The Pulitzer committee on Monday afternoon bestowed its prestigious award on Nikole Hannah-Jones’ opening article in The New York Times’ 1619 Project, despite the essay’s self-acknowledged factual inaccuracies.
Historians of every political stripe have derided the project and Hannah-Jones’s essay in particular. Gordon Wood, a reliably left-wing but widely celebrated historian, took to the pages of a socialist website, of all places, to excoriate the Times for publishing nonsense. Conservative-leaning biographer Richard Brookhiser questioned why even the Trotskyite Fourth International was more faithful to fact than Hannah-Jones and The New York Times. Fact-checkers came forward saying they had pointed out the project’s numerous flaws prior to publication, only to be ignored.
Even the author had to begrudgingly issue a correction related to one of the essay’s most central claims: that the American Revolutionary War was fought not to protect the rights of Americans, but to preserve slavery, an assertion supported by not a shred of actual historical fact.
Despite the retractions, disparagement from legitimate historians, and ignored fact-checkers, the 1619 Project now boasts the industry’s most respected award.
Perhaps Americans shouldn’t be surprised. The Pulitzer Prize was, after all, awarded for appalling fiction printed in the same newspaper before; Walter Duranty received his prize in 1932 for helping the Soviets cover up their crimes. Despite two organized attempts to convince it to do so, the committee has never rescinded that decision, and the Times still displays Duranty on its list of Pulitzer recipients, to which it can now add Hannah-Jones.
Unfortunately, endorsement of the 1619 Project goes beyond the establishment media and attendant self-congratulatory organizations. In large part due to the Pulitzer Center’s blessing, Common Core-compliant curricular materials based on the inaccurate history in the project are used in more than 3,500 schools across all 50 states. Thousands of American students are learning false historical information that gives them an unduly negative view of this country.
Hannah-Jones’s project is just a capstone on a longer-running effort to ensure that younger generations of citizens are not just aware of the country’s past iniquities, the duty of every student of history, but that they never learn the exceptional qualities that put those offenses in proper perspective and context. Only a quarter of our eighth-graders score proficiently on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (often known as “the nation’s report card”) civics exam. Just 19 percent of those under the age of 45 can pass the straightforward test on the basics of American governance that new immigrants take when they assume the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship.
Even among those who graduate and go to college, foundational functions of our system, such as the fact that senators are elected every six years, are virtually unknown. If the concern is that Americans don’t know enough about slavery, only 12 percent of college graduates know that the 13th Amendment abolished the institution.
A loop is developing between leftist academics who spend their taxpayer-backed days spinning ever-more radical and inaccurate scholarship about the country’s past, and those ideas, then pumped through the public school system, creating the next generation of students who then protest their professors for failing to be woke enough.
This is the opposite of the original purpose of the public school system, which was created to form future citizens capable of shouldering the burden of self-government in a constitutional republic, and to assimilate the children of immigrants to American ways. The modern-day common school is reversing on its own raison d’etre, anti-Americanizing many of the students who pass through its halls.
The 1619 Project teaches a deep and divisive untruth: that black Americans ought to have no real attachment to or patriotic sentiment for the United States because its central creed is not found in the now-famous words Thomas Jefferson penned in the Declaration of Independence. In Hannah-Jones’s distorted vision of history, she cases African Americans not as struggling alongside their fellow citizens to bring into being the promises of the country’s founding, but instead as existing in fundamental opposition to it. Deep inequality and the hideous sin of human bondage are imagined to be our country’s essence, rather than errors it shares with virtually every other society made up of flawed human beings.
Historians across the political spectrum may have rejected 1619’s underlying historical claims, but the project’s dangerous conclusions are now burnished with the imprimatur of the Pulitzer Prize. That’s a poisonous message if the country ever hopes to live up to its motto, e pluribus unum.
Inez Feltscher Stepman is a senior contributor at The Federalist. She is also a senior policy analyst at Independent Women’s Forum and the Thursday editor of BRIGHT, a women’s newsletter. Find her on Twitter @inezfeltscher.