Critical Race Theory (CRT) and its sidekick, the 1619 Project, will be front and center in Flint on Wednesday, April 13.
Nikole Hannah-Jones, the Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of the 1619 Project and a staff writer at The New York Times Magazine, will speak at a jam-packed renovated Capitol Theatre in downtown Flint at 7 pm. This is a big deal.
The 1619 Project is a long-form journalism endeavor which “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of the United States‘ national narrative.” The first publication stemming from the project was in The New York Times Magazine of August 2019 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in the English colony of Virginia. These were also the first Africans in mainland British America, although Africans had been in other parts of North America since the 1500s. The project later included a broadsheet article, live events, and a podcast.
The project has sparked criticism and debate among prominent historians and political commentators. In a letter published in The New York Times in December, 2019, world-class historians Gordon S. Wood, James M. McPherson, Sean Wilentz, Victoria E. Bynum and James Oakes expressed “strong reservations” about the project and requested factual corrections, accusing the project’s creators of putting ideology before historical understanding. In response, Jake Silverstein, the editor of The New York Times Magazine, defended its accuracy and declined to issue corrections. Yet, in March 2020, The Times issued a “clarification,” modifying one of the passages on the role of slavery in the American Revolution that had sparked controversy.
A blaze of conservative backlash ignited heated debates on the role of critical race theory in the classroom and, more recently, Hannah-Jones’s tenure battle with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Today, critical race theory – or the study of how racism shapes laws, policies, and society – is familiar to most Americans and so, too, is the debate about how race factors into the teaching of American history.
The online Chalkbeat has tracked at least 27 state-level efforts, including Michigan, attempting to restrict educators from discussing systemic racism, critical race theory, and The 1619 Project. The bans and political pressure affect millions of students, educators, and administrators nationwide by inhibiting classroom conversations on racial injustice.
Hannah-Jones herself was born in Waterloo, Iowa, on April 9, 1976. She received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and a master’s degree from the University of North Carolina. In April, 2015, she became a staff writer for The New York Times. In 2017 she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, known as the Genius grant. She has also earned a Peabody Award, two George Polk Awards, and the National Magazine Award three times.
In 2020 she won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for her work on the provocative The 1619 Project. She also won the John Chancellor Award for Distinguished Journalism and was named Journalist of the Year by the National Association of Black Journalists and the Newswomen’s Club of New York.
In 2020, she was inducted into the Society of American Historians, and in 2021 she was named a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.
Hannah-Jones is probably the best-known apostle of the 1619 Project, but there are some other recent books that are controversial on the same subject.
For instance, there is “SLAVE EMPIRE: How Slavery Built Modern Britain,” by Padraic Scanlan. And there is another new book, “LIBERTY IS SWEET,” by Woody Holton, a professor of History at the University of South Carolina. Holton in essence argues that the American Revolution was in large part a pro-slavery secession sparked by American fears of British threats to slavery. Holton describes the colonial leaders’ grievances against the British as mostly economic and self-interested; the colonists aimed at enriching themselves by removing Native Americans and trading freely in commodities that were produced by slaves.
Holton observes that a November 1775 proclamation by the British governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore, offered freedom to slaves who would join him and take up arms against their patriot masters and that this was a crucial turning point in the run-up to the Revolution. The professor claims Dunmore’s proclamation aroused hysteria about a possible British alliance with African-Americans that finally convinced white Americans to separate. The Revolution was thus in fundamental ways a racist, pro-slavery “secession from Britain,” Holton contends.
Dunmore even organized an outfit he called his “Ethiopian Regiment,” consisting of some 300 black men, but they were defeated at the Battle of Great Bridge in December 1775, and Dunmore never again gained a foothold on the Virginia mainland. Still, the professor argues that Dunmore’s strategy reinforced the Americans’ belief that the British would use any tactic to enforce their iron rule and therefore must be opposed by a declaration of independence by the colonies.
Another recent book is “Empireland: How Imperialism Has Shaped Modern Britain,” by Satham Sanghera, a British-born journalist and documentary filmmaker. One of Sanghera’s sources writes that India was “bled anything between 5 to 10 percent of her GDP annually for close to two centuries.” The former colony was “drained” of nearly $45 trillion in today’s money between 1765 and 1938, or seventeen times the total annual gross domestic product of the United Kingdom today. Sanghera says that Britain seems to want its people to be proud of its imperial past, but doesn’t seem to want them to know much about it.
Significantly, his philanthropy contributed heavily to the Piney Woods Country Life School, which is a co-educational independent historically African-American boarding school for grades 9–12 in Piney Woods, in unincorporated Rankin County, Mississippi. It is 21 miles south of Jackson, the state capital of Mississippi, and is still operating today.
Since 1955, the Ballenger Series has brought national and international thought leaders to the Flint campus of Mott CC to lecture on topics of social, cultural, economic, scientific, and historical significance. Speakers have included rocket scientist Werner Von Braun, journalists Alistair Cooke and Peter Jennings, writers Alex Haley and William F. Buckley, former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, filmmaker Spike Lee, former Polish President Lech Walesa, actor/singer/civil rights activist Harry Belafonte, musician Patti Smith, former Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher, and, most recently, journalists and authors Sonia Nazario, John Quinones and Stephanie Land.
Online post-event community dialogue (via Zoom) Interested participants must pre-register at: https://forms.gle/FEpedqadtsi6dV3WA