An impressive array of academics associated with the National Association of Scholars signed a letter to the Pulitzer Prize Board calling for it to revoke the prize it ceremoniously awarded to Nikole Hannah-Jones this year for her lead essay in The New York Times’ deeply troubled and historically challenged 1619 Project.
These scholars called for the board to rescind the prize not merely for the many well-documented, fundamental historical inaccuracies of the project’s central thesis and supporting argumentation, but also for Hannah-Jones and the Times’ resultant academic and journalistic malfeasance in the face of this substantial criticism. As The Federalist documented in late September, Hannah-Jones and the Times secretly deleted the most fundamental claim of her lead essay for the project: that slavery was the central reason for our nation’s founding.
In a series of now-deleted Twitter posts, Hannah-Jones boldly claimed that the “#1619Project does not argue that 1619 is our true founding.” So why the name?
The National Association of Scholars charged, “The duplicity of attempting to alter the historical record in a manner intended to deceive the public is as serious an infraction against professional ethics as a journalist can commit.” These scholars added, “Hannah-Jones has falsely put forward claims that she never said or wrote what she plainly did, the offense is far more serious.” The scholars have a point. This is not award-winning behavior.
The primary and clearly articulated thesis of the 1619 Project was that our nation’s “true founding” was not 1776 but 1619, when some 20 African slaves were shipped to these shores at Jamestown. Thus, the 1619 Project asserts that “our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written,” because slavery was “at the very center of the story” of our nation’s founding.
As Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, explained, “[I]t turns out the article itself was false when written, making a large claim that protecting the institution of slavery was a primary motive for the American Revolution, a claim for which there is simply no evidence.” Even the World Socialist Web Site denounced the 1619 Project early on as a “racialist falsification of American and world history.”
Northwestern University professor Leslie Harris, who teaches the history of African American life and slavery, explained in a thorough essay in Politico how she was chosen as a fact-checker for the project and that “despite my advice, the Times published the incorrect statement about [slavery being a key reason for] the American Revolution anyway in Hannah-Jones’ introductory essay.” Harris explains, “The United States was not, in fact, founded to protect slavery — but the Times is right that slavery was central to its story.”
In fact, five of the world’s leading scholars of the period were quick to point out the 1619 Project’s deep historical carelessness and oversights in a very public letter to the Times’ editor, even while explaining “we applaud” its spirit. The New York Times largely dismissed the scholars’ serious concerns, offering a relativistic explanation that “historical understanding is not fixed; it is constantly being adjusted by new scholarship and new voices.”
In fact, many of these scholars sat for extended interviews with the World Socialist Web Site to discuss their concerns with the revisionist slant of the 1619 Project. Princeton’s James McPherson was keen to remind us that while slavery was indeed a very dark curse on the soul of our nation, “opposition to slavery has also been an important theme in American history.”
The 21 signatories of the National Association of Scholars’ letter can be found here.