What is 'The 1619 Project' and why has Gov. DeSantis banned it from Florida schools?
"The 1619 Project," a six-part documentary series based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning essay and podcast series developed by Nikole Hannah-Jones, is now streaming on Hulu.
The project, a series of essays, poems and multimedia by Hannah-Jones, other New York Times writers and historians first published in The New York Times Magazine in 2019, examined the impact of slavery on American life, economics and culture through the current day.
Arguments over the importance, relevance and accuracy of the project began immediately, and it became a lightning rod in the battle of how race should be taught in schools. Political leaders publicly praised or denounced it. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called it "a lie." Former president Donald Trump condemned "The 1619 Project" as "toxic propaganda" and "ideological poison" that "will destroy our country," and he called for an alternative lesson plan in response. The Biden Administration cited the project in a request for a grant to support "antiracist" education. GOP leaders in multiple states filed bills to cut funding to K-12 schools and colleges that provided lessons derived from the project.
Florida went further in 2021 by specifically banning "prohibited material from The 1619 Project" in any educational curriculum. Later that year when Gov. Ron DeSantis announced his proposal to restrict diversity training and race discussions in Florida businesses and schools in what he called the "Stop W.O.K.E. Act," he claimed the new bill built on the 1619 Project ban.
So what is it?
Watch it yourself:How to watch ‘The 1619 Project’ on Hulu this month
What is 'The 1619 Project'?
In 2019, The New York Times Magazine published a series called "The 1619 Project." It included 10 essays, a photo essay, fiction pieces and poems, artwork, images and audio files by Nikole Hannah-Jones and several historians and thought leaders to mark the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first known enslaved Africans in the British colonies that became the United States, a point often considered as the beginning of American slavery. Hannah-Jones won the Pulitzer Prize for her introductory essay in the project, "America Wasn't a Democracy Until Black Americans Made It One."
More material was added in later editions of the magazine and a school curriculum was developed with the Pulitzer Center, which said that by February of 2021, more than 4,000 educators from all 50 states reported using it.
The project was compiled into a best-selling anthology book and is now a six-part documentary on Hulu hosted by Hannah-Jones and co-produced by Oprah Winfrey. The series expands on many of the themes that appeared in the podcast. Each episode of the six-part series will focus on a theme: “Democracy,” “Race,” “Music,” “Capitalism,” “Fear” and “Justice.” The first two episodes of the series premiered on Hulu Thursday, Jan. 26, and two additional episodes will be released each week on Thursdays.
What are the main points of 'The 1619 Project'?
Ultimately, the project as a whole makes the case that much of the inequality still present in American society today can be traced, directly or indirectly, to the institution of slavery and the people who believed in and profited from it.
"The 1619 Project" seeks to look at American history through the lens of slavery and reframe it by challenging the traditionally taught idea that American history began with the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 or even with the arrival of the Pilgrims in 1620.
"No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the years of slavery that followed," it says at the very beginning of the project. "On the 400th anniversary of this fateful moment, it is finally time to tell our story truthfully."
The essays touched on such topics as American Capitalism and its source in slavery, racial beliefs that still persist in medicine, why race is the reason the U.S. doesn't have universal health care, the reasons behind the country's racial wealth gap and its prison system, and more. Most economic, educational and political institutions in the U.S. are described as having been formed or were strongly based on the benefits of slavery or the need to compromise with slave states even after slavery was formally abolished, as spelled out in essays such as "What the Reactionary Politics of 2019 Owe to the Politics of Slavery" and "How Segregation Caused Your Traffic Jam." The project and later additions also seek to supply what the writers consider is the missing Black history that is often omitted, ignored or outright whitewashed in traditional American history.
"Without the idealistic, strenuous and patriotic efforts of black Americans, our democracy today would most likely look very different — it might not be a democracy at all," Hannah-Jones wrote.
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What are the complaints about 'The 1619 Project'?
The complaints range from minor academic quibbles to accusations of an attack on America itself.
One of the most hotly contested claims was made by Hannah-Jones in her introduction when she wrote 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," saying that by 1776 Britain had become "deeply conflicted" over slavery and that "it is not incidental that 10 of this nation’s first 12 presidents were enslavers."
A letter, signed by five historians and published in New York Times Magazine in December 2019, claimed the project had "significant factual errors" and accused the creators of putting ideology before historical understanding. The Times defended the project and pointed to the positive feedback from educators, academics and other historians, but did eventually soften some of the claims to say "some of" the colonists fought to preserve slavery, but not all of them. Hannah-Jones later admitted on Twitter that she may have worded it too strongly.
