Dear Commons Community,
I have just finished reading The New York Times No. 1 Bestseller, The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story edited by Nicole Hannah-Jones. It is a book-length expansion of the New York Times Magazine issue devoted to the history of slavery in America and its consequences. Hannah-Jones and colleagues (there are nineteen essays that serve to introduce each chapter and written by scholars in the field and journalists) consider a nation still wrestling with the outcomes of slavery, an incomplete Reconstruction, and a subsequent history of Jim Crow laws and current legal efforts to disenfranchise Black voters. As Hannah-Jones notes, the accompanying backlash has been vigorous, including attempted laws by the likes of Sen. Tom Cotton to strip federal funds from schools that teach the 1619 Project or critical race theory. As reviewed in Kirkus, “among other topics, the narrative examines: the thought that the American independence movement was fueled at least in part by the insistence on maintaining slavery as the British moved to abolition; the use of slavery to tamp down resistance among poor Whites whose functions were essentially the same as the enslaved but who, unlike Black people, were not considered property. Readers open to fresh and startling interpretations of history will find this book a comprehensive education.”
I found it an interesting read that has a great deal of merit as well as some questionable assertions. I agree with a review by Adam Hochschild that appeared in The New York Times. Here is an excerpt:
“I picked up “The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story” with some apprehension. Not because I disagree with the project’s basic aim, but because I had been troubled by some overstatements and factual errors in the newspaper version, such as the claim that there were “growing calls to abolish the slave trade” in Britain in 1776. (That country’s abolitionist movement didn’t come to life until a decade later.) A group of respected American history scholars later criticized The Times for these. As the controversy continued, a historian who had been consulted by a fact-checker on the project went public to complain that corrections she had urged were ignored. It was disappointing to see work whose intention I admired marred by missteps.
As I read the new book, however, my worries largely melted away. It is not without flaws, which I will come back to, but on the whole it is a wide-ranging, landmark summary of the Black experience in America: searing, rich in unfamiliar detail, exploring every aspect of slavery and its continuing legacy, in which being white or Black affects everything from how you fare in courts and hospitals and schools to the odds that your neighborhood will be bulldozed for a freeway. The book’s editors, knowing that they were heading into a minefield, clearly trod with extraordinary care. They added more than 1,000 endnotes, and in their acknowledgments thank a roster of peer reviewers so long and distinguished as to make any writer of history envious.”
I think it is worth a read and I will be assigning it as required in one of my doctoral courses in the coming spring.
P.S.: After making this posting, I was made aware of a new book entitled, Debunking the 1619 Project: Exposing the Plan to Divide America, by Mary Grabar and published by Regnery Publishing, a leading publisher of conservative books.