Movement

1776 Project

The 1776 Project (also known simply as “1776,” the “1776 Initiative,” and “1776 Unites”) is a campaign started by civil rights organizer Bob Woodson to counteract the left-wing historical narrative expressed by the left-of-center center 1619 Project. [1] The 1619 Project, supported by the New York Times Magazine, Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting, and the MacArthur Foundation, re-tells American history to claim all of the country’s progress and accomplishments are dependent on slavery and its legacy. [2] The campaign further tries to refute the claim that “the destiny of black Americans is determined by what whites do, or what they have done in the past” by sharing stories of African-American successes throughout American history, even in periods of racial segregation. [3]

The 1776 Project has garnered hostile criticism from the left, with 1619 Project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones responding that the African-American founders of the 1776 Project did not care about children formerly enslaved in the United States. [4] The 1776 Project, backed by the Woodson Center, is supported by prominent African American leaders from across the political spectrum, including right-leaning former Princeton Professor and Nashville mayoral candidate Carol Swain, politically non-aligned Brown University Professor Glenn C. Loury, and left-of-center Pulitzer Prize winner Clarence Page. [5]

Project Background

In August of 2019, the New York Times Magazine released the 1619 Project, a series created by Nikole Hannah-Jones that purported to “reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding,” using the date that African slaves were first brought to the modern United States as the country’s founding moment. [6] [7] The 1619 Project aimed to place “the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative,” arguing that the success of the United States is directly attributable to American slavery. [8]

The 1619 Project faced strong criticism from even some of its original supporters, mainly for what many historians considered blatant inaccuracies in the historical narrative offered by the project. [9] Critics of the project came from all corners of the political spectrum, including both conservatives and open Marxists. [10] Northwestern University Professor Leslie M. Harris worked on the project to check its veracity. [11] Nine months after the completion of the project, Harris published an opinion piece in Politico, alleging that the New York Times “ignored” her historical advice. [12] Moreover, in December of 2019, five historians who did not work on the project wrote a letter to the New York Times demanding that the inaccuracies be corrected, corrections which the Times refused to make. [13]

In February of 2020, a group of African-American historians led by civil rights leader Bob Woodson, Sr. set out to challenge the narrative of the 1619 Project through the 1776 Project, also known as “1776,” the 1776 Initiative, and 1776 Unites. [14] Woodson criticized the 1619 Project for claiming that “all white people are beneficiaries of privilege and are victimizers and all blacks are victims,” and creating the belief that America is an “evil empire” built on “corrupt and hypocritical” principles. [15] Woodson further called the idea that slavery “is the country’s very origin” espoused by the 1619 Project a “diabolical, self-destructive” idea that uses “the suffering and struggle of black America as a bludgeon to beat America and define America as a criminal organization.” [16]

Woodson introduced the 1776 Project, a series of essays, as one that would be an “aspirational and inspirational” alternative to the 1619 Project, built on “solving problems” in “the spirit of 1776, the date of America’s true founding.” [17]

The 1776 Project

The 1776 Project is centered around a series of essays published by prominent African American scholars in the Washington Examiner expressing what Woodson called in his introduction to the project “The Crucial Voice of 1776.” [18] In introducing the project, Woodson argued that the essays would “counter the debilitating and dangerous message of the 1619 Project” by “debunking the myth that slavery is the source of present-day disparities and injustice.” [19]

The series further aimed to refute the claim that “the destiny of black Americans is determined by what whites do, or what they have done in the past” by sharing stories of African-American successes throughout American history in order to uphold the “entrepreneurial legacy” of African Americans acting despite legal and practical obstacles to their achievements. [20]

Though the 1776 Project began as a series of essays, it is grounded in activism as well, with Woodson telling Fox News host Mark Levin that the 1776 Project “must demonstrate that [the Project’s virtues] have the consequences of improving people’s lives.” [21] In order to convey that message, Woodson assembled a team of activists in support of his project, including prominent figures like John Ponder, Tyrone Parker, and Willie Peterson. [22]

