It’s not surprising that the New York Times’ 1619 Project had the same rigorous fact-checking process as Ta-Nehisi Coates downing three Monster energy drinks before claiming that Alexander Graham Bell invented the internet in order to keep black people down.
How bad was the process at the paper of record? This bad.
On August 19 of last year I listened in stunned silence as Nikole Hannah-Jones, a reporter for the New York Times, repeated an idea that I had vigorously argued against with her fact-checker: that the patriots fought the American Revolution in large part to preserve slavery in North America.
Weeks before, I had received an email from a New York Times research editor. Because I’m an historian of African American life and slavery, in New York, specifically, and the pre-Civil War era more generally, she wanted me to verify some statements for the project. At one point, she sent me this assertion: “One critical reason that the colonists declared their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery in the colonies, which had produced tremendous wealth. At the time there were growing calls to abolish slavery throughout the British Empire, which would have badly damaged the economies of colonies in both North and South.”
I vigorously disputed the claim. Although slavery was certainly an issue in the American Revolution, the protection of slavery was not one of the main reasons the 13 Colonies went to war.
Can you picture Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, or John Adams, or other patriots, putting their lives on the line so that the South could maintain a slave economy?
This is one of the more blatantly false and dishonest claims put out there by the 1619 Project’s black nationalist conspiracy theories.
Considering how much the British benefited from the cotton trade, it’s not as if Blighty was about to dispense with it either.
Now, Nikole Hannah-Jones and her allies have attacked critical historians as white people. But Leslie M. Harris is a black history professor.
Despite my advice, the Times published the incorrect statement about the American Revolution anyway, in Hannah-Jones’ introductory essay. In addition, the paper’s characterizations of slavery in early America reflected laws and practices more common in the antebellum era than in Colonial times, and did not accurately illustrate the varied experiences of the first generation of enslaved people that arrived in Virginia in 1619.
Part of the problem with the 1619 Project is the insistence on that date.
Slavery didn’t really exist yet as a matter of law and experiences could vary widely with black workers often, legally, functioning as indentured servants. That was often not a fun life, for anyone, but it had exit ramps to freedom, which some were able to take.
Harris is generally sympathetic to the 1619 Project. But is troubled by the complete disinterest in historical facts. But facts, as we all know, are things dead white men invented to sabotage progressive mythmaking and conspiracy theories.