In Thursday night’s Democratic primary debate, candidate Beto O’ Rourke claimed that Americans should “mark the creation of this country not at the Fourth of July, 1776, but August 20, 1619, when the first kidnapped African was brought to this country against his will.”
O’Rourke’s comments were inspired by The New York Times’ 1619 Project, which “aims to reframe the country’s history” by placing 1619 as our true founding. The project is a collection of essays, literary works, and curriculum all aimed at this new understanding of American history. This project is dangerous enough as a misguided intellectual exercise, but its danger to our republic increases exponentially once put in the hands of a radical politician who could one day be president. …
… It’s hard to determine which historical images evoke more national pain and embarrassment: depictions of a slave’s back scarred with whip marks, stories of overcrowded ships with men and women chained to beds for weeks, or the film reels of little girls being sprayed with fire hoses and attacked by police dogs.
I am thus not arguing that such horrible national sins do not continue to have reverberating consequences. They obviously do. I am, however, arguing that by rejecting 1776 the 1619 Project is losing the best tools with which we can fight racism, injustice, and inequality. The principles of 1776 are what first freed America from Great Britain’s class system, emancipated slaves, and eventually ensured that all citizens, regardless of their skin color, would be treated equally under the law.