It has been said "to the victor go the spoils" and you can add to that the privilege of reporting history as they want it to be remembered. That effort, when done by persons of goodwill, reports the good and the bad, the positive and the negative. However, it is often done from the perspective of the group in power and leaves out the perspective that can be offered by those who see it from a different perspective, generally those who lack power or influence.
The 1619 Project is an effort to provide a different perspective. It is an effort to begin a difficult conversation about race in America and the role played by those who were brought here in bondage and did much through their labor to build the infrastructure on which our country was built. Have you heard of the 1619 Project? If you haven't, that is not too surprising; most have not. It is a project begun by the New York Times to provide a voice to Black authors; some are historians, some are poets, others are scholars on a variety of topics. It has garnered both praise and criticism and has some weaknesses that some suggest would outweigh any value. Some, such as conservative columnist Erick Erickson, have commented "New York Times undertook a worthy project to educate the public on the history of slavery. But they handed much of it to opinion writers who profit from seeing things through racial lenses and keeping racial tension aflame as much as Trump does." Others, such as Newt Gingrich, are even more harsh, stating "NYTimes should label their 1619 project all the propaganda we want to brainwash you with." Several major historians have branded it as historically inaccurate and have written to the NY Times asking them to correct the historical inaccuracies.
Some criticisms are related to differences related to historical events, but one thing is surely accurate; that is, 1619 is the year that the first slaves from Africa were introduced into the 13 colonies and over 400 years of racial strife has followed. That strife continues to this day as we've seen multiple times over the past years. The other very basic premise of the project is that slave labor was a major part of building wealth in this nation. Slave labor was used to build the White House and many other important national buildings.
One of the complaints was about the assertion that the Revolutionary War was fought to protect slavery. There is significant debate about that point, but the underlying issue from the 1619 Project's point of view is that history books leave out important elements, such as the British offer to slaves to achieve freedom if they joined the British army and the subsequent Dunsmore Proclamation issued by the colonial governor of Virginia in 1775 that offered freedom to enslaved persons who fled and joined the British Army.
There is so much in the 1619 Project that I didn't learn in history class. Like the New Orleans Massacre of 1766 and the Tulsa Massacre of 1921, the history books have left out some ugly realities. And like the Cherokee people who want to tell their side of the 1830 Trail of Tears, much of which has been left out of history books, so, too, Black people want to tell their tale from their perspective. As the NYTimes noted "…to truly understand the fullness and complexity of our nation's story, we need a greater variety of voices doing the telling. That, above all, is what we hoped our project would do." I agree, let their voices be heard.
Robert Lee is a retired social worker with interests in history and politics. He lives in Tahlequah.