Tom Cotton introduces bill banning federal funding to teach 1619 Project in schools

Republican Tom Cotton speaks after the results of the midterm elections in North Little Rock, Arkansas, November 4, 2014.
Republican Tom Cotton speaks after the results of the midterm elections in North Little Rock, Arkansas, November 4, 2014. | Reuters/Jacob Slaton

Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas has introduced a bill in the Senate to prohibit public schools from using federal funds to teach The New York Times’ 1619 Project.

Many school districts across the country have decided to add the 1619 Project to their U.S. history curricula, which teaches that the Revolution was fought over slavery and the institution of slavery was so embedded in the nation's DNA that the true founding was in 1619. 

Nikole Hannah-Jones, a staff writer for New York Times and New America Foundation fellow who first pitched the idea for the 1619 Project, wrote in the series’ introduction last year: “Anti-black racism runs in the very DNA of this country.” She won a Pulitzer Prize for her commentary in the series. 

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School districts in Chicago, Illinois, Washington, D.C., and Buffalo, New York, began implementing the project in their K-12 course materials earlier this year. 

In Buffalo, where the materials are a mandated part of the history curriculum for seventh through 12th grade, students are taught about "lesser-known consequences of slavery ... Its essays deal with things like how plantation economics led to modern corporate, capitalist culture ..." NPR reported

The ongoing project being taught in schools, Cotton said, “is a racially divisive, revisionist account of history that denies the noble principles of freedom and equality on which our nation was founded. Not a single cent of federal funding should go to indoctrinate young Americans with this left-wing garbage.”

Jake Silverstein, editor in chief of the New York Times Magazine, said at the time of the 1619 Project's launch last year that its goal was to "reframe American history by considering what it would mean to regard 1619 as our nation’s birth year. Doing so requires us to place the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are as a country.”

After the project was published in the August 2019 edition of The News York Times Magazine, Princeton historian Sean Wilentz co-signed a letter along with Brown University’s Gordon Wood, Princeton’s James McPherson and the City University of New York’s James Oakes listing the factual errors in the 1619 Project that should have been corrected. 

While Silverstein published the historians' letter, he also rebuffed them. Wilentz wrote in a piece for The Atlantic that Silverstein "flatly denied that the project 'contains significant factual errors' and said that our request for corrections was not 'warranted.'"

"No effort to educate the public in order to advance social justice can afford to dispense with a respect for basic facts," Wilentz said in The Atlantic. "In the long and continuing battle against oppression of every kind, an insistence on plain and accurate facts has been a powerful tool against propaganda that is widely accepted as truth. That tool is far too important to cede now." 

"My colleagues and I focused on the project’s discussion of three crucial subjects: the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the long history of resistance to racism from Jim Crow to the present. No effort to reframe American history can succeed if it fails to provide accurate accounts of these subjects," he continued. 

The historians added that the lead essay in the 1619 Project, written by Hannah-Jones, "argues that 'one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery.' That is a striking claim built on three false assertions."

The Saving American History Act of 2020 authored by Cotton says, “An activist movement is now gaining momentum to deny or obfuscate this history by claiming that America was not founded on the ideals of the (July 4, 1776) Declaration (of Independence) but rather on slavery and oppression.”

This “distortion” of history is being taught to children in public school classrooms via the project, which “claims that ‘nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional’ grew ‘out of slavery,’” the bill says. 

The federal government, it adds, “has a strong interest in promoting an accurate account of the nation’s history through public schools and forming young people into knowledgeable and patriotic citizens.”

Last month, the American Historical Association broadcast a discussion among historians about removing monuments that aired on C-SPAN. During that discussion, historian and award-winning author, Annette Gordon-Reed, was asked about the 1619 Project, of which she said: "If you want to pick something other than 1776 as the founding, you might pick 1607 when Englishmen rolled up on the North American continent and said, 'we've discovered it,' and began to push indigenous people off the land."

"1619 was part of the English Empire," Gordon-Reed added. "There's no United States of America at that point. The founding was racist. ... The Constitution protected slavery ... but it also unleashed an anti-slavery movement — the Revolution did. ... The founding means many things, it's not just one thing."

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