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Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell on Monday said he doesn’t think the year slaves arrived in colonial America was one the United States’ most important historical moments.
McConnell told reporters in Louisville Monday he discourages schools from teaching the 1619 Project. The 1619 Project is a long-form journalism project developed by the New York Times which aims to properly frame the consequences of slavery and the contributions Black people have made to the United States.
McConnell said years like 1776, 1787 and 1861 to 1865 were important to U.S. history. But he doesn’t believe 1619, the year African slaves arrived in colonial Virginia, counts as one of the more important important point in U.S. history.
“There are a lot of exotic notions about what are the most important points in American history,” McConnell said when asked about the 1619 Project Monday. “I simply disagree with the notion that the New York Times laid out there that the year 1619 was one of those years.”
McConnell further said he’s concerned about racial discrimination, and called it the “original sin” that the United States is still working to “get past.” But he still opposes teaching the project in schools.
“I just simply don’t think that’s part of the core underpinning of what American civic education ought to be about,” he said.
McConnell had already made his opposition to the 1619 Project known. Last week he sent a letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona calling the 1619 Project “ill-informed advocacy” which he and other Republicans said had been debunked.
“Families did not ask for this divisive nonsense,” McConnell wrote. “Voters did not vote for it. Americans never decided our children should be taught that our country is inherently evil. If your administration had proposed actual legislation instead of trying to do this quietly through the Federal Register, that legislation would not pass Congress.”
The letter, which was signed by McConnell and more than 30 other Republicans, was in response to a proposal from the Biden administration promoting education programs that address systemic racism and the legacy of American slavery.
McConnell’s letter called on Cardona to withdraw proposed priorities and “refocus on civic education.”
Cardona told CNN’s Ana Cabrera the Department of Education doesn’t actually make those curriculum choices.
“The reality is that when we’re discussing curriculum, the federal government doesn’t really have a role in the curriculum development,” Cardona said.
“I have complete confidence that educators across the country, as they develop curriculum and lessons to ensure that we’re providing diverse perspectives in our curriculum so students can see themselves in it, but doing it in a way that builds community in our schools. I have complete confidence that the educators will get it right.”
Nikole Hannah-Jones, the founder of the 1619 Project and a 2020 Pulitzer Prize winner, said the attacks from McConnell and other Republicans were “attempts to ban ideas from being taught.”
“It’s not about the facts of history, it’s about trying to prohibit the teaching of ideas that they don’t like,” she said while on CNN.
Hannah-Jones said there was nothing in the 1619 Project which claimed the United States was “evil.”
“This isn’t a project about trying to teach children that our country is evil, but it is a project trying to teach children the truth about what our country was based upon,” she said.