New York Times Magazine staffer Nikole Hannah-Jones accused me once of rank jealousy. She said my criticism for her flawed 1619 Project stems from the fact that, unlike her, I do not “have good ideas and the talent to execute them.”
We apparently have different understandings of what constitutes a “good idea” and “talent.”
New York Times Magazine editors have quietly removed controversial language from the online version of Hannah-Jones’s 1619 Project, a package of essays that argue chattel slavery defines America’s founding. Hannah-Jones herself also asserts now that the project’s core thesis is not what she and everyone else involved originally said it was.
It “does not argue that 1619 is our true founding," she said on Friday. She declared elsewhere in July that it “doesn’t argue, for obvious reasons, that 1619 is our true founding.”
This is a brazen lie. When the 1619 Project debuted both online and in print in August 2019, the online version’s text stated originally [emphasis added]:
The 1619 project is a major initiative from The New York Times observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.
That same online passage, which was the source of so much controversy among historians on both sides of the aisle, now reads:
The 1619 Project is an ongoing initiative from The New York Times Magazine that began in August 2019, the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.
There is no editor’s note explaining this revision or correction. And in case there is any doubt as to the meaning of the pre-amended language of the online version, consider the print edition contains the following passage [emphasis added]:
In August of 1619, a ship appeared on this horizon, near Point Comfort, a coastal port in the British colony of Virginia. It carried more than 20 enslaved Africans, who were sold to the colonists. America was not yet America, but this was the moment it began. No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the 250 years of slavery that followed.
The online edition of that exact passage, however, reads slightly differently:
In August of 1619, a ship appeared on this horizon, near Point Comfort, a coastal port in the English colony of Virginia. It carried more than 20 enslaved Africans, who were sold to the colonists. No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the years of slavery that followed.
The online revisions were discovered this weekend at around the same time that Hannah-Jones claimed on CNN that her brainchild never suggested 1619 as the date of America's true founding. The project, she said, “does not argue that 1776 was not the founding of the country, but what it does argue for is that we have largely treated slavery as an asterisk to the American story.”
Again, this is a bald-faced lie. Along with both the online and print editions, Hannah-Jones herself said on social media at the time of 1619's launch, “I argue that 1619 is our true founding.” She added, “Also, look at the banner pic in my profile.”
“We are talking the founding of America,” she said elsewhere. “And that is 1619.”
There is more.
In an interview published in January 2020, Hannah-Jones said, “I certainly expected there’d be conservative pushback to this reframing of this idea that 1619 is our true founding, no one is more American than black folks, that we are perfecters of democracy.”
In a separate appearance in Michigan that same month, she said, "One does not create a project in the New York Times that says we are going to reframe American history, that our true founding is 1619, not 1776 ... and not expect you are going to get a lot of damn pushback."
The New York Times Magazine said in an August 2019 newsletter, “The 1619 Project ... aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are.”
The text of the online version still claims, “The year 1619 is as important to the American story as 1776. That black Americans, as much as those men cast in alabaster in the nation’s capital, are this nation’s true 'founding fathers.'"
More importantly, the print edition, which the magazine cannot revise, still contains this entire passage:
It is not a year that most Americans know as a notable date in our country’s history. Those who do are at most a tiny fraction of those who can tell you that 1776 is the year of our nation’s birth. What if, however, we were to tell you that this fact, which is taught in our schools and unanimously celebrated every Fourth of July, is wrong, and that the country’s true birth date, the moment that its defining contradictions first came into the world, was in late August of 1619? Though the exact date has been lost to history (it has come to be observed on Aug. 20), that was when a ship arrived at Point Comfort in the British colony of Virginia, bearing a cargo of 20 to 30 enslaved Africans. Their arrival inaugurated a barbaric system of chattel slavery that would last for the next 250 years. This is sometimes referred to as the country’s original sin, but it is more than that: It is the country’s very origin.
The Pulitzer Center, which is an “education partner” for the 1619 Project, describes the initiative thus: “The 1619 Project … challenges us to reframe U.S. history by marking the year when the first enslaved Africans arrived on Virginia soil as our nation's foundational date."
In other words, even those who support the project most firmly understand its core thesis to be that 1619 is the date of America’s true founding because America was founded on slavery. Yet the New York Times Magazine is no longer willing to stand by that idea. It has quietly amended the language of the online version, and its founder claims now, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, that she and her brainchild did not say what they very clearly said.
“The wording in question never appeared in the 1619 Project text,” Hannah-Jones said this weekend. “It appears nowhere in the printed copy. … It didn't appear in my essay nor any of the actual journalism we produced.”
She adds, “It did appear at some point in some ancillary digital promotion copy, which you know is not journalism and changing promotional copy does not require an editor's note.”
That does not come even close to reconciling her present statements with the project’s language and her past remarks. But this obvious embarrassment is par for the course for the 1619 Project, which has been a disaster from the get-go. The online edits come not long after Hannah-Jones inexplicably proclaimed the project, which has been incorporated into many schools' historical curricula, an "origin story" and not a work of history. The edits also come after New York Times Magazine editors affixed a major correction to her Pulitzer Prize-winning introductory essay. That editor's note came about only because a fact-checker for 1619 revealed she was ignored when she warned that Hannah-Jones’s essay contained grave historical inaccuracies.
How’s that for talent and execution?