Senator Tom Cotton was blasted on Monday after presenting legislation that would block the use of federal tax dollars to introduce a historical reinterpretation of the United States. He said the Founding Fathers viewed slavery to be a “necessary evil.” The Arkansas Republican threatened budget cuts to schools that add The New York Times’ “1619 Project” to their curriculum.
The 1619 Project is a series of essays and other works that reexamine the history and legacy of slavery in the United States. 1619 is a reference to the year the were brought to the Virginia colony. Although it won a for commentary, some conservatives have denounced it, such as Sen. Cotton.
Cotton called the 1619 Project a “racially divisive, revisionist account of history” in an interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. His proposed bill would reduce funding to school districts that would otherwise qualify for federal funding aimed at improving teacher quality.
Cotton said, “Even a penny is too much to go to the 1619 Project in our public schools. The New York Times should not be teaching American history to our kids.”
However, Cotton did express what he believes the narrative should be: “We have to study slavery’s role and impact on the development of our country because otherwise we can’t understand our country. As the Founding Fathers said, it was the necessary evil upon which the union was built, but the union was built in a way, as Lincoln said, to put slavery on the course to its ultimate extinction.”
In response to Cotton’s remarks, the 1619 Project founder, Nikole Hannah-Jones tweeted:
If chattel slavery — heritable, generational, permanent, race-based slavery where it was legal to rape, torture, and sell human beings for profit — were a “necessary evil” as @TomCottonAR says, it’s hard to imagine what cannot be justified if it is a means to an end. https://t.co/yScNxPq6ds
— Ida Bae Wells (@nhannahjones) July 26, 2020
Jones added: “Were the Founders right or wrong,@TomCottonAR, when they called slavery a ‘necessary evil upon which the Union was built’? Because either you agree with their assessment of slavery as necessary or you admit they were lying and it was just an evil and dishonorable choice. Which?”
Not taking any responsibility, Cotton deferred to the remarks of his Founding Fathers again: “It was the Founding Fathers who said it was a necessary evil.” On Monday, Cotton continued to clarify his comments in an interview with Fox News.
“Of course slavery is an evil institution in all its forms, at all times, in America’s past or around the world today. But the fundamental moral principle of America is right there in the Declaration: ‘All men are created equal,'” Cotton said. “And the history of America is the long and sometimes difficult struggle to live up to that principle. That’s a history we ought to be proud of, not the historical revisionism of ‘The 1619 Project.'”
Cotton went on to accuse the project of having the potential to “Indoctrinate America’s kids and teach them to hate America.”
In a written statement to the Democrat-Gazette, a Times spokesman said of The 1619 Project: “It is based in part on decades of recent scholarship by leading historians of early America that has profoundly expanded our sense of the colonial and Revolutionary period. Much of this scholarship has focused on the central role that slavery played in the nation’s founding.”
An essay by Jake Silverstein introducing the project states: “By acknowledging this shameful history, by trying hard to understand its powerful influence on the present, perhaps we can prepare ourselves for a more just future.”
Project founder Ms. Jones said, “It’s time to tell our story truthfully. This project aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.”
While some school districts may be torn between exploring The 1619 Project, and budget support for teachers who perform better if they’re paid better, this project is available for purchase at TeachersPayTeachers.com. Being a teacher is not required to create an account and place an order.
Curriculum materials are available at PulitzerCenter.org.