Others argue that the project misrepresents U.S. history and demeans the Founding Fathers, undermining the concept of American exceptionalism. Some historians, including Dr. Susan Parker of Flagler College in St. Augustine, pointed out that African slavery existed in North America for more than half a century before 1619 (although that was in then-Spanish Florida and not the British colonies).
The larger issue is the concept presented in the project that America is structurally racist and that white people are inherently privileged in this country, something that critics call politicized activist liberal indoctrination or "leftist political propaganda." "The 1619 Project" came along as Black Lives Matter rallies brought racial injustice to a national discussion and "critical race theory" or CRT — originally a once-obscure legal theory on how systematic racism permeates American life today — was turned into a catch-all term for any teaching on race that may be considered by detractors as divisive or revisionist.
More:Schools can teach full US history under critical race theory bans, experts say. Here's how
"Families did not ask for this divisive nonsense. Voters did not vote for it," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and almost 40 other Senate Republicans wrote in a letter to the Biden administration. "Americans never decided our children should be taught that our country is inherently evil."
Critics also have pointed to teachers they say have used CRT-based lessons to humiliate students or even flunk white children.
“I think that issue that we all are concerned about — racial discrimination — it was our original sin. We’ve been working for 200-and-some-odd years to get past it,” McConnell said later. “We’re still working on it, and I just simply don’t think that’s part of the core underpinning of what American civic education ought to be about.”
Some historians say the bills to block CRT and "The 1619 Project" are part of a larger effort by Republicans to draw America's culture wars into classrooms and glorify a more white and patriarchal view of American history that downplays the ugly legacy of slavery and the contributions of Black people, Native Americans, women and others to the nation’s founding.
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More:Republican state lawmakers want to punish schools that teach the 1619 Project
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What did Florida Governor Ron DeSantis say about 'The 1619 Project'?
Gov. DeSantis has made the battle against what he calls woke indoctrination one of the cornerstones of his policies.
In 2021 Florida's Board of Education banned critical race theory, mentioning "The 1619 Project" by name.
DeSantis built on that with his "Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees Act" or "Stop W.O.K.E. Act," which, among other things, outlaws the teaching of white privilege (the notion that white people have had advantages over racial minorities simply because of the color of their skin) and any teaching that could make students feel "guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress for actions, in which he or she played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex." The law specifically banned material from the "1619 Project" in classrooms and placed critical race theory in the same category as Holocaust denial, a legislative analysis shows. The bill dubs such teachings as "indoctrination" and specifies that teachers accused of violating it may be sued by anyone.
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“We won’t allow Florida tax dollars to be spent teaching kids to hate our country or to hate each other,” he said in his announcement. “We also have a responsibility to ensure that parents have the means to vindicate their rights when it comes to enforcing state standards.”
The new guidelines seek to change how teachers approach U.S. history, civics and government lessons with an added emphasis on patriotism and the U.S. Constitution.
Last September, during a press conference on tax relief, he again called out the project by name.
"We are required to teach slavery, Post-Reconstruction and segregation, civil rights, those are core parts of American history that should be taught," he said during a press conference on tax relief, "but it should also be taught accurately. For example, the 1619 Project is a CRT version of history, it's supported by The New York Times. They want to teach that the American Revolution was fought to protect slavery. And that's false."
In Florida, we require the truth about American history to be taught in our classrooms.
We will not allow schools to twist history to align with an ideological agenda. pic.twitter.com/IlRe6UpC6j
— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) September 20, 2022
However, his message may have been undermined by his further declaration that it was solely the "American revolution that caused people to question slavery."
“No one had questioned it [slavery] before we decided as Americans that we are endowed by our creator with unalienable rights and that we are all created equal,” DeSantis said.
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Several prominent historians denounced this as false since they said slavery was questioned and resisted by a large number of people across the world and in America — especially by the enslaved people themselves — well before the Revolution.
Where can I learn more about 'The 1619 Project'?
The original project is still available at The New York Times. The anthology of that and later, expanded material is available at bookstores and public libraries. The Pulitzer Center provides reading guides, activities and other resources. And "The 1619 Project" documentary series is streaming on Hulu in the United States, on Star+ in Latin America, and on Disney+ in all other territories.
Contributors: Ali Wong, USA TODAY; Melody Mercado, Des Moines Register; Barbara Rodriquez, The 19th; Mark Harper, The Daytona Beach News-Journal
This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: 'The 1619 Project,' now on Hulu: Why are states banning it in schools?