True history and troublesome lies
During his nomination speech at the close of this year’s Republican National Convention, President Donald Trump spoke to the issue of a rising and dangerous alternative American history. “We want our sons and daughters to know the truth,” Trump said. “America is the greatest and most exceptional nation in the history of the world. Our country wasn’t built by cancel culture, speech codes and crushing conformity. We are not a nation of timid spirits.”
He tweeted “Department of Education is looking at (schools teaching the 1619 Project). If so, they will not be funded!” just a few days later on September 7. This has come after many have criticized the teaching of alternative and anti-American history. Further, critics have drawn the connection to much of what Americans see in the streets of Portland, Seattle, Minnesota, Chicago and the like with distortions of history like the New York Times’1619 Project. It is time for Americans to understand better the teaching of alternatives like the 1619 Project and the danger posed to the future of America.
First, it’s important to understand the background of the author, Nikole Hannah-Jones, who is on record with personal quotations that help explain her motivations: “the white race is the biggest murderer, rapist, pillager and thief of the modern world … Christopher Columbus and those like him were no different then [sic] Hitler … the descendants of these savage people … continue to be bloodsuckers in our communities.” Of note, she has not formally repudiated these statements.
One line from Hannah-Jones’ 1619 Project helps summarize why the administration believes it should not be taught in our schools: “Out of slavery — and the anti-black racism it required — grew nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional: its economic might, its industrial power, its electoral system, diet and popular music, the inequities of its public health and education, its astonishing penchant for violence, its income inequality, the example it sets for the world as a land of freedom and equality, its slang, its legal system and the endemic racial fears and hatreds that continue to plague it to this day.”
The thesis of the 1619 Project is that the history of the United States started not in 1776, but with the arrival of the first slaves to Jamestown in 1619; that U.S. history, including the documents produced by the founders like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, is about the motivation to enforce slavery and white supremacy. The work goes so far as to allege the U.S. declared independence from Great Britain as an effort to protect slavery.
Distinguished American historians disagree and call the 1619 Project “a very unbalanced, one-sided account.” They claim it’s “wrong in so many ways” and “not only ahistorical, but actually anti-historical” and “a tendentious and partial reading of American history.”
From National Review: “One focus of the historians is the preposterous claim of the 1619 Project that a primary reason that the colonists launched the American Revolution was to protect slavery. ‘This is not true,’ they say. ‘If supportable, the allegation would be astounding — yet every statement offered by the project to validate it is false.’”
The effect of the ideas of the 1619 Project may be seen in recent unprecedented actions and language of BLM and Antifa protesters. In Pittsburg, for example, BLM protesters assaulted elderly white diners seated at outdoor tables yelling “f**k the white people that built the system” while taking the diners’ drinks and food. On August 11, BLM activist Ariel Atkins argued that looting in Chicago was “reparations” for the transfer of wealth. That argument has since gained steam as being a justification for looting by groups allegedly harmed by the “system” put in place. The calls to end the “system,” including the Constitution, are growing.
Contrary to the 1619 Project, the founding fathers were primarily motivated by ideals of faith and the philosophy of John Locke. The substantial majority of the preamble to the Declaration of Independence was a paraphrase from the writings of Locke. Locke, writing around a century before the Revolution, held all men to be equal within the human species — and not by race. Alexander Hamilton wrote of Locke’s law of nature in reference to liberty of each individual within the species of human being: “In a state of nature, no man had any moral power to deprive another of life, limbs, property or liberty; nor the least authority to command or exact obedience from him.” These ideas became the undoing of slavery, an institution that went back thousands of years before 1619. Martin Luther King, Jr. took hold of the founders’ promise from the Declaration in his success with the Civil Rights movement.
Cultural Marxist Antonio Gramsci exhorted followers to develop alternative cultural/historical narratives to undermine an alleged “cultural hegemony,” to implode the nation and allow for Communist Revolution. America does not need to follow the direction of Russia in 1917 or of Venezuela today. We need to teach the true history of the our country. Though not perfect, America has been and must remain the greatest nation in the history of the world.
Bill Connor is a 1990 Citadel Graduate, 30-year Army infantry colonel and combat veteran. He is a writer and attorney and lives in the Charleston area.