Highlighting African American Success

Much of the 1776 Project is intended to counteract a narrative of African-American victimhood by portraying stories of African American success and debunking myths supported by the 1619 Project that are harmful to African Americans. [23] In one of the first essays published under the 1776 Project, academic Robert Cherry argued that the 1619 Project, by linking American slavery to the African-American experience in the 21st century, reinforced harmful narratives of morals and ethics in African-American communities by creating a “culture of despair.” [24] This culture, Cherry argued, convinces young African Americans that they should not try to achieve success because the cards are stacked against them, a narrative that is countered by the success of African Americans in even some of the most segregationist periods of United States history. [25]

Pulitzer Prize-winner Clarence Page built on this narrative in his 1776 essay “‘A Dream as Old as the American Dream’: Embrace Black Patriotism over Victimization.” [26] Page argued that the 1619 Project ignores the history of “black overcoming,” in the United States, while falsely connecting urban African-American poverty to the legacy of slavery rather than “learned helplessness” that is shared across impoverished people of multiple races. [27] Other 1776 writers contributed to the project by highlighting the success of African Americans in spite of adversity, including author Stephanie Deutsch, who wrote about African Americans coming together to educate their children in spite of public school segregation in the early 20th century. [28]

Critique of the Centrality of Slavery

While some 1776 contributors sought to highlight African Americans’ successes, others sought to debunk the historical inaccuracies of the 1619 Project directly. Wilfred Reilly, assistant professor at Kentucky State University, pointed to the history of abolitionist movements in the North that preceded the American Revolution and argued that slavery was not a horror unique to the United States, but pervasive around the world. [29] Reilly further argued that the issues facing the African-American community can be more directly attributed to the rise of the left-of-center welfare state than to the institution of slavery. [30]

John Wood, Jr., director of public outreach at the bipartisan organization Better Angels, continued this argument in his essay, “Acknowledging Slavery’s Limits in Defining America.” [31] Wood argued that the “effect of slavery and racial oppression on our society today grows largely out of the power that we choose to give it,” asserting that rather than claiming that American slavery proves “false” American ideals of liberty and self-reliance, African-American communities and white supporters of equal rights have stood as examples of those ideals in pushing for equality throughout American history. [32]

The 1776 Project also challenged common perceptions of “structural racism,” with contributor Carol Swain arguing that the theory supports the idea that any African American is “forever a second-class citizen who pays a race penalty,” rather than empowering African Americans to achieve success. [33]

Criticism from the Left

The 1776 Project has received substantial criticism from the left, with writer Scott Woods calling the project’s lauded group of African American founders a “cabal” and claiming that their objections to the 1619 Project are grounded in the fact that “White Americans don’t want to hear about the suffering they have caused, let alone that they continue to benefit from.” [34] Woods further asserted that “There is no United States as we know it without generations of enslaved labor, that our very governmental structure was born from the benefits of said labor, and that many of the problems facing Black Americans are rooted in generations of abject terrorism.” [35] Woods even attacked the positive figures of African American success in the 20th century presented by the 1776 Project, claiming that even though African-American employment and homeownership were higher in the 20th century than today, it was only because “segregation forces independence.” [36]

Nikole Hannah-Jones, creator of the 1619 Project, responded to the 1776 Project with a series of since-deleted tweets, “responding” to the 1776 Project by tweeting a photo of herself pointing at her gold dental grill with her pinky, a move taken from hip-hop culture to signify dismissal and disrespect. [37] Hannah-Jones followed that post with another since-deleted tweet alleging that the African-American founders of the 1776 project did not care about enslaved children at the founding of the United States because they challenged her narrative. [38]

People and Backing

The 1776 Project is supported by the Woodson Center, a non-profit organization founded by Robert Woodson to empower community leaders to turn around neighborhoods struggling with violence and poverty using free-market values. [39]

