Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton introduced legislation on Thursday to combat the New York Times’ 1619 Project initiative, which pushes for a reframing of the history of the United States in classrooms, starting with the arrival of the first slave ship in America around August 1619.
In a statement from Cotton's office, the Saving American History Act of 2020 would "prohibit the use of federal funds to teach the 1619 Project by K-12 or school districts." Any school that chose to teach the 1619 Project would be "ineligible for federal professional-development grants."
In an interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Cotton defended his proposed bill, saying, "The entire premise of the New York Times' factually, historically flawed 1619 Project...is that America is at root, a systemically racist country to the core and irredeemable." While Cotton may personally feel like the 1619 Project is painting an incorrect picture of the United States, maybe he should seek out some of his constituents of color about this interpretation of the country because it isn't too far from the truth, if we're being honest.
"I reject that root and branch," Cotton said. "America is a great and noble country founded on the proposition that all mankind is created equal. We have always struggled to live up to that promise, but no country has ever done more to achieve it."
Cotton explained that the country has to "study the history of slavery and its role and impact on the development of our country because otherwise we can't understand our country. He then referenced the Founding Fathers, who according to him, said slavery was "the necessary evil upon which the union was built, but the union was built in a way, as Lincoln said, to put slavery on the course to its ultimate extinction." His statement predictably sparked major backlash from people online.
In response to the swift backlash, a spokesperson for Cotton's office told Talking Points Memo that he was only citing the Founding Fathers and doesn't personally believe that slavery was a "necessary evil."
Nikole Hannah-Jones, the Pulitzer Prize-winning creator behind the 1619 Project, responded to Cotton borrowing from the Founding Fathers.
By establishing 1619 as the birth year of America, the 1619 Project "requires us to place the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are as a country," the New York Times' Magazine's editor, Jake Silverstein, said in 2019.
Cotton's criticism of the 1619 Project included calling the curriculum "left-wing propaganda," a clear dig at the New York Times, the same outlet that published his op-ed last month, titled "Send In The Troops." In the article, Cotton said he was in support of deploying the military to quell the ongoing protests against police brutality towards Black people. NYT later issued a statement saying the op-ed fell short of its editorial standards amid internal conflict among staff over the piece being published.
Cotton believes America should be viewed "as an imperfect and flawed land, but the greatest and noblest country in the history of mankind," instead of "an irredeemably corrupt, rotten and racist country."