UNC-Chapel Hill has hired the creator of The 1619 Project to teach journalism, but Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina wants to defund any K-12 school system that uses the series of essays as teaching materials.
Tillis is one of seven Republican senators to reintroduce their Saving American History Act, which prohibits the use of federal funds to teach The 1619 Project in K-12 schools.
The first African slaves were brought to what is now the United States in 1619. The project, published by The New York Times, argues that “out of slavery — and the anti-black racism it required — grew nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional.”
Nikole Hannah-Jones, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her work on the project, is a UNC alum who has a five-year contract to teach at the university’s journalism school as its Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism. There is an ongoing controversy over the decision not to offer her tenure, which previous Knight chairs have received.
“The goal of The 1619 Project is to reframe American history by considering what it would mean to regard 1619 as our nation’s birth year,” editor Jake Silverstein wrote in an essay about why the project was published. “Doing so requires us to place the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are as a country.”
The senators, however, have a different interpretation of the project, saying the true date of America’s founding is July 4, 1776 — when the Declaration of Independence was adopted.
“The 1619 Project is a racially divisive and revisionist account of history that threatens the integrity of the Union by denying the true principles on which it was founded,” the legislation says.
The legislation would prohibit federal funds from being used by any elementary or secondary school to teach the project. It calls for reducing federal funds to schools that do teach it by the costs associated with teaching the 1619 Project, including planning time and teaching time.
“Americans do not want their tax dollars going towards promoting radical ideologies meant to divide us instead of being used to promote the principles that unite our nation,” Tillis said in a statement.
“Our students deserve a rigorous understanding of civics and American history to understand both our successes and failures as a nation. I do not support diverting taxpayer resources towards promoting ideological and misleading depictions of our nation’s history.”
Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, the lead sponsor, also introduced the bill in 2020. The same legislation has been introduced in the U.S. House.
1619 Project and Critical Race Theory
The Pulitzer Center has developed educational materials centered around the project have been developed and distributed them, along with copies of the essays, to about 500 schools across the country, according to the organization. Every high school student in Winston-Salem received a copy. Jones spoke to students at Reynolds High School about the work in 2019.
The 1619 Project has been lumped together with Critical Race Theory as Republican lawmakers object to new ways of teaching American history. Under new social studies standards adopted by North Carolina, students would learn about “inequities, injustice, and discrimination within the American system of government over time,” The News & Observer previously reported.
Critical Race Theory “is not propaganda. It is a scholarly framework that describes how race, class, gender, and sexuality organize American life,” members of the UNC-Chapel Hill Department of History wrote last year. “Critical Race Theory offers an important analytical lens through which to view the larger structures and cultural assumptions that guide American society.”
North Carolina Reps. Dan Bishop and Ted Budd, who earned the endorsement of former President Donald Trump in his 2022 U.S. Senate campaign, are backing bills to prohibit the U.S. military from using materials to promote Critical Race Theory and to ban federal agencies from holding training sessions on it or on white privilege.
“We need to teach them that this nation is special,” Budd said. “We need to teach them that our country is blessed by God. We need to teach them that we embody the ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and that we are all endowed by our creator with equal rights that no man or no government can ever take away.”
Hannah-Jones writes of that history from a different perspective in arguing that it was Black Americans who fought to make those founding ideals true.
“The United States is a nation founded on both an ideal and a lie,” she wrote in The 1619 Project.
“... Yet despite being violently denied the freedom and justice promised to all, black Americans believed fervently in the American creed. Through centuries of black resistance and protest, we have helped the country live up to its founding ideals. And not only for ourselves — black rights struggles paved the way for every other rights struggle, including women’s and gay rights, immigrant and disability rights.”
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