by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Readers who have followed the 1619 Project from its inception in 2019 as a New York Times Magazine special edition through its metamorphoses into a classroom curriculum in 2020, a book released in November 2021, an ongoing campus and library-lecture tour by 1619 Project impresario Nikole Hannah-Jones, and now a slickly photographed miniseries on Hulu narrated by Hannah-Jones, should by now not be surprised at four things.
First, while the project contains some useful perspective on the history of slavery, segregation, and racism in America, it is wrapped in a highly tendentious ideological framework that ranges from rank Democratic partisanship to Marxist economic and political theory. Second, it gets important facts glaringly wrong. Third, it advances arguments without the slightest shame or self-reflection after being called out publicly on getting the supporting facts for those arguments glaringly wrong in the past.
And fourth, it remains a lucrative brand entirely without regard to whether it gets its facts straight or peddles partisan or ideological agitprop. That’s why Hannah-Jones has been showered with the highest awards the American intelligentsia can bestow, including a Pulitzer Prize, a MacArthur “genius grant,” an endowed chair in “Race and Journalism” at Howard University, and an entire Center for Journalism and Democracy at said school, which will fund her in producing a next generation of imitators of her approach to historical truth. These accolades are based entirely on the 1619 Project. Hannah-Jones, who was scarcely known before the publication of the project, has done little else since.
The first episode of the miniseries, on “Democracy,” shows that Hannah-Jones is still at it. The core of what made the original 1619 Project so controversial was the insistence by Hannah-Jones on treating the preservation of slavery as a major cause — perhaps the major cause — of the Americans’ rebellion against Britain in 1775 and their declaration of independence in 1776. This stance led a historian who reviewed an advance copy of Hannah-Jones’s lead essay to warn against publishing it as written.