Robert “Bob” Woodson is the founder and president of the Woodson Center. Woodson is a long-time advocate against African-American poverty and a recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” for his work in poverty alleviation. [40] Beginning his career in the Air Force following a troubled childhood, Woodson went on to receive his G.E.D and attend the University of Pennsylvania where he earned his master’s degree in social work. [41] Woodson then worked with the National Urban League before becoming a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). [42] In 1981, Woodson founded the Woodson Center to promote community activism. In 2008, Woodson received both the Bradley Prize and a Social Entrepreneurship Award from the Manhattan Institute. [43] That same year, Woodson received the Presidential Citizens Award. [44]

The 1776 Project is supported by prominent African American academics and journalists, including former Princeton Professor and Nashville mayoral candidate Carol Swain, Brown University Professor Glenn C. Loury, and left-of-center Pulitzer Prize winner Clarence Page, in addition to nine other prominent African-American academics and public figures. [45]

References

  1. Woodson, Robert. “The Crucial Voice of 1776.” Washington Examiner, February 13, 2020. https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/op-eds/the-crucial-voice-of-1776. ^
  2. Stepman, Jarrett. “Black Scholars, Leaders Rebuke 1619 Project’s Victimhood Narrative.” The Daily Signal, February 19, 2020. https://www.dailysignal.com/2020/02/19/these-black-scholars-and-leaders-rebuke-1619-projects-narrative-of-victimhood/.[/note]

    The 1776 Project is a series of essays written by African-American academics and public figures that aims to “debunk the myth” that “slavery is the source of present-day disparities and injustice” between black and white Americans. [note]Woodson, Robert. “The Crucial Voice of 1776.” Washington Examiner, February 13, 2020. https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/op-eds/the-crucial-voice-of-1776. ^

