If political leaders across the country are looking for more evidence that they are justified in banning The 1619 Project curriculum in schools they can refer to comments made by the Project’s own creator, Nikole Hannah-Jones, on December 26, during the Sunday show line-up, on NBC’s Meet the Press.
In her comments to Chuck Todd, she revealed herself to be a dissembler regarding her role in promoting 1619 Project classroom lessons. Then in tweets that insisted that all critics henceforth engage only with her new book The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story, a 600-page expansion, she admitted that the original project, upon which the lessons are based, is flawed.
Shortly after the program aired, at 10:21 a.m., Hannah-Jones tweeted, “It is revealing when critics of the 1619 Project, 2 yrs later, refuse to critique the book & instead keep rehashing arguments abt the magazine. That’s because we responded to good-faith critique, we revised in response, we included 1,000 endnotes, historians wrote half the essays.” Phil Magness, Senior Research Fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research, who has been among the earliest and most frequent critics of the economic claims promoted by The 1619 Project, and who had reached out to Hannah-Jones, commented, “I witnessed this process directly as one of those critics over the last 2 years. And there’s not a word of truth to what she is claiming.” Hannah-Jones, who refuses to engage in debate, in typical fashion, attacked the economic historian’s credentials.
Sixteen minutes later, at 10:37 a.m. she went after Victoria Bynum, one of the historians who early on requested corrections to the Project. In December 2019, Bynum had signed Princeton historian Sean Wilentz’s letter to the editor, which was also signed by historians James McPherson, Gordon Wood, and James Oakes. At 6:28 a.m. Bynum had commented on Oakes’s recent article in Catalyst magazine responding to New York Times Magazine editor Jake Silverstein’s November 12 defense of the Project—a promotional lead-up to the November 16 publication of the hardcover book, which is copyrighted by the Times. Bynum summarized it as a critique of the political agenda, specifically Black Nationalism, motivating the project. Hannah-Jones tweeted, with no reference to these points, “Is it common ‘very serious’ practice, 2.5 years later, to critique the unrevised work and to not engage the updated version? Asking for a friend.” Bynum politely replied that neither she nor Oakes was commenting on the new book. As revealed by her defensive response, Hannah-Jones was admitting that the original 1619 Project, the August 18, 2019, issue of the New York Times Magazine, was error-riddled. As Magness noted, “Nikole Hannah-Jones’s latest argument is to claim that the original 1619 Project—as published in the New York Times as part of a multimillion dollar advertising blitz—was just a rough draft, and the new book is the revised version by which it should be judged. Seriously.”
There was also an education blitz. Immediately upon the publication of the original in 2019 prepackaged lessons were shipped to 3,500 schools, a number which soon rose to 4,500. It is hard to know how many teachers are using these materials today. Hannah-Jones has many teachers among her hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers. And if one follows the nonprofit Pulitzer Center which developed the lessons, and pushed them into schools with contests, payments to teachers, and webinars—several of them featuring Hannah-Jones—it becomes apparent that teaching The 1619 Project has taken off like wildfire.
But that is not what Hannah-Jones indicated to Chuck Todd on December 26, as she repeated points from “The AP Interview” and elsewhere, about laws banning her work in schools evidencing a “backlash” against “a work of journalism”—but also part of a “Republican propaganda campaign” against “the teaching of more accurate history.”
Hannah-Jones told Todd that she was “concerned” because her “work of journalism” was being “banned by name in Georgia, Florida, in Texas.” She also referred to “efforts to ban the teaching of this history in Oklahoma, in South Dakota, in Tennessee.”
She then repeated what she had been saying about authoritarianism and fascism, points she gleans from reading anti-Trump polemics. A society that “bans books or bans ideas, that is not a free and tolerant democratic society,” she intoned, “is a society that is veering towards authoritarianism.” She predicted “a dark age of repression and suppression of the truth”—”unless people who believe in free speech, who believe in our children being intellectually challenged, begin to get organized and speak up.” The laws keeping her materials out of classrooms “are paving the way for the taking of other political rights like voting rights, like women’s reproductive rights, like rights for LGBTQ people.”
