1619 Project v. American History: Pushing Back Against DOE Efforts to Bias Education

Project Details

Party(ies) Involved

U.S. Department of Education, 1619 Project


Washington, DC

Time Frame

May 19, 2021; more broadly, August 2019-Present

Project Overview

Background on 1619 Project: In 2019, the New York Times continued its ongoing efforts to junk objective journalism in favor of advocacy journalism by founding something called the 1619 Project. The project’s raison d’être is to trash America by hijacking Americans’ understanding of their history to comport with a narrative pushed by contemporary leftist political radicals: to wit, that all American history may be reduced to, and explained by, black slavery.

As serious historians have explained, this is a flawed reading of history. James H. Sweet, Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and past president of the American Historical Association, had this to say (archived version here):

When I first read the newspaper series that preceded the book, I thought of it as a synthesis of a tradition of Black nationalist historiography dating to the 19th century with Ta-Nehisi Coates’s recent call for reparations. The project spoke to the political moment, but I never thought of it primarily as a work of history… The present has been creeping up on our discipline for a long time. Doing history with integrity requires us to interpret elements of the past not through the optics of the present but within the worlds of our historical actors.

(Sweet later appended an apology for having “alienated some of my Black colleagues and friends” to the article, which remains on AHA’s website.)

The project was celebrated by the intelligentsia and its flawed curriculum has been used by several K-12 schools. Its founder, Nikole Hannah-Jones, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for commentary (not for history) and a tenured professorship at Howard University.

Specific Project: On April 19, 2021, the U.S. Department of Education published a notice of proposed priorities for American history and civics education programs. The notice implicitly proposed to fund grant programs to “improve” the teaching of American history and civics by incorporating the 1619 Project’s highly politicized narrative and the “antiracist” teachings of Ibram X. Kendi (author of How to Be an Antiracist). The notice included a host of critical theory buzzwords, like requiring grant applicants to:

  • Take into account systemic marginalization, biases, inequities, and discriminatory policy and practice in American history;
  • Incorporate racially, ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse perspectives and perspectives on the experience of individuals with disabilities;

The proposal would  have encouraged and subsidized the migration of critical theory, “antiracism”, and 1619 Project anti-Americanism into K-12 education. Legal Insurrection Foundation opposed it.

Our Involvement

The Legal Insurrection Foundation has worked to expose the fallacies of the 1619 Project and to oppose the dangers posed by its narrative. In particular:

1. On May 19, 2021, LIF sent a comment letter to the U.S. Department of Education, urging DOE to withdraw its “Proposed Priorities – American History and Civics Education,” Docket ID ED-2021-OESE-0033, because the latter incorporated the historically inaccurate and ideologically-driven 1619 Project and Kendi’s discriminatory, misleadingly titled Critical Race Theory concept of “antiracism” – actually a misnomer for neo-racism.

The opposition of LIF and others appears to have succeeded in convincing DOE to tone down its July 19, 2021, notice inviting applications for new awards for the Presidential and Congressional Academies for American History and Civics (Academies) Program. But, it did not succeed in persuading the current administration to depart from its ideological premises. The July notice dropped references to the 1619 Project and to Kendi/antiracism, although it still incorporated buzzwords about emphasizing systemic marginalization, etc.

2. On March 21, 2021, LIF held a virtual event entitled: “Rescuing History and Education From The 1619 Project.” The evening featured a discussion with LIF founder and president William A. Jacobson, J.D, Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Securities Law Clinic of Cornell Law School; Lucas E. Morel, Ph.D., John K. Boardman, Jr. Professor of Politics and Head of the Politics Department at Washington and Lee University; Mary Grabar, Ph.D., Resident Fellow at the Alexander Hamilton Institute and author of Debunking the 1619 Project: Exposing the Plan to Divide America; and Ian Rowe, M.B.A., Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. The event was moderated by Kemberlee Kaye, Director of Operations and Editorial Development at LIF.

Case Documents

Comment letter from LIF’s William A. Jacobson to the U.S. Department of Education May 19, 2021

Media Coverage

LIF devoted a lot of coverage to the efforts of DOE and the 1619 Project to radicalize teaching American history. A listing of articles may be found here. Some highlights are listed below:

Mike LaChance, NY Times and Nikole Hannah-Jones Quietly Dropping Central Claims of 1619 Project, LEGAL INSURRECTION (September 23, 2020).

Mike LaChance, Scholars Call on Pulitzer Board to Revoke Prize Given to 1619 Project Author Nikole Hannah-Jones, LEGAL INSURRECTION (October 8, 2020).

William A. Jacobson, NY Times Columnist Exposes The Deep Deception Of The NY Times’ 1619 Project, LEGAL INSURRECTION (October 11, 2020).

Kemberlee Kaye, Virtual Event: Rescuing History and Education from The 1619 Project (Sun, March 21 @ 8 PM ET), LEGAL INSURRECTION (March 13, 2021).

William A. Jacobson, VIDEO: Rescuing History and Education From The 1619 Project, LEGAL INSURRECTION (March 31, 2021). Video of both the full March 21 program and an abbreviated version is embedded within the article.

William A. Jacobson, Legal Insurrection Foundation Files Opposition to Education Dept. Proposal To Inject 1619 Project and Kendiism Into Schools, LEGAL INSURRECTION (May 19, 2021).

Stacey Matthews, Fury From The Left After George Will Calls 1619 Project “Historical Illiteracy” and “Not Innocent Ignorance,” LEGAL INSURRECTION (December 19, 2021).

William A. Jacobson, President of American Historical Association Issues Groveling Apology After Backlash Over Criticism of 1619 Project, LEGAL INSURRECTION (August 20, 2022).