In the last couple of weeks American president Donald Trump has expressed his rejection of the 1619 project as part of the school curriculum, publicly stating that it fosters an unwanted perspective on American history and values.
He argues that the inclusion of the 1619 project as part of the curriculum would not be ‘accurate’ as it seeks to ‘change our history’. He continued to defend his opinion explaining thus: ‘But, we grew up with a certain history and now they’re trying to change our history. Revisionist history, That’s why they want to take down our monuments, take down our statues.’ Although the project is not entirely perfect, removing it from spaces of study risks the further misunderstanding and consequential misappropriation of slavery, something which now more than ever needs to be properly recognised, understood and taught to future generations.
The 1619 Project is an ongoing project developed originally by The New York Times Magazine in 2019. The aims for the project were to offer a re-framing of the country’s history which would place the consequences of slavery and the subsequent contributions of black Americans at the centre of the narrative of the United States of America. It puts emphasis upon the fight by Black Americans to reinforce the founding ideology of the American democracy as well as illustrating the plantation as the beginning of the American capitalist system. The project is made up of several essays, poetry, and photographs which all re-examine the legacy of slavery in America, challenging the notion that the American ‘history’ began in the 1770s during the period of civil war instead believing it began in 1619 when the first ship carrying human cargo arrived in America. It seeks out to emphasize that slavery and the events which came out of slavery are intrinsic to American history. It highlights in particular the parallels between modern capitalism and American society with segregation and slavery.
Why is Trump opposed to the project?
In reality, one could argue that being the face of a systemically racist and male dominated nation, he couldn’t be anything except opposed to this project as it casts a negative light upon the institution which he claims to protect. This to an extent is true; American society and the politics in which Trump is involved has become synonymous for it’s supposed representation and celebration of American tradition and values. The values which Trumps seeks to uphold are ones which have been fed into society for hundreds of years: an American history which tells the story of the victory of the white man at the expense of others and tales of the white saviours bringing civilization and democracy to the savages who lived before them. The 1619 project reframes this history, shifting the focus towards the efforts of the marginalised and the ways in which their contributions to society became the foundations for the America as we recognise it now. This re-framing goes against all which Trump tries to embody and does not fit the traditionalist narrative of the America he has come to love and seek out to make great.
Revisionist history is not a bad thing. As a historian, we are constantly trying to further explore areas which have come before us in search of a better more accurate representation of what happened. The last twenty years has seen a rise in what is known as ‘history from below’ which endeavours to look at history from the viewpoint of the vast majority of society; the ordinary man. This new learning of history has meant that figures such as Winston Churchill have since been recognised as not being the saviours which traditionalist historians had once believed. The revision in history does not dispute the efforts of Winston Churchill, however it allows for the understanding that he was perhaps not the man people had once thought. The 1619 project is no different; it is not necessarily casting aside the history which has come before, rather it is illuminating it in a different light and offering a different perspective. This means it is incredibly important as it will allow for a better more rounded analysis and understanding of the period.
Projects and initiatives like the 1619 project are integral as part of the study of history. Contrary to common belief, history is never truly ‘set in stone’ and our understanding of events is ever evolving as we gain better access to resources as they are unearthed. Trump’s dismissal of the project in reality is achieving exactly what he is actively trying to avoid: a skewed perspective of the American history. In order to truly understand any history and gain understanding as to why things have evolved to how they are today, one must study absolutely everything that is available: the good, the bad and the ugly. Only through this thorough study and research can we have the best, most representative understanding of, not only history, but also the views of the people who lived before us.