In the 1990s, when I was in graduate school and reading required postmodern/Marxist theory, including Critical Race Theory, I little imagined that twenty-some years later, irate parents at school board meetings would be denouncing its use in elementary school classrooms and organizing recall elections.
This is for the good. CRT is dividing Americans and actually harming blacks—and whites.
What I as an adult graduate student found tedious and abstractly wrong-headed is now boiled down for K-12.
It tells students that what their eyes and ears tell them is wrong: all white people are privileged oppressors. To accomplish this, it reaches into a chimerical past. It teaches children that one race carries the taint of a secularized “Original Sin” that continues to keep the other race in a form of bondage.
The fabricated history pushing CRT, The 1619 Project, replaces 1776 as the American founding year with 1619, when, with the arrival of about twenty Africans at Jamestown our entire sordid history of building a country on the backs of slaves and their descendants began.
In this simplistic history being used in most of our schools, individuals act in accord with their groups, per Marx’s fantastical class struggle formula. As Lenin ordered, “Negroes” would be known as the exploited proletariat class.
Like Howard Zinn’s record-breaking bestselling A People’s History of the United States, The 1619 Project “reframes” American history by twisting evidence and leaving out exculpatory facts.
Real history, however, is complicated, and like great literature, full of comedy and tragedy, surprises and reversals. People act unpredictably. People change. The oppressed become oppressors, and oppressors sometimes get their comeuppance. People who had lectured their elders, then, later, learn lessons by suffering disappointments they could not have foreseen in their youthful, idealistic days.
One such story I include in Debunking The 1619 Project concerns the 27-year-old Edward Coles, secretary to President James Madison, who thought that Thomas Jefferson was not doing enough to end slavery. In 1814, he wrote to the 71-year-old former president, respectfully “beseech[ing]” him to “exert your knowledge and influence” for the “gradual emancipation of Slavery.” He urged, “put into complete practice those hallowed principles contained in that renowned Declaration [of Independence], of which you were the immortal author...”
Jefferson, however, had experienced setbacks in his efforts to end slavery peacefully. He learned that noble efforts, not executed judiciously, could result in backlash.
Jefferson wrote back politely, urging Coles to become a “missionary” for emancipation and bring the “doctrine” to his generation of leaders. In the meantime, one should remain diligent in “duties” to those under his care.
Coles, however, decided to move to the western territory of Illinois to take a position as registrar and free his own slaves. But it took him five years to do so. He had to follow restrictive manumission laws. He had to make arrangements for the care of two old slave women who could not leave Virginia. On the way to Illinois, he emancipated three slave families, giving each 160 acres of farmland. For one slave woman and her five small children, he purchased her husband from his Virginia owner and settled the family in St. Louis, where they were made legally free in 1825.
Even with such careful planning, however, problems arose. Coles found himself fighting lawsuits that attempted to void the freedmen’s emancipation and titles to their land. Free blacks at the time faced the danger of being kidnapped and held as de facto slaves or sold into slavery in the South. In 1823, Coles became the second governor of Illinois and helped defeat the move to make Illinois a slave state.
But Coles wearied and returned to the East, met and married the wealthy Sally Logan Roberts, and settled in Philadelphia, where his abolitionist work more modestly centered on supporting the American Colonization Society, which settled freed slaves in such havens as Liberia.
Coles also faced disappointment and tragedy during the Civil War. He lost his eldest son on the battlefield—on the Confederate side.
Thomas Jefferson, whose earliest memory was of being carried on horseback by a trusted slave, to his dying days expressed his wish to see slavery ended—peacefully. Throughout his life he struggled to find the means for doing so, changing his approach as warranted. He went from advocating for restrictionism to advocating for “diffusionism.”
But according to The 1619 Project, Jefferson was a veritable concentration camp overseer, running a “slave-labor camp.” He never intended to “abolish slavery.” And colonization was a plot to banish blacks.
In fact, all the enslaved worked in “slave-labor camps”; they produced the wealth of the United States.
In The 1619 Project, there are no Africans who raid villages and sell the captives to African or Muslim middlemen, who then sell them to Europeans, as actually happened.
Nor are there black slave owners in America, who, for example, in the four states of Louisiana, Maryland, South Carolina, and Virginia in 1830 owned 10,000 slaves.
Nor are there white abolitionists or civil rights advocates.
This history promotes the CRT formula: white=oppressor, black=oppressed.
To fight CRT, the chimerical history upon which it is based must be debunked and fuller stories, such as the one about Coles and Jefferson, need to be told.