Opinion piece by Charles Landis.
This is the second of a series of commentaries on topical issues related to the 2020 election process. The 1619 Project is a narrative promoted by the NY Times in an effort to rewrite our history and the Project as being the TRUE history of our founding. Identity politics is the most salient identifier in the Democrat Party agenda and the Project endeavors to reduce all of our history from founding to Trump to issues of slavery and race.The Times narrative asserts the true founding of the United States began in 1619, not 1776, with the arrival of a Portuguese ship at what is now Fort Monroe near Jamestown with a cargo 20 Africans from Angola, Africa.
They were sold for provisions and required to work on plantations in the colony. Thus, according to the Times (erroneously), they were the first slaves in America and slavery began with the English colony of Virginia. Note. Slavery in America began with the Spanish in Florida and Mexico. Also, at that time, nearly every colonist was under an indenture contract and required to work for seven years before freed. Many did not live beyond their indenture period.
The Africans, however, were brought against their will and, because they had no contract, they were forced to work more years and freed at will of their masters. It was not until 1661 that there was codification of Africans being bonded for life. Relationships were based mostly on ownership of property not race.
To understand more about this, read my essay on Anthony Johnson, one of the Angolans, in my book. An Introduction to the History of the Virginia Eastern Shore.Thus, the Times Project argues, the struggle for democracy, equality, civil rights, and social justice began with slavery in 1619 and not with the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. The white founders, and as well the founding documents, were full of contradictions and lies. The Declaration of Independence was written by a white nationalist slave holder and the Revolutionary War was fought because the founders feared England would ban slavery; white supremist slave owners needed cheap labor to work their plantations.
Th 1619 Project Manager and principal writer is Nikole Hanna-Jones, a Times reporter, assisted by other Time staffers and sociologists who contributed essays and poems. She says she fact checked with the Smithsonian and dismisses criticism by historians as being in the DNA of white nationalists.
The Times Project further argues that the evil and brutality of industrialization and capitalism, the greed of Wall Street, and all of the battles for social and economic justice arose out of the plantation system in the Southern colonies. The great wealth and power of the American economy was built on the backs of African American slaves. The demand for free universal health care, public education, women’s suffrage et al began with black legislators during Reconstruction.
While the 1619 Project has been acclaimed by leftist media, it has been much criticized by such highly regarded historians as Gordon Wood, James McPherson, and James Oakes. Each of these historians deplored that the Times would do this without consulting any historians of whole period and with intention to have movies made and the Project taught in high schools. Gordon Wood said “none of the leading scholars of the whole period have been consulted” in writing the 1619 Project. And, he was “disappointed and disheartened at the reductive nature of the 1619 Project.
It was so wrong, in so many ways”. James McPherson, says of the 1619 Project “biased and narrow of the country’s history”…”one sided account which lacks context and perspective” …and “ left most of history out”.James Oates says “ to connect chattel slavery to capitalism is over simplistic.”The preeminent historian on slavery and the Civil War , Eric Foner, substantially contradicts the thesis of the Times 1619 Project. In his recently published book, The Second Founding, (2019,) he explains how the Reconstruction Amendments (13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments (1865-1870) remade the Constitution.
These Amendments were passed by the Congress in the Reconstruction period after the Civil War (1865-1877 and there were no African Americans in the Congress. Historians and constitutional scholars agree that these Amendments were the building blocks upon which social and civils rights were, and continue to be, built and progress… not as the narrative of the Times 1619 Project promotes.
After reading articles written by Hanna-Jones and listening to her and other lectures on the 1619 Project, I consulted my library and re-read two books by highly regarded historians on the history of western civilization and colonization of the Americas: “Civilization, A New History of the Western World”, by historian Roger Osborne, and “American Colonies, The settling of North America” (2001) by historian Alan Taylor.
In “Civilization, A New History of the Western World”, historian Roger Osborne, chronicles the history of Western civilization from ancient Greece to today. His view of western civilization is a history of invasions of “lesser” peoples, their lands and cultures, and of genocide. He concludes that modern western civilization (post-medieval) could not and cannot co-exist with any other culture; unable to learn from other cultures without destroying or dominating and making them part of the western ways.In “American Colonies, The settling of North America (2001) historian Alan Taylor explains that during the sixteenth and early seventeenth the Europeans believed their own peasants and lower class folks were little better than Native Americans and Africans.
Their belief in superiority was primarily based upon cultural considerations and Christianity; in time, by assimilation into western ways and conversion to Christianity, they could become equal to the lower order of English/European. By the late 1600s, because of the demand for cheap labor by the plantation system and growth of the African slave population, legal codes were introduced in the South that bound African slaves for life with severe treatment.
Western civilization may be defined as a cultural heritage stretching back 2500 years; from ancient Greece to the frontier of Silicon Valley; greatly influenced by Judeo-Christian traditions. Contrary to the narrative of the Democrat/Socialist party ( ie as narrated in the NY Times 1619 Project) the belief in white supremacy did not begin with slavery in the early colonial period of Virginia and progression to the election of Donald Trump. Racism, the identification of Africans as slaves and inferior to whites, began with the explorations and colonies of Portugal, Spain, and the Netherlands in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. First in the plantations of the Azores and Madeiras, then to the Caribbean and to Spanish America (Florida, Mexico, and the Southwest) and in the seventeenth century in the English colonies of North America.
In ancient Greece and Rome there was a belief that their civilizations were superior to all other civilizations in the known world. Herodotus, considered the first historian, writing in the mid-fifth century, referred to non-Greeks as barbarians…lesser peoples. During the Crusades (more broadly considered the period between the 11th and 13th centuries) the European invaders into the Muslin Eastern Mediterranean were considered of the Christian race.
Muslims were considered as pagans. The formation in Europe of sovereign nation sates in the 16th century was based upon cultural, linguistic, and geographic identities where each believed their nation and culture were superior to the other nations. The formation of sovereign nation states in turn led to exploration and colonization in Africa and the American continents.
For 2500 years, from Ancient Greece to exploration and colonization of lands far distant from Europe, there developed a pride in the accomplishments of Western civilization: art, literature, architecture and , importantly, weapons technology which gave superior fighting power to conquer and subjugate. While slavery had existed from the time of Babylon, the discovery of new lands and primitive peoples across the Atlantic in the sixteenth century convinced Europeans to identify with Greek and Roman civilizations and belief they were a civilized people surrounded by barbarians.
The belief in white supremacy is also the belief that the progress of humans and civilization was a linear progression from the stone age and social Darwinism.The Europeans did not invade the interior of Africa to capture slaves; one tribe raided another for the purpose of capturing slaves which they traded for guns and ammunition. First the slaves were sent to plantations in the Azores and Madeiras and then to the Caribbean and North and South American colonies.
In North America, Native American tribes raided other tribes and sold captives which were transported to plantations in the Caribbean. While there are many dark chapters in the history of western civilization, the development of the constitutional guarantees of liberty, from Magna Carta to the Declaration of Independence, American Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Reconstruction Amendments is the great progression in western civilization and something that all can be proud of.
The period 1619 t0 2019 is part of that progression. It is for that reason that the 1619 Project is so disappointing; they do not rise above identity politics. At an event commemorating the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Angolans in Virginia, Governor Northam announced his formation of a commission to “review educational standards for teaching black history” because Virginia has “for too long told a false narrative of ourselves.” There is reason to suspect this will become his 1619 Project.