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The “1619 Project” and the Pulitzer

May 6, 2020

May 6, 2020
By Timothy Sandefur

The New York Times’s “1619 Project” was awarded the Pulitzer Prize this week for its series of articles that aim to prove that the United States is still profoundly affected by its relationship to slavery. I’ve written about the Project before, arguing that while it contains much of value, it goes awry in trying to claim that the American Revolution was intended to preserve and perpetuate slavery and that the Constitution is an essentially pro-slavery document.

The merits of the Project’s arguments are, of course, a reasonable subject of dispute—and many prominent historians have, in fact, disputed it, making cogent arguments that the Project goes too far in many of its claims and ignores important details (including, one might add, almost the entire history of Abolitionism). Probably the best of the Project’s critics is Phil Magness, an economic historian whose new book The 1619 Project: A Critique has just been published.

The Times itself has acknowledged that these critics have a point—it even issued a partial retraction a few months ago that admitted the Project went too far in claiming that America was created as a pro-slavery nation. But rather than debating these critics openly and in a rational way, Project leader Nikole Hannah-Jones has chosen to play the race card, ignoring their substantive points and accusing the Project’s critics of being biased by racial prejudice.

This morning, I joined the Armstrong and Getty show to discuss the award and to argue that Hannah-Jones’s unprofessional and unscholarly behavior should alone have denied her the Pulitzer. The result of the Committee’s decision isn’t to bolster the credibility of the “1619 Project”—it’s to further damage the credibility of the Prize itself. You can listen to my discussion with Armstrong and Getty here.

Timothy Sandefur is the Vice President for Litigation at the Goldwater Institute.



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