After 1619 Project Threat, Trump Accused of Trying to Censor History of Slavery

President Donald Trump's threat to pull funding from schools planning to incorporate The New York Times' 1619 Project—which aims to reframe American history through an increased focus on slavery and the contributions of Black Americans—has sparked intense criticism.

On Sunday, Trump tweeted that the Department of Education would be "looking at" claims that California is planning to use the 1619 Project to teach students about America's history of slavery.

The president's tweet came on Sunday morning in response to a Twitter user's claim that "California has implemented the 1619 Project into the public schools."

"Soon you won't recognize America," the social media user wrote in a September 1 tweet.

If that is the case, Trump responded, "they will not be funded!"

Department of Education is looking at this. If so, they will not be funded!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 6, 2020

The president's threat was met with both support and backlash, with a journalist behind the project appearing to accuse the president of censorship.

"Do those concerns about cancel culture and McCarthyism and censorship only apply to the left or do they apply to the POTUS threatening to investigate schools for teaching American journalism?" Nikole Hannah-Jones, a New York Times Magazine journalist who won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary for her essay in The 1619 Project, wrote in a tweet. "Silence is deafening here."

Meanwhile, in a piece written for Forbes, writer Seth Cohen accused the Trump administration of "threatening to censor the way schools teach about the history of slavery and racism in the United States."

The tweet, Cohen wrote, "continues a trend of [the Trump administration's] provocative actions regarding educational approaches to racial injustice in America, with the writer pointing out that it came just days after the Trump administration announced plans to cease diversity training it determines to be "anti-American."

Bernice King, the youngest child of civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, also condemned Trump's tweet, writing: "We are on the brink of change, family. The highest office in the land is trying to stop teaching that will bring us closer to eradicating racism."

"Millions have aligned themselves and are complicit," King added. "But it's been too long. Justice will win."

While many struck out at the president's threat, others spoke out in support of the decision, with some pointing to the scrutiny the 1619 Project has faced over its historical accuracy.

In a tweet, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz took aim at Hannah-Jones's tweet, asserting that "calling out lies is not silence."

"NYT explicitly admits the 1619 Project is revisionist history," he wrote, quoting the project's own self-proclaimed effort to "reframe our country's history."

"It is filled with serious errors—which have been called out by top historians—but the NYT doesn't care," Cruz claimed, adding: "You're not after truth."

1/x Calling out lies is not silence. NYT explicitly admits the 1619 project is revisionist history: “It aims to reframe our country’s history.”

It is filled with serious errors—which have been called out by top historians—but the NYT doesn’t care. You’re not after truth....

— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) September 6, 2020

The creators of the 1619 Project have been clear that the initiative is aimed at challenging widely accepted interpretations and portrayals of American history by telling the story with a focus on the realities and long-lasting impacts of slavery and on the contributions of Black people in America.

Cruz is correct that a number of historians have questioned and criticized aspects of the historical veracity and fairness of the 1619 project.

In December 2019, for example, five prominent historians, Sean Wilentz, Victoria Bynum, Gordon Wood, James McPherson and James Oakes, wrote a letter to The Times accusing the creators of the project of a "displacement of historical understanding by ideology."

In particular, the letter argued that a claim made in Hannah-Jones' introduction to the project, which asserted that a primary reason that "colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery" was unfounded.

Meanwhile, that same month, a number of scholars and political scientists focused on the American Civil War wrote a letter claiming that the project made the unfair suggestion that slavery is a uniquely American phenomenon.

Eventually, New York Times magazine editor-in-chief Jake Silverstein wrote an update to the project changing Hannah-Jones' essay to say: "protecting slavery was a primary motivation for some of the colonists," rather than all.

While the project has faced some criticism, it has also been praised as a critical endeavor that refocuses the telling of American history on the stories of those affected by the country's history of slavery since it began more than 400 years ago.

Newsweek has contacted the White House and the Department of Education for comment.

Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference the White House on September 4, 2020 in Washington, D.C. Trump has threatened to pull funding from schools that use the 1619 Project in their curriculums. Drew Angerer/Getty