(December 27, 2019) Although few, if any, of the most prominent Civil War and Reconstruction era historians object when Confederate statues are vandalized or removed, several were offended by the New York Times’ “1619 project,” which proclaims slavery and the contributions of black Americans as the central story of American history. Five professors, including James McPherson, Sean Wilentz and James Oakes wrote the Times asking that the newspaper correct misrepresentations about Abraham Lincoln and the alleged racist motivations for the American Revolution, among other factors. It’s not that the professors object to the disparagement of their favorite icons or ancestors, implying that only low-brow Southerners would do that. It’s that the “1619 Project” is bad history, unlike their own anti-Southern perspectives of the Civil War and Reconstruction. That’s the difference, see?
Apparently, few colleagues share the letter-writers’ viewpoint. Although Wilentz invited other academics to join the five, he said that the timing was bad due to Christmas and the end of the fall semester. Nonetheless, when he circulated a letter calling for President Trump’s impeachment last week he amassed hundreds of signatures. When asked why she didn’t add her name to the 1619 letter, Princeton colleague Nell Painter, said: “For Sean and his colleagues, true history is how they would write it. And I feel like he was asking me to choose sides, and my side is 1619’s.” Similarly Duke historian Thavolia Glymph declined to sign because the letter showed “concern” that “placing the enslavement of black people and white supremacy at the forefront . . . somehow diminishes American history.”
In the letter and a New Yorker interview, Wilentz felt compelled to express his objections apologetically: “Each of us think that the idea of the 1619 Project is fantastic. I mean, it’s just urgently needed. The idea of bringing to light not only scholarship but all sorts of things that have to do with the centrality of slavery and of racism to American history is a wonderful idea. Far from an attempt to discredit the Project, our letter is intended to help it.” In contrast, he didn’t hesitate to erroneously disparage Southerners with comments about the Carpetbagger interpretation of Reconstruction formulated by the Dunning School. Notwithstanding that Willam Dunning was from New Jersey and earned all his degrees from Columbia where he taught, Wilentz said, “The Dunning School is not a white point of view; it’s a southern, racist point of view.”
Thus, there’s an apparent split in the history profession. If the five signatories prove to be the minority, academics may soon be urging students to vandalize and protest the memorials for any historical figures judged to be inconsistent with “1619” interpretations, regardless of what uniform the historical person wore. Meanwhile, Confederate statues might be smiling to see their enemies eating one another alive.
Sample my books at my My Amazon Author Page:
The Confederacy at Flood Tide by Philip Leigh
Trading With the Enemy by Philip Leigh
Lee’s Lost Dispatch & Other Civil War Controversies by Philip Leigh
Southern Reconstruction by Philip Leigh
U. S. Grant’s Failed Presidency by Philip Leigh