Paxton Smith, valedictorian of the class of 2021 at Lake Highlands High School in Texas, has received national attention for her three minute address at the graduation ceremonies. She had submitted her original speech to school authorities–about the media–and it was approved. But when the time came to speak, she whipped out a different speech, about the so-called “Heartbeat Bill,” which is the most restrictive abortion bill in the nation. Texas does not permit abortions after six weeks, before women know they are pregnant, even in cases of rape and incest.

A new generation of young people is coming along, and they will change America for the better.

Duke University’s Children’s Law Clinic published a substantive critique (some might say a scathing critique) of the state’s voucher program. Despite the fact that there is no evidence of benefit to the students who use the voucher, despite the lack of demand for vouchers, despite the program’s many weaknesses, the state’s General Assembly wants to put more money into the voucher program.

The report begins:

A new report from Duke University’s Children’s Law Clinic outlines the many ways in which North Carolina’s largest school voucher program continues to suffer from glaring policy weaknesses. These policy weaknesses increase the likelihood that voucher students are receiving an inferior education than their peers in public schools, delivering a bad deal to students and residents alike.

The report – an update to a 2017 study – finds that the Opportunity Scholarship voucher program:

  • Is poorly designed to promote better academic outcomes for students;
  • Fails to provide the public or policymakers with useful information on whether voucher students are making academic progress or falling behind;
  • Demand for the program has fallen short of the General Assembly’s projections, resulting in unused funds in every year since the program’s inception;
  • Nearly all voucher students (92 percent) are attending religious schools, more than three quarters of which use a biblically-based curriculum presenting concepts that directly contradict the state’s educational standards;
  • The NC State Education Administration Authority (SEAA), which administers the program, has provided the General Assembly with a method to evaluate the program’s academic effectiveness, but the General Assembly has failed to act on the recommendations;
  • Unlike many other states, North Carolina places no requirements on voucher schools in terms of accreditation, curriculum, teacher licensure, or accountability;
  • A lack of financial monitoring creates risks for students and nearby public schools that must absorb students when private schools fail; and
  • Voucher schools are allowed to discriminate against students and their families on the basis of religion, disability, sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity…

Rather than address the program’s many shortcomings, House and Senate leaders are competing to expand these unaccountable programs. Their solution to lack of demand is to loosen eligibility requirements, expand subsidies to families who never intended to enroll in public school, and spend $500,000 per year on marketing.

Peter Smagorinsky recently retired as Distinguished Research Professor in Language and Literacy Education at The University of Georgia.. His plans in retirement are ambitious, to say the least. I hope they include writing more essays like this one. I almost burst my stitches laughing out loud. As a citizen of Georgia, he is deeply knowledgeable about Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene’s thinking about the needs of education.

He begins:

Marjorie Taylor Greene now represents my home state of Georgia in the U.S. Congress. Unfortunately, radical far-left transgender communists in the Deep State have revoked her appointment on the Education and Labor Committee. To make up for this regrettable decision, I have developed in her honor The Greene New Deal for Education. It will finally help answer the question originally posed by George W. Bush: “Is our children learning?” Or more to the point, “What is our children learning?”

The Greene New Deal will emphasize the teaching of science. The sheeple have had their minds warped by fake “science experts” who say that “global warming” is increasing fires. That’s ridiculous. It snowed in Minnesota last January. As the real winner of the stolen election, President Donald J. Trump, has told us, dead leaves are the primary cause of forest fires.

This points to a simple plan of action: rake the forest floors down to the dirt. The Greene New Deal includes prison education. Rather than funding Operation Clean Sweep with some socialist taxation hoax, this plan issues inmates rakes at their own expense, and has them do “experiential learning.”

But that’s only the earth-bound part of the problem. George Soros’s space lasers still leave our forests vulnerable to giant fire-beams ignited by a massive space menorah. In the Greene New Deal Science Curriculum, students will work on ways to extinguish these lasers with gigantic space-based hoses, which will double as crucial weapons in the Space Force.

Gender studies are a major emphasis of the curriculum. In contrast to the propaganda spread by the Antifa-inspired Me Too movement, students will memorize Mrs. Greene’s finding that white men are the most oppressed group in the U.S. Our children and youth will learn about the challenges that white men face in society, and how to help them finally have equal opportunities for success…

Carol Burris writes in this article, which appeared on Valerie Strauss’ “Answer Sheet” blog, about the corruption and misuse of federal dollars in North Carolina. Although President Biden committed to eliminating federal support for for-profit charter schools, the wasteful and politically tainted federal Charter Schools Program received $400 million this year, the same as last year, including payments to for-profit schools. The federal government should not be spending money for private entrepreneurs to compete with public schools, nor should it fund “white flight” academies, as it does in North Carolina.

