When and where was America founded? Was it in Virginia in 1619, when a pirate ship landed a group of captive Africans at Jamestown? So asserted the New York Times in August 2019 when it announced its 1619 Project. The Times set out to transform history by tracing American institutions, culture, and prosperity to that pirate ship and the exploitation of African Americans that followed. A controversy erupted, with historians pushing back against what they say is a false narrative conjured out of racial grievance.
This book sums up what the critics have said and argues that the proper starting point for the American story is 1620, with the signing of the Mayflower Compact aboard ship before the Pilgrims set foot in the Massachusetts wilderness. A nation as complex as ours, of course, has many starting points, most notably the Declaration of Independence in 1776. But the quintessential ideas of American self-government and ordered liberty grew from the deliberate actions of the Mayflower immigrants in 1620.
Schools across the country have already adopted the Times' radical revision of history as part of their curricula. The stakes are high. Should children be taught that our nation is a four-hundred-year-old system of racist oppression? Or should they learn that what has always made America exceptional is our pursuit of liberty and justice for all?