Hannah-Jones also weighed in on the recent Virginia governor’s race. According to her, Republican Glenn Youngkin’s victory resulted from “a right-wing propaganda campaign that told white parents that they needed to fight against their children being indoctrinated” and “being called racists.” The black and Latino parents in Virginia, who wanted “more teaching about race . . . the history of racism,” she told Todd (but contradicted by surveys and 1776 Unites), “were not being featured in that coverage”
She then asserted that parents should not be deciding “what’s being taught” (except presumably the black and Latino parents she claimed wanted more “teaching about race”). She admitted that she is “not a professional educator. I don’t have a degree in social studies or science. We send our children to school because we want them to be taught by people who have an expertise in the subject area. And that is not my job.” She expressed agreement with Democratic candidate, Terry McAuliffe, who had stated that parents should not “be telling schools what they should teach.” His statement, she said, was “just the fact. This is why we send our children to school and don’t homeschool.”
One wonders why the “not a professional educator” Hannah-Jones has felt qualified to conduct webinars for K-12 teachers with the Pulitzer Center. On February 18, 2021, alongside Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, she was featured in a “Webinar for Educators: Examining Essays from The 1619 Project with Nikole Hannah-Jones.” A week later, on February 25, 2021, she participated in an event called “Panelists Give Advice on How to Teach Black History to Elementary and Middle School Students” with LaGarrett King, director, University of Missouri Carter Center for K-12 Black History Education. On March 10, 2021, she served as a panelist in a “conversation” about using The 1619 Project in law schools.
Most recently on December 13, Hannah-Jones was featured in a webinar called “Teaching the 1619 Project: A Virtual Event for Educators and Librarians.” The webinar offered tips for skirting laws and announced an event in February that would present student work and share information about “how teachers have protected themselves.” Calling the anti-1619 Project legislation “memory laws,” Hannah-Jones expressed gratitude to “the educators” for their courage and desire “to teach what is not easy to teach to your children, because you know that our children deserve to be taught a truer version of what this country is … We have choice and agency — all of us — in the country that we want to build” (emphases added).
The Pulitzer Center article about that webinar advertised the upcoming conference and bragged that “the first cohort of the Network has grown to 41 teams of four to 10 educators representing 21 states. There are now 170 teachers and administrators working on units utilizing 1619 materials that align to many subjects and grade levels.” Teachers were encouraged to use the lesson plans created by the Pulitzer Center and through the Network as an “entry point into the project.”
That’s a lot of material, not to mention the accompanying videos and podcasts. Will these be updated to reflect the second draft of the 1619 Project, the one historians should now consult, as Hannah-Jones demands?
And what about the new volumes that are promised in the book’s Acknowledgments? Caroline Que, of “the New York Times books division” is thanked for her help “as we sought to turn the 1619 Project into a series of books, of which this is the first.” Will more and more lessons be produced? Will Hannah-Jones demand that everyone scramble to keep up with the ever-shifting “work of journalism” that still insists at bottom that this nation, a slavocracy, was founded in 1619?
Hannah-Jones, who presumes to be more qualified to engage in such academic debates than accomplished historians and economists, rails on, propped up by corporate interests, such as the New York Times and its books division, the multinational publisher Penguin Random House, and the profiteering educational companies. We know (and she must know) that she is out of her depth.
She unwittingly exposed herself to a national audience on December 26. The revelation about her work-in-progress is a perfect Boxing Day gift for legislators concerned about education and the future of our country.
Mary Grabar, Ph.D., is a resident fellow at the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization and the author of Debunking The 1619 Project: Exposing the Plan to Divide America and Debunking Howard Zinn: Exposing the Fake History That Turned a Generation against America.