  3. Woodson, Robert. “The Crucial Voice of 1776.” Washington Examiner, February 13, 2020. https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/op-eds/the-crucial-voice-of-1776. ^
  4. Hemingway, Mark. “The New York Times Goes All In on Flawed 1619 Project.” RealClearPolitics, February 21, 2020. https://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2020/02/21/new_york_times_goes_all_in_on_flawed_1619_project_142458.html. ^
  5. “Scholar Bios.” 1776 Unites. Accessed July 25, 2020. https://1776unites.com/scholars. ^
  6. Stepman, Jarrett. “Black Scholars, Leaders Rebuke 1619 Project’s Victimhood Narrative.” The Daily Signal, February 19, 2020. https://www.dailysignal.com/2020/02/19/these-black-scholars-and-leaders-rebuke-1619-projects-narrative-of-victimhood/. ^
  7. Louis, Pierre-antoine. “’No People Has a Greater Claim to That Flag Than Us’.” The New York Times, September 6, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/06/us/nikole-hannah-jones-interview.html. ^
  8. Serwer, Adam. “The Fight Over the 1619 Project Is Not About the Facts.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, January 21, 2020. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/12/historians-clash-1619-project/604093/. ^
  9. Harris, Leslie M. “Opinion: I Helped Fact-Check the 1619 Project. The Times Ignored Me.” POLITICO, March 6, 2020. https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2020/03/06/1619-project-new-york-times-mistake-122248. ^
  10. Stepman, Jarrett. “These Historians Challenge New York Times’ Dubious 1619 Project.” The Daily Signal, December 18, 2019. https://www.dailysignal.com/2019/12/18/these-historians-challenge-new-york-times-dubious-1619-project/. ^
  11. Harris, Leslie M. “Opinion: I Helped Fact-Check the 1619 Project. The Times Ignored Me.” POLITICO, March 6, 2020. https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2020/03/06/1619-project-new-york-times-mistake-122248. ^
  12. Harris, Leslie M. “Opinion: I Helped Fact-Check the 1619 Project. The Times Ignored Me.” POLITICO, March 6, 2020. https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2020/03/06/1619-project-new-york-times-mistake-122248. ^
  13. Silverstein, Jake. “We Respond to the Historians Who Critiqued The 1619 Project.” The New York Times, December 20, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/20/magazine/we-respond-to-the-historians-who-critiqued-the-1619-project.html. ^
  14. Stepman, Jarrett. “Black Scholars, Leaders Rebuke 1619 Project’s Victimhood Narrative.” The Daily Signal, February 19, 2020. https://www.dailysignal.com/2020/02/19/these-black-scholars-and-leaders-rebuke-1619-projects-narrative-of-victimhood/. ^
  15. Stepman, Jarrett. “Black Scholars, Leaders Rebuke 1619 Project’s Victimhood Narrative.” The Daily Signal, February 19, 2020. https://www.dailysignal.com/2020/02/19/these-black-scholars-and-leaders-rebuke-1619-projects-narrative-of-victimhood/. ^
  16. Hains, Tim. “Bob Woodson: 1776 Initiative Provides Positive Alternative To ‘Diabolical’ 1619 Project.” RealClearPolitics, March 11, 2020. https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2020/03/11/bob_woodson_1776_project_provides_positive_alternative_to_diabolical_1619_project.html. ^
  17. Stepman, Jarrett. “Black Scholars, Leaders Rebuke 1619 Project’s Victimhood Narrative.” The Daily Signal, February 19, 2020. https://www.dailysignal.com/2020/02/19/these-black-scholars-and-leaders-rebuke-1619-projects-narrative-of-victimhood/. ^
  18. “1776.” Washington Examiner. Accessed July 25, 2020. https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/1776. ^
  19. Woodson, Robert. “The Crucial Voice of 1776.” Washington Examiner, February 13, 2020. https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/op-eds/the-crucial-voice-of-1776. ^
  20. Woodson, Robert. “The Crucial Voice of 1776.” Washington Examiner, February 13, 2020. https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/op-eds/the-crucial-voice-of-1776. ^
  21. Woodson, Robert, and Mark Levin. “Bob Woodson on Supporting High-Achieving Families in Low-Income Communities, Countering NY Times’ 1619 Project.” Fox News, March 9, 2020. https://www.foxnews.com/transcript/bob-woodson-on-supporting-high-achieving-families-in-low-income-communities-countering-ny-times-1619-project. ^
  22. Woodson, Robert, and Mark Levin. “Bob Woodson on Supporting High-Achieving Families in Low-Income Communities, Countering NY Times’ 1619 Project.” Fox News, March 9, 2020. https://www.foxnews.com/transcript/bob-woodson-on-supporting-high-achieving-families-in-low-income-communities-countering-ny-times-1619-project. ^
  23. Cherry, Robert. “Don’t Ignore the Strong Moral and Economic Ethics of African Americans.” Washington Examiner, February 14, 2020. https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/op-eds/dont-ignore-the-strong-moral-and-economic-ethics-of-african-americans. ^
