues that “among the various motivations that drove the patriots toward independence was a concern that the British would seek or were already seeking to disrupt in various ways the entrenched system of American slavery.”
The NYT has been adamant in the past about not needing to correct anything in its project. Silverstein addressed a letter from five top historians in December 2019 who urged the publication to correct portions of its reframed history.
“The letter misperceives our attitudes when it charges that we dismiss objections on racial grounds,” Silverstein wrote. “Though we may disagree on some important matters, we are grateful for their input and their interest in discussing these fundamental questions about the country’s history.”