Called the Saving American History Act of 2020, the bill asserts that the U.S. was founded on July 4, 1776, with the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
“The New York Times’s 1619 Project is a racially divisive, revisionist account of history that denies the noble principles of freedom and equality on which our nation was founded,” said the Senator in a press statement. “Not a single cent of federal funding should go to indoctrinate young Americans with this left-wing garbage.”
The Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project is an ongoing project started by The New York Times Magazine in 2019 with the goal of re-examining the legacy of slavery in America. The project was timed to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in the Virginia colony.
Originally conceived by the magazine as a special issue for August 2019, the 1619 Project soon turned into a full-fledged project. It includes contributions from the newspaper's writers, including essays on the history of different aspects of American life that the authors have stated are rooted “in slavery and its aftermath.”
Currently, the project has its own broadsheet section in the newspaper as well as live events and a multiple-episode podcast series.
Even before Cotton introduced his bill, concerns had already been raised about the content contained within the 1619 Project.
The New York Times claims that the writers’ contributions were deeply researched and their arguments verified by a team of fact-checkers. However, a number of historians have criticized the project, asking for corrections for inaccurate claims.
Leslie M. Harris was one such historian. Harris, who actually worked as a fact-checker on the project, claimed that the authors ignored her corrections.
“Despite my advice, the Times published the incorrect statement about the American Revolution anyway, in Hannah-Jones’ introductory essay,” stated Harris about the argument made by the project's principal author Nikole Hannah-Jones that the American Revolution was fought in part, to preserve slavery in North America. (Related: Report: The Ochs-Sulzberger family that owns the New York Times were slave owners.)
Hannah-Jones’ claim has since become a lightning rod for critics, one that Harris warned would be used to discredit the work.
“I was concerned that critics would use the overstated claim to discredit the entire undertaking,” she said in an opinion piece in Politico. “So far, that’s exactly what has happened.”
Since then, Hannah-Jones has admitted that she overstated her argument about slavery and the American Revolution in her essay. She stated that she plans to amend this argument for the book version of the project.
Despite admissions from the project’s own lead author that some of its arguments were overstated, a number of schools, including those in Buffalo, N.Y.; Chicago; Newark, N.J.; and Washington D.C., have already incorporated it into their curricula.
It was in part, due to this that Cotton penned his bill. According to the Republican from Arkansas – who is widely seen as a presidential candidate for 2024 – the entire premise of the 1619 Project “is factually, historically flawed.”
Should his bill be passed, it would prohibit K-12 schools and school districts from using federal funds to teach the 1619 Project.
“America is a great and noble country founded on the proposition that all mankind is created equal,” he said in an interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “We have always struggled to live up to that promise, but no country has ever done more to achieve it.”
Despite his bill, Cotton agreed that the study of slavery and “its role and impact on the development of our country” was important, as it was necessary to understand America.
While he admits that the practice remained legal when the country was founded “the union was built in a way, as Lincoln said, to put slavery on the course to its ultimate extinction.”