A member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Peter Kirsanow said Monday the New York Times’ “1619 Project” is “one of the most significant attempts to propagandize history” he has seen in his lifetime.
Kirsanow, a partner with the law firm of Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff, and chair of the board of directors of the Center for New Black Leadership, presented his views at a week-long virtual conference held by the National Association of Scholars (NAS), a nonprofit that “upholds the standards of a liberal arts education that fosters intellectual freedom, searches for the truth, and promotes virtuous citizenship.”
During the NAS series titled, “Slavery or Freedom: The Conception of America,” Kirsanow refuted much of the “1619 Project,” the creation of Nikole Hannah-Jones, which claims America’s true founding date was 1619, the year slaves from Africa were first brought to the colonies.
Kirsanow expressed concern that school districts are adopting the “1619 Project” as curriculum.
This is “an all hands-on-deck situation,” he warned his listeners:
There’s approximately 5,000 school districts who have adopted something like [the “1619 Project”] here in my home state of Ohio. I’m involved in an effort to ensure that the “1619 Project” is not implemented within our state school systems, even though it appears as if the state school board is on the verge of doing just that, having passed a resolution, promoting the “1619 Project” – it’s just the first step.
Kirsanow explained what has concerned him so deeply about the project is that “we have seen the consequences of some version, maybe not a formal version of the 1619 Project, but with the critical race theory of the late ’80s to the present, and … the Howard Zinn version of history.”
“We have seen what I believe to be a corruption of history, a distortion of history,” he asserted, adding that Jones “is using the tools of a 20th century form of oppression, to consciously, or not, present her version of, and that of many on the left’s, version of slavery in the United States.”
“And it is nothing more than sheer propaganda,” he stated. “It’s very ironic that they are using those tools that we’ve seen throughout much of the 20th century employed in some of the most repressive regimes, to give this glowing account of the valiant travails of Latin America, and there were valiant travails of blacks in America, but they give it a primacy that’s not at all supported by facts.”
Kirsanow referred to Jones’ notion that it was blacks who became the “protectors” of America’s democracy as “overheated rhetoric.”
“The strangest thing about the essay is the claim that transplanted Africans and their descendants were the key to American greatness,” he said. “Unfortunately, it would be nice if that were true, but it’s not true. It’s inaccurate. It’s propaganda, maybe it’s kind of feel-good propaganda, but it’s propaganda nonetheless.”
Kirsanow said, for example, Democrat presidential nominee Joe Biden’s recent claim that a black man, and not Thomas Edison, invented the light bulb, comes from an “alternative universe.”
“It demonstrates how the effort to put race and slavery at the heart of the American story has the potential to destabilize our understanding of our country,” he explained, detailing his primary concern about the 1619 Project:
What makes it worse is, this is something that’s being introduced into curriculum, K through 12. It’s one thing when you do it in college, and maybe with somebody who already had an established foundation, where a student has to adequately interpret what they’re being told. But, when fresh young minds are exposed to this, that’s something completely different. So, as with other progressive revisionism, it’s likely then when you start at K through 12, that this will become the story of the American founding or the story of America within a generation, unless there’s significant pushback. And, again, that means all hands on deck.
Kirsanow said he has seen many people appear before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, “and the essence of the 1619 Project has been spewed forth … and adopted almost uncritically by many of my colleagues.”
Observing the gross distortions in the project, he quoted Jones as stating in her essay that 400,000 of 10.5 million Africans were sold into slavery in North America, or what ultimately became the United States.
“But that begs the question, what happened to the remaining ten million?” he asked. “Answer: at least four million of them we know ended up in Brazil, which is not part of the United States of America … slavery in Brazil, you might remember, wasn’t ended until 1888, even later than the United States.”
Kirsanow noted Jones “doesn’t seem angry, by the way, at the Africans who sold their fellow Africans into slavery.”
“All her anger seems to be directed toward the United States, and obviously that gives away the game,” he asserted, adding Jones’ focus is “myopic, and it is, in essence, anti-white. It has anti-white rage suffused throughout, and it prevents her from having a perspective, or sense of proportion with respect to slavery.”
He said further that while, emotionally, there may be no “middle ground” when it comes to slavery, that perspective is neither “scholarly” nor “intelligent.”
“Slavery was prevalent in most of the world for millennia,” he clarified. “It wasn’t unique to the United States of America. In fact, in what became the United States of America was frankly a little bit late to the game. It was common in the Western Hemisphere, it predated the arrival of Europeans, to say nothing of slavery in Europe, in the Middle East, and the Ottoman Empire.”
He observed as well that “despite the numerous cruelties of chattel slavery, the African population here in the United States, somehow grew dramatically from natural increases”:
Again, this is not to diminish the horrors of slavery or to excuse anything. This is a matter of perspective. Perspective is important no matter what horrors we may be talking about because we want to get it accurately, because it informs the manner in which we deal with these similar matters now and in the future. If we get it wrong, we’re gonna get everything wrong, or much wrong. So, 400,000 are important. By the time of the 1860 census, however, there are almost four million slaves in the United States, and nearly half a million free blacks. So, the injustice and cruelty of slavery didn’t extinguish the African American population.”
That population in the United States, he said, “grew significantly, even during the antebellum period.”
While Kirsanow emphasized slavery is “a horrific institution,” he nevertheless stated the “1619 Project” even “goes beyond that and intends to distort things.”
“It could make a much greater impact if it stayed within the confines of accuracy and the truth,” he said, adding that Jones “tends to prefer American history as a long, slow struggle between racist, oppressive whites and valiant, noble blacks. That’s how everyone’s characterized, and that’s not how human beings behave.”
“No, it wouldn’t be an honor,” he asserted, drawing attention to what has occurred in America of late:
After we have a black president, black CEOs, lawful discrimination has been outlawed for 60 years – there are discreet instances of racism and discrimination, no doubt – but this country has done incredible progress in eliminating vestiges of discrimination, to say that we should call this the 1619 riots? I’m just going to reserve comment on that. Let me just say that I think when you hear commentators and politicians throughout the land, speak favorably about these riots that says a lot about them, and says absolutely nothing about the history of this country.
Viewing the “1619 Project” along with the broader category of critical race theory, Kirsanow said these efforts are “one of the most significant attempts to propagandize history that we have seen in at least my lifetime.”
“And it’s been lurking in the weeds for a while,” he added. “You know, we’ve seen some elements of it, but now we have it full throated, it’s being shoved down our throats, with the willing assistance of many in the academy and, definitely, many in the media and, of course, politicians who find that it is politically useful.”