North Carolina’s private Hobgood Academy opened its doors in September of 1970. For decades, the overwhelmingly White private school, located near a public school whose students are overwhelmingly Black (90 percent), served as a haven for White families willing to pay tuition rather than send their children to an integrated public school.

However, the privilege of segregation came with a cost — $5,000 a year in tuition that parents decided taxpayers should assume. As North Carolina teacher Justin Parmenter explains here, the academy’s parents created a Google site called “Let’s Charter Hobgood” to band together and convert the private academy to a charter school. In what looks like an attempt to allay any fears that the charter might be forced to integrate, the following was posted: “No current law forces any diversity whether it be by age, sex, race, creed.” After three attempts, parents pulled it off, and Hobgood Academy became a charter school.

How North Carolina’s charter schools are used to resist integration is well documented, as more predominantly White charter schools pop up in integrated or majority-minority school districts. For example, a 2017 study — by researchers Helen F. Ladd, John B. Holbein and Charles T. Clotfelter of Duke University — found the state’s charter schools “increasingly serving the interests of relatively able White students in racially imbalanced schools” with the number of students in predominantly White charter schools nearly doubling as the number of minority students concentrated in charters that were more than 90 percent minority.

It is no surprise that one year after Hobgood’s conversion to a charter, this overwhelming White school’s demographics still looked nothing like the local public school. Yet the school was generously rewarded with a half-million-dollar U.S. Department of Education Charter Schools Program (CSP) grant.

Is the federal charter schools program financing white-flight academies?

In 2018, the federal Charter Schools Program awarded a grant of $26.6 million to North Carolina to support “high-quality schools focused on meeting the needs of educationally disadvantaged students.”


Thirty of the 42 charter schools that to date have received CSP grants via the North Carolina Department of Education have reported demographic information. Of those schools, more than one-third (11) have significant overrepresentation of White students or a significant underrepresentation of Black students compared with the population of the public school district in which they are located.

In addition to Hobgood, here are four examples of other schools that got the money:

The Community Public Charter is located on the grounds of its landlord, the Community Pentecostal Center. The school was started by the Rev. Eddie McGinnis, who serves as senior pastor. Disregarding the country’s constitutional separation of church and state, the website of the Pentecostal Center lists the charter school as one of its ministries, providing a link for students to enroll.

During 2019, the year in which the school was awarded its Charter School Program grant of $250,000, 95 percent of the school’s students were White, compared with its integrated public school district, Gaston, where only 53 percent of the students are White.
The Community School of Davidson, like Hobgood, was formerly a secular private school run in a Baptist church. Now a charter school, it received a $700,000 CSP grant to expand. The year it received its grant, 84 percent of its students were White compared with 27 percent of the students in its public school district, Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

White students comprise only 35 percent of the Forsyth County school district. A Charter School Program expansion grant awardee, the Arts Based School located in the district, has twice as large a percentage of White enrollees (71 percent). The charter school requires parents to send lunch, provide transportation and volunteer one hour a week for the school. Only 11.7 percent of the students are economically disadvantaged, compared with more than 62 percent of the district.

Socioeconomic segregation and North Carolina CSP awardees
The Arts Based School’s stratification points to another pattern: how many of the awardees dramatically underserve students who are poor. Of the 29 CSP awardees for which the percentage of economically disadvantaged students was reported on the North Carolina’s Department of Education report card website, 90 percent (26) had at least a 10-point gap between their economically disadvantaged students (students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch) and those of the district. In all but three (23), that gap exceeded 20 points. In fact, 45 percent of the awardees (13 of the 29) had gaps between the economically disadvantaged students served by the charter schools and their public school districts exceeding 40 points.

Only 5 percent of the students at Bradford Preparatory School and 11 percent of the students at Queen City STEM, both of which received a CSP expansion grant, are economically disadvantaged, compared with over 51 percent of the students attending Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools.

The Tillery Charter Academy in Montgomery County ($250,000 grant), in which Black/Latinx students are substantially underrepresented, has a 43 percent gap between its economically disadvantaged students and the school district