Nikole Hannah-Jones, founder of the 1619 project, called the backlash against her revisionist history work her ‘greatest honor.’
Hannah-Jones, speaking at an MSNBC event called a ‘National Day of Racial Healing,’ which included an acknowledgment to Native American tribes by host Chris Hayes, spoke about what she feels is the ‘truth’ of her work.
‘If we acknowledge what this country was actually built upon, if we acknowledge that the reason that black Americans live in the circumstances we do is not because of our pathology, but because of a country that was erected literally on extracting wealth from us, then we have to do something about it,’ she said.
She also blamed ‘powerful interests’ for the backlash to The 1619 Project, which many on the right and in the center have called woke revisionism.
Hannah-Jones, a New York Times Magazine reporter, founded the 1619 Project with the outlet in 2019, using essays, photos, podcasts and eventually a book and guide for educators arguing that America was founded the year a group of slaves arrived in the country and not when independence was granted in 1776.
Nikole Hannah-Jones, founder of the 1619 project, calls the backlash against her revisionist history project her ‘greatest honor’
‘The truth makes powerful people in this country very scared. And I’m glad they’re scared,’ she said, reiterating her belief that America was built on slavery.
The left-wing writer added that she said the backlash was caused because Americans are ‘all taught this history so poorly,’ referencing education on the plight of African and Asian Americans.
She also blamed the media and ‘entrenched interest groups’ for causing division between black people and other minority groups.
‘There are powerful interests that don’t want us to understand that history, that don’t want us to understand our common struggle,’ she said. So we’re over here fighting for crumbs and respect while the hierarchy is maintained and stays in place.’
Hannah-Jones’ 1619 Project will continue to spread in media circles with the debut of a six-part documentary that will stream on Hulu later this year, produced by Oprah Winfrey.
‘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,’ the NYT Magazine wrote on its website.
The project won a Pulitzer Prize that year.
Hannah-Jones, speaking at an MSNBC event called a ‘National Day of Racial Healing,’ which included an acknowledgment to Native American tribes by host Chris Hayes, spoke about what she feels is the ‘truth’ of her work
She also blamed ‘powerful interests’ for the backlash to The 1619 Project, which many on the right and in the center have called woke revisionism
Published in August 2019, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in the English colony of Virginia, the work has been criticized by some academics for its claims – and angered many others who saw it as unpatriotic.
In December, Hannah-Jones told the Associated Press that the ongoing debate was unsurprising.
‘We’ve been taught the history of a country that does not exist,’ she said.
‘We’ve been taught the history of a country that renders us incapable of understanding how we get an insurrection in the greatest democracy on January 6.’
She said that America was ‘willfully’ avoiding its complicated and painful past, and that was why her work was so polemical.
‘Steps forward, steps towards racial progress, are always met with an intensive backlash,’ she said.
‘We are a society that willfully does not want to deal with the anti-blackness that is at the core of so many of our institutions and really our society itself.’
Her work has sparked intense discussion about teaching history in schools.
Critical Race Theory, which evaluates race and its impact on society, questioning whether racism is embedded in legal systems and policies, has enraged parents and inflamed school board meetings over the past year.
The 40-year-old academic theory has become a symbol of America’s culture wars, and in the years since The 1619 Project it has sparked furious debate about what should be taught to children.
Hannah-Jones was considered for a tenured position at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill last year, but in response to pressure from donors she was ultimately offered the position without tenure – something she said was deeply disappointing.
She ultimately turned it down, and instead accepted a tenured position at Howard University.
Nikole Hannah-Jones speaks onstage at The Hollywood Reporter 2021 Power 100 Women in Entertainment in December
Nicole Hannah Jones appeared on the cover of Essence Magazine. She won a Pulitzer for her reporting reframing the history of the United States
She bounced back, however: a book based on the articles was published in November, and has become a bestseller. A TV documentary on the work is due out later in 2022.
‘I’ve gone from being just a journalist to becoming some sort of symbol for people who either love me and my work or revile me and my work,’ she said.
‘Certainly the fact that very powerful people are so concerned about a work of journalism called The 1619 Project that they would seek to discredit it, that they would seek to censor it, that they would seek to ban it from being taught, does speak to the fact that there are millions of Americans who want a more honest accounting of our history, who want to better understand the country that we’re in, who are open to new narratives.’
She said that questioning the academic merit of her work was ‘legitimizing what was a propaganda campaign.’
Yet Hannah-Jones, when asked how she felt about critics calling it ‘an agenda-driven piece of work,’ replied: ‘They’d be right.’
She said: ‘The agenda is to force a reckoning with who we are as a country.
‘The agenda is to take the story of black Americans in slavery, from being an asterisk to being marginal to being central to how we understand our country.
‘When people say that, though, I know that they’re saying it in disparaging ways.
‘I’m just being honest about the nature of this work.’
Hannah-Jones sparked further controversy by saying last year that parents should not decide what’s being taught in schools.
I don’t really understand this idea that parents should decide what’s being taught. I’m not a professional educator,’ she said on NBC’s Meet the Press.
I don’t have a degree in social studies or science. We send our children to school because we want them to be taught by people who have an expertise in the subject area. And that is not my job.’
Advocates say teaching The 1619 Project is necessary to underline how deeply racism pervades society. Critics say it is divisive and paints everyone as a victim or oppressor.
‘This is why we send our children to school and don’t homeschool, because these are the professional educators who have the expertise to teach social studies, to teach history, to teach science, to teach literature,’ she said.
‘And I think we should leave that to the educators.’
She also told Fox News that ‘professional K-12 educators, not parents, are the experts in what to teach, including those educating my own child.’
New York Times’ 1619 Project
In August 2019 the New York Times Magazine published the 1619 project, a collection of essays, photo essays, short fiction pieces and poems aimed to ‘reframe’ American history based on the impact of slaves brought to the US.
It was published to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of enslaved Africans in the English colonies.
It argues that the nation’s birth was not 1776 with independence from the British crown, but in August 1619 with the arrival of a cargo ship of 20 to 30 enslaved Africans at Point Comfort in the colony of Virginia, which inaugurated the system of slavery.
The project argues that slavery was the country’s origin and out of it ‘grew nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional.’
That includes economic might, industry, the electoral system, music, public health and education inequities, violence, income inequality, slang, and racial hatred.
However, the project is debated among historians for its factual accuracy.
In March 2020 historian Leslie M. Harris who served as a fact checker for the project said authors ignored her corrections, but believed the project was needed to correct prevailing historical narratives.
One aspect up for debate is the timeline.
Time Magazine said the first slaves arrived in 1526 in a Spanish colony in what is now South Carolina, 93 years prior to the landing in Jamestown.
Some experts say slaves first arrived at present-day Fort Monroe in Hampton, instead of Jamestown.
Others argue the first Africans in Virginia were indentured servants as laws on lifetime slavery did not appear until the 17th century and early 18th century, but worked essentially as slaves.