Education

1619 Project at heart of 2021 controversies

An educational program that challenges the way students think and learn about slavery in the U.S. continues to create controversy, both nationally and in North Carolina.

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By
Keely Arthur
, WRAL reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — An educational program that challenges the way students think and learn about slavery in the U.S. continues to create controversy, both nationally and in North Carolina.
The 1619 Project was created two years ago by New York Times reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones to mark the 400th anniversary of when enslaved people were first brought to colonial America.
It's not widely taught in North Carolina schools, but state lawmakers are pushing legislation that would prevent teachers from presenting such "critical race theory" lessons to students. U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis this week sponsored federal legislation that would cut funding to any school that teaches the 1619 Project.

"History reflects those that are in power," said Ronald Williams, an assistant professor in the Department of African, African American and Diaspora Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

But the 1619 Project "chips away at the exceptional notions of Americanness," Williams said, because it puts the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the center of the national narrative.

"We need to understand what it means for America to have been born in slavery and for that not to have been aberrational, but foundational," said Adriane Lentz-Smith, an associate professor of history at Duke University.

Hannah-Jones won the Pulitzer Prize, a Peabody Award and a so-called "genius grant" from the MacArthur Foundation for her work. Yet, critics focus on inaccuracies in the reporting that prompted the New York Times to correct one essay that said slavery was the cause of the Revolutionary War. The updated version said it was a cause.

"The inaccuracies of the 1619 Project have been greatly overblown," Lentz-Smith said.

Williams said he believes the criticism has more to do with the fact that the project digs into the nation's dark past, including suicide attempts as enslaved people made their way to America, children being taken from their mothers and unethical medical procedures being performed.

"The attempts to discredit the 1619 Project," he said, "are acts of fear because the very American ethos is being put on trial, and it needs to be put on trial."

Hannah-Jones' work also is believed by many to be the reason University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill officials have delayed giving her a tenured position in the university's Hussman School of Journalism and Media. She is scheduled to start next month as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism, but officials have offered her only a five-year contract instead of a permanent post.

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Keely Arthur, Reporter
Kyle Gould, Photographer
Matthew Burns, Web Editor

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