Media Criticism

Yes, the 1619 Project Actually Suggests That Year Was America's True Founding, and Nikole Hannah-Jones Admits It

The New York Times tried to disassociate itself from a claim its reporter made just a few days ago.

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The New York Times would like people to believe that one of the 1619 Project's more widely criticized claims—that we might consider 1619, the year African slaves first arrived in the British colonies, to be the true year of America's founding—was never actually put forth by the Pulitzer Prize-winning article series.

Editors recently removed (without explanation or acknowledgment) the provocative statement that the project "aim[s] to reframe the country's history, understanding 1619 as our true founding" from the article series' online introduction. Lead author Nikole Hannah-Jones has repeatedly claimed it is a myth that the project proposes 1619 rather than 1776 as the country's birth year: She blamed bad-faith critics on the right for tricking the media into believing otherwise.

"One thing in which the right has been tremendously successful is getting media to frame stories in their language and through their lens," wrote Hannah-Jones in a subsequently deleted tweet. "The #1619Project does not argue that 1619 is our true founding. We know this nation marks its founding at 1776."

Forget for a moment that Hannah-Jones' Twitter banner is a picture of 1776 crossed out and replaced with 1619. Forget that multiple progressive media outlets that were sympathetic to the project's aims used the 1619-as-true-founding summary in order to explain it. Forget that a year ago, after the articles were published, both Hannah-Jones and New York Times magazine editor Jake Silverstein described the project in exactly these terms: "We sort of proposed the idea in a variety of ways that if you consider 1619 as the foundational date of the country, rather than 1776, it just changes your understanding and we call that a reframing of American history." Just consider one last piece of evidence that Hannah-Jones is being deceptive about who invented the 1619-not-1776 framing.

In an interview with Tomiko Brown-Nagin, dean of Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute, Hannah-Jones stated explicitly that the 1619 Project makes evocative arguments such as, "What would it mean to consider 1619 our founding and not 1776?" Here is video of the conversation, which took place not a year ago, or even several months ago, but just last week: September 15, 2020.

I don't mean to belabor this point, or to reduce the 1619 Project—which includes a number of different essays advancing many different arguments—to just Hannah-Jones herself. Whether it specifically claims that 1619 should replace 1776 is not even the most salient controversy involving the project. The claim can be metaphoric rather than literal: an example of the kind of radical shift in perspective that Hannah-Jones and her cohorts think is so urgent.

But the claim is inarguably part of the 1619 Project, and it's absurd for Hannah-Jones to pretend it isn't—especially while she continues to describe the project in exactly these terms. To say that conservatives imagined or manufactured this is ridiculous. It's gaslighting—and it undercuts the credibility of the author and her work.

Media Criticism History Journalism Race New York Times