  24. Cherry, Robert. “Don’t Ignore the Strong Moral and Economic Ethics of African Americans.” Washington Examiner, February 14, 2020. https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/op-eds/dont-ignore-the-strong-moral-and-economic-ethics-of-african-americans. ^
  25. Cherry, Robert. “Don’t Ignore the Strong Moral and Economic Ethics of African Americans.” Washington Examiner, February 14, 2020. https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/op-eds/dont-ignore-the-strong-moral-and-economic-ethics-of-african-americans. ^
  26. Page, Clarence. “Embrace Black Patriotism over Victimization and ‘Learned Helplessness’.” Washington Examiner, February 13, 2020. https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/op-eds/clarence-page-a-dream-as-old-as-the-american-dream-embrace-black-patriotism-over-victimization-and-learned-helplessness. ^
  27. Page, Clarence. “Embrace Black Patriotism over Victimization and ‘Learned Helplessness’.” Washington Examiner, February 13, 2020. https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/op-eds/clarence-page-a-dream-as-old-as-the-american-dream-embrace-black-patriotism-over-victimization-and-learned-helplessness. ^
  28. Deutsch, Stephanie. “Rosenwald Schools: How Black Southerners Worked to Close the Education Gap in the Jim Crow Era.” Washington Examiner, February 14, 2020. https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/op-eds/rosenwald-schools-how-black-southerners-worked-to-close-the-education-gap-in-the-jim-crow-era. ^
  29. Reilly, Wilfred. “Slavery Does Not Define the Black American Experience.” Washington Examiner, February 14, 2020. https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/op-eds/slavery-does-not-define-the-black-american-experience. ^
  30. Reilly, Wilfred. “Slavery Does Not Define the Black American Experience.” Washington Examiner, February 14, 2020. https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/op-eds/slavery-does-not-define-the-black-american-experience. ^
  31. Wood, John. “Acknowledging Slavery’s Limits in Defining America.” Washington Examiner, February 14, 2020. https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/op-eds/acknowledging-slaverys-limits-in-defining-america. ^
  32. Wood, John. “Acknowledging Slavery’s Limits in Defining America.” Washington Examiner, February 14, 2020. https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/op-eds/acknowledging-slaverys-limits-in-defining-america. ^
  33. Swain, Carol M. “Critical Race Theory’s Toxic, Destructive Impact on America.” Washington Examiner, February 14, 2020. https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/op-eds/critical-race-theorys-toxic-destructive-impact-on-america. ^
  34. Woods, Scott. “If You’re Going to Challenge the 1619 Project, Don’t Do It This Way.” Medium, February 27, 2020. https://level.medium.com/if-youre-going-to-challenge-the-1619-project-don-t-do-it-this-way-261a442d4a63. ^
  35. Woods, Scott. “If You’re Going to Challenge the 1619 Project, Don’t Do It This Way.” Medium, February 27, 2020. https://level.medium.com/if-youre-going-to-challenge-the-1619-project-don-t-do-it-this-way-261a442d4a63. ^
  36. Woods, Scott. “If You’re Going to Challenge the 1619 Project, Don’t Do It This Way.” Medium, February 27, 2020. https://level.medium.com/if-youre-going-to-challenge-the-1619-project-don-t-do-it-this-way-261a442d4a63. ^
  37. Hemingway, Mark. “The New York Times Goes All In on Flawed 1619 Project.” RealClearPolitics, February 21, 2020. https://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2020/02/21/new_york_times_goes_all_in_on_flawed_1619_project_142458.html. ^
  38. Hemingway, Mark. “The New York Times Goes All In on Flawed 1619 Project.” RealClearPolitics, February 21, 2020. https://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2020/02/21/new_york_times_goes_all_in_on_flawed_1619_project_142458.html. ^
  39. “About Us.” The Woodson Center, March 13, 2017. https://woodsoncenter.org/about-us/. ^
  40. Hemingway, Mark. “The New York Times Goes All In on Flawed 1619 Project.” RealClearPolitics, February 21, 2020. https://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2020/02/21/new_york_times_goes_all_in_on_flawed_1619_project_142458.html. ^
  41. “Robert Woodson’s Biography.” The HistoryMakers. Accessed July 25, 2020. https://www.thehistorymakers.org/biography/robert-woodson-39. ^
  42. “Robert Woodson’s Biography.” The HistoryMakers. Accessed July 25, 2020. https://www.thehistorymakers.org/biography/robert-woodson-39. ^
  43. “Our Board of Directors.” The Woodson Center, July 10, 2020. https://woodsoncenter.org/about-us/our-board-of-directors/. ^
  44. “Our Board of Directors.” The Woodson Center, July 10, 2020. https://woodsoncenter.org/about-us/our-board-of-directors/. ^
  45. “Scholar Bios.” 1776 Unites. Accessed July 25, 2020. https://1776unites.com/scholars. ^
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