Nikole-Hannah Jones, the famed conceptualizer of The New York Times’s 1619 Project, is one of the most protected and vaunted leftist personalities in America today. Such is the fascination with her venture that Oprah Winfrey plans to turn her ideas into a series of films and televised programs.
Telling the story of the American people is always a laudable goal. But we must counter attempts to indoctrinate citizens into believing that America is a distinctly callous nation.
The 1619 Project’s fabrications commit a horrific injustice on American history. The project perpetuates dangerous myths about the country’s founding, and by painting its roots as structurally racist and oppressive, it stokes racial tensions.
Yet despite the project’s myriad erroneous claims, they have been widely accepted and even celebrated. This must be countered. So, here are some of the most egregious myths this project foists on the country, along with corrections.
Myth 1: The Revolution Was Fought to Uphold Slavery
On the contrary, objections to slavery featured prominently in colonial America. James Otis, a leading critic of British rule, wrote, “The Colonists are by the law of nature free born, as indeed all men are, white or black.”
Quite early in colonial America, the congregation of Quakers in Germantown, Pennsylvania produced a 1688 document explicitly condemning slavery. By the end of the American Revolution, many Quakers were no longer slave owners. According to William M. Wiecek, an emeritus professor of history and law at Syracuse University, anti-slavery attitudes were prevalent throughout the Revolutionary Era:
Samuel Hopkins in the leading anti-slavery tract of the Revolution, ‘A Dialogue concerning the Slavery of Africans (1776),’ summed up the argument to date and anticipated later themes of American abolition when he equated the moral evils of slavery itself with that of the slave trade…and called on the Continental Congress to abolish slavery throughout the United States.
Furthermore, Historian Leslie Harris strongly rejects the assertion that the revolution was launched to defend slavery. Indeed, he argues it was the opposite:
Far from being fought to preserve slavery, the Revolutionary War became a primary disrupter of slavery in the North American Colonies. Lord Dunmore’s Proclamation, a British military strategy designed to unsettle the Southern Colonies by inviting enslaved people to flee to British lines, propelled hundreds of enslaved people off plantations and turned some Southerners to the patriot side. It also led most of the 13 Colonies to arm and employ free and enslaved black people, with the promise of freedom to those who served in their armies. While neither side fully kept its promises, thousands of enslaved people were freed as a result of these policies.
Myth 2: Slavery Made America Rich
Economist Deirdre McCloskey has convincingly explained that it isn’t slavery that explains modern American economic growth rates, but innovation. Modern research has also corroborated Southern intellectual Hinton Rowan Helper’s criticisms of slavery for halting progress by delaying economic development and industrialization in the South.
Scholar David Meyer debunks the notion that slavery is compatible with civilizational progress:
Although the South had prosperous farms, it had failed to build a deep and broad industrial infrastructure before 1860, because much of its economy rested on a slave agricultural system. In this economy, investments were heavily concentrated in slaves rather than in urban and industrial infrastructure. Local and regional demand remained low across much of the South because slaves were not able to freely express their consumption demands and population densities remained low, except in a few agricultural areas.
Similarly, economist Nathan Nunn has demonstrated that across states and counties within America, there is a direct relationship between past slave use and current income, with areas that engaged in slavery worse off in the aggregate.
Contrary to The 1619 Project, cotton production fueled by slave labor also does not explain America’s prosperity. Consider the shrewd rebuttal by Alan Olmstead and Paul Rhodes in the journal Explorations in Economic History:
Cotton exports were a very small share of the national product – less than 5 percent over much of the antebellum period. More than this cotton was not even the nation’s most important agricultural commodity in terms of value. That distinction belonged to corn. The national values of the small grains (taken together) and of hay also were typically higher than that of cotton.
Likewise, we often forget that slavery kept slaves from commercializing their inventions. Black inventors were prevented from patenting their ideas, thereby discouraging innovation and depriving society of the rewards of human ingenuity. Without the racist policies of slavery, America would be far richer.
Myth 3: All White Americans Benefited Equally from Slavery
Less than 25 percent of Southerners owned slaves, with the majority possessing fewer than five. In the North, slaves represented barely more than 5 percent of the population. Asserting that slavery generated gains for all whites is demonstrably false. Historian Keri Leigh Merritt presents a clearer picture in the book Masterless Men: Poor Whites and Slavery in the Antebellum South:
In the slave society, where laborers competed with brutalized, enslaved labor, the laborers, whether legally free or not, had little to no control over their labor power. The profusion of plantation slave labor consistently reduced the demand for free workers, lowered their wages, and rendered their bargaining power ineffective…they were not truly free laborers, especially when they could be arrested and forced to labor for the state or for individuals.
The prominence of slavery in the South was often leveraged by planters to accumulate benefits at society’s expense, thus making slavery a form of rent-seeking. Vincent Geloso aptly explains how slavery always imposes a cost on ordinary citizens and makes the communities that tolerate it poorer:
Slaveowners need to police their slaves who might run away if the option presents itself. Policing slaves is not inexpensive, and the costs reduce the returns from owning said slaves. However, slaveowners have largely concentrated interests, which is a strong incentive for them to organize. If they organize successfully, they can convince the state to spread the cost of policing onto the broader population…And this does not include the deadweight loss or reallocating workers to tracking down slaves.
Myth 4: Slavery Is a Uniquely American Sin
The Greeks, Romans, Arabs, and Africans all pioneered slavery long before Americans participated in it. Arabs enslaved Africans and southeastern Europeans for centuries. Numerous Europeans were captured and enslaved, especially during the apex of the Barbary slave trade. As Murray Gordon notes:
It was not uncommon to find in Africa slaves who were considered as mere chattel and treated as such. European travelers who went to Africa in growing numbers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries reported witnessing or hearing about cruel and inhumane practices that were commonly inflicted on slaves by their owners. In the non-Muslim parts of Africa, there was a widespread custom of burying one or two young slaves with the body of a chief who had died.
Myth 5: African Americans Fought Racism on Their Own
Innumerable white Americans were partners with black Americans in the war to topple slavery and, later, end Jim Crow and protect equal rights for all Americans. In the 18th century, for example, Dr. Benjamin Rush emerged as a forceful critic of slavery. His opinions had a major influence on the Pennsylvania Assembly’s decision to abolish the slave trade in that colony.
We should not forget the story of Joshua Glover, who was freed by scores of white Americans in 1854 after his former owner Bennami Garland captured him from his Wisconsin home. Neither should we dismiss the role of white Americans such as Mary White Ovington and William English Walling in establishing the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Even ordinary white citizens were active in the movement to dismantle segregation.
Today, most Caucasian Americans favor initiatives to assist African Americans. For example, leading companies have pledged to eliminate racial inequalities in America. The effort that began with white Americans helping blacks end slavery continues today with the millions of non-black Americans engaged in support of anti-racism efforts.
Myth 6: Systemic Racism Keeps Black Americans Down
From 1997 to 2016, businesses owned by black American women grew at the incredible rate of 518 percent. The economic prospects of black American men are also quite positive. Economist Robert Cherry found the employment rate of black men between the ages of 20-24 surged from 46.9 percent in 2010 to 60.2 percent in 2017.
Academically, black Americans have realized tremendous gains, with more than 4 million of them holding a four-year college degree. Research further suggests that blacks with a doctorate out-earn similarly educated Caucasians.
Highlighting disparities between blacks and whites is not suggestive of systemic racism. Inter-group disparities are ubiquitous and are attributed to a coterie of factors. Intriguingly, psychologists argue that “the leadership attainment gap between East Asians and South Asians was consistently explained by cultural differences in assertiveness, but not prejudice.”
The mantra of systemic racism is invoked to create enmity between blacks and whites. Indeed, leftist activists rarely refer to inequalities among black Americans or publicly ponder how the median annual income of Asian American adults is higher than that of their white contemporaries if the United States is a white supremacist society. So no, despite the rantings of leftists, there is little to indicate that America is suffering from systemic racism.
Radical leftists are rewriting American history to promote a nefarious brand of race-based politics. Americans must not sit and be entertained by malevolent actors destroying our republic. Instead, such efforts must be resisted by citizens interested in preserving the rich culture and heritage of this great country.