“The goal of The 1619 Project, a major initiative from The New York Times that this issue of the magazine inaugurates, is to reframe American history by considering what it would mean to regard 1619 as our nation’s birth year,” The New York Times Magazine editors declare. “Doing so requires us to place the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are as a country.”
The scale of the opening offering is massive by the standards of modern journalism: 100 pages (with a few ads), ten essays, a photo essay, and a collection of original poems and stories from 16 additional writers.
But the 1619 Project’s effort to “reframe American history” requires cropping out some significant figures in African-American history. Perhaps no near-100-page collection of essays, poems and photos could cover every significant figure in African-American history, but the number of prominent figures who never even get mentioned or who get only the most cursory treatment is pretty surprising.
Early in Nikole Hannah-Jones’s essay, she reiterates the important point, “in every war this nation has waged since that first one, black Americans have fought — today we are the most likely of all racial groups to serve in the United States military.” The name Crispus Attucks is mentioned three times, but he is, as far as I can tell, the lone black Revolutionary War combatant mentioned. James Armistead was a spy for Lafayette who had access to General Cornwallis’s headquarters. Back in 1996, the New York Times wrote about the First Rhode Island Regiment, who fought at Newport and Pine’s Bridge, and in a regrouped form, Yorktown. By one account, one-quarter of the American forces at the battle of Yorktown were black. The 1619 Project does not mention the Battle of Yorktown.
One might argue that the essay authors preferred to focus on lesser-known African-American historical figures . . . but you really have to strain to contend James Armistead is sufficiently widely known already. Could anyone seriously argue that African-American contributions to the Revolutionary War are too well-known?
Martin Delany was an abolitionist, the first African American accepted to Harvard Medical School (white students quickly forced him out), and the first African-American field grade officer in the U.S. Army in 1865. He’s quoted once in passing.
In the early 1860s, about 179,000 black men enlisted in the U.S. Colored Troops, almost 10 percent of the entire Union army. The U.S. Colored Troops are not mentioned in the 1619 Project. The Buffalo Soldiers are not mentioned in the 1619 Project. There is a brief mention of African-American soldiers heading west after the Civil War: “Even while bearing slavery’s scars, black men found themselves carrying out orders to secure white residents of Western towns, track down ‘‘outlaws’’ (many of whom were people of color), police the federally imposed boundaries of Indian reservations and quell labor strikes.”
A Cornell University scholar cited in a recent New York Times piece tying slavery to capitalism was previously found to have inflated statistics, invented facts, and altered quotes, according to fellow academics in his field.
In an October 2016 paper, scholars Alan Olmstead of the University of California Davis and Paul Rhode of the University of Michigan harshly criticized the research of Cornell’s Edward Baptist presented in Baptist’s 2014 book “The Half Has Never Been Told.” In the book, Baptist argues that modern capitalism still contains many of the remnants of slavery and America’s current economy is still influenced by the exploitation of slaves.