Review of Peter Wood’s Critique of the 1619 Project

Jonathan Leaf:

In August 2019, the New York Times magazine published the “1619 Project.” This series of essays and articles provided readers with many “facts” that they may not have known: that the American Revolution was fought to preserve slavery; that Abraham Lincoln was a racist; that America’s foundational premise was “slavocracy;” that present-day American wealth is a direct consequence of slavery; and that the essential pattern of our history is not one of unprecedented growth in freedom and democracy but institutional hatred and oppression of blacks.

If you were unfamiliar with these facts, there is good reason—none are true. As National Association of Scholars president Peter W. Wood reveals in 1620: A Critical Response to the 1619 Project, the larger purpose of the Times’s project appears to have been to promote racial grievances and resentment. Most damningly, Wood points out that a Times fact-checker who contacted a radical historian to weigh the claim that the revolution was fought to protect slavery was told that this was nonsense. But the paper ignored that input, and 1619’s creator, Nikole Hannah-Jones, herself recently said that the project was not intended to serve as history (after nearly a year of claiming the opposite).

Wood’s 1620 is an extraordinary book. Readers looking for a polemic should be forewarned: it is a learned and thoughtful investigation of the topic, and Wood goes to considerable lengths to give a hearing to Hannah-Jones’s assertions. In doing so, he systematically demolishes all but one of them.