National teachers’ union president Randi Weingarten defends use of controversial 1619 Project

The president of a powerful national teachers union on Monday defended the use of the controversial 1619 Project in schools during a heated debate with Fox’s Martha MacCallum. 

Randi Weingarten also denied that the piece of writing – first published in The New York Times – pushes the idea the United States is a racist country. 

Weingarten is the head of the American Federation of Teachers. She told Fox‘s MacCallum: ‘I favor us teaching about 1776…I favor us teaching about 1619.’  

The 1619 Project – first published in 2019 to mark 400 years since the first enslaved Africans came to American shores – takes slavery and is said to put it in the center of the American narrative.  

A number of historians, both conservative and liberal, have knocked the project for putting ideology ahead of historical understanding.    

Randi Weingarten, right, on Monday defended the use of the controversial 1619 Project in schools during a heated debate with Fox’s Martha MacCallum, left

Fox host MacCallum said the project pushes the idea ‘that the reason for the revolution and the colonization was because people wanted to preserve slavery’.

She added: ‘In fact, scholars say there’s no evidence that colonists were motivated by that in coming to the United States. 

‘So it would be wrong as a historian to want to teach them something that is not true, because that is the basis that sets up all of these other tenants that lead to teaching kids that we live in a systemically racist country.’ 

But Weingarten hit back: ‘I’ve had several conversations with Nikole Hannah-Jones and I have not arrived at the same conclusion from her work as you have.’

Hannah-Jones won the Pulitzer Prize for the 2019 series. 

In response, MacCallum told Weingarten: ‘That’s not my conclusion. That’s directly from their work.’ 

Weingarten had said last week: ‘All of a sudden you’re hearing people…who are trying to ban the 1619 Project, because it is trying to…actually teach a factual version of oppression in America.’

On Monday MacCallum has asked if Weingarten supports teaching children ‘that if they’re white they belong to an oppressor class and if they’re black they belong to a victim class.’

Weingarten said: ‘I think we should be lifting up all ethnicities. I don’t think we should say one is an oppressor class and one is not an oppressor class. 

The 1619 Project - first published to mark 400 years since the first enslaved Africans came to American shores - takes slavery and puts it in the center of the American narrative

The 1619 Project – first published to mark 400 years since the first enslaved Africans came to American shores – takes slavery and puts it in the center of the American narrative

‘I am a big believer in celebrating diversity and actually looking at and helping look at people’s lived experience.’

Weingarten argued: ‘From everything I can see and understand from the data that I see, 1619 was the year that the first slave boat came from Africa to the United States. 

‘So that’s a point in history that I think we should be teaching.’

But MacCallum hit back: ‘That’s a very simplistic take on it.’ 

After Weingarten tried to steer the conversation away from the 1619 project to the network’s coverage of the 2020 election MacCallum told her she was ‘dodging’ the issue.   

A group of 37  Republicans led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell last week demanded that the U.S. Department of Education not teach the 1619 Project because it puts a ‘divisive agenda’ over accuracy. 

‘This is a time to strengthen the teaching of civics and American history in our schools,’ McConnell argued. ‘Instead, your Proposed Priorities double down on divisive, radical, and historically-dubious buzzwords and propaganda.’  

McConnell wrote that the project has come ‘infamous for putting ill-informed advocacy ahead of historical accuracy.’ 

‘Actual, trained, credentialed historians with diverse political views have debunked the project’s many factual and historical errors, such as the bizarre and inaccurate notion that preserving slavery was a primary driver of the American Revolution,’ the Kentucky Republican wrote.   

The Education Department isn’t mandating the 1619 Project be taught in public school classrooms.

But it has proposed offering grants to schools that teach it and other educational materials that ‘take into account systemic marginalization, biases, inequities, and discriminatory policy and practice in American history.’ 

Nikole Hannah-Jones won the Pulitzer Prize for the 2019 series

Nikole Hannah-Jones won the Pulitzer Prize for the 2019 series

Former President Donald Trump was particularly angered by The 1619 Project, describing it as ‘totally discredited’ and part of the ‘twisted web of lies’ that has caught fire in American universities that teach American is a ‘wicked and racist nation.’

He formed a ‘1776 Commission’ in response to teach ‘patriotism.’

It released a report this year before being scrapped by Biden. 

Princeton historian Sean Wilentz criticized the ‘1619 Project’ in a letter sent to top Times editors and the publisher, The Atlantic reported in December 2019.

The letter, which was signed by other scholars James McPherson, Gordon Wood, Victoria Bynum, and James Oakes refers to ‘matters of verifiable fact’ that ‘cannot be described as interpretation or ‘framing”’ and says the project reflected ‘a displacement of historical understanding by ideology,’ The Atlantic reported. 

New York Times’ 1619 Project 

In August 2019 the New York Times Magazine published the 1619 project, a collection of essays, photo essays, short fiction pieces and poems aimed to ‘reframe’ American history based on the impact of slaves brought to the US.

It was published to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of enslaved Africans in the English colonies.

It argues that the nation’s birth was not 1776 with independence from the British crown, but in August 1619 with the arrival of a cargo ship of 20 to 30 enslaved Africans at Point Comfort in the colony of Virginia, which inaugurated the system of slavery.

The project argues that slavery was the country’s origin and out of it ‘grew nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional.’

That includes economic might, industry, the electoral system, music, public health and education inequities, violence, income inequality, slang, and racial hatred. 

However, the project is debated among historians for its factual accuracy.

In March 2020 historian Leslie M. Harris who served as a fact checker for the project said authors ignored her corrections, but believed the project was needed to correct prevailing historical narratives.

One aspect up for debate is the timeline. 

Time Magazine said the first slaves arrived in 1526 in a Spanish colony in what is now South Carolina, 93 years prior to the landing in Jamestown. 

Some experts say slaves first arrived at present-day Fort Monroe in Hampton, instead of Jamestown. 

Others argue the first Africans in Virginia were indentured servants as laws on lifetime slavery didn’t appear till 17th century and early 18th century, but worked essentially as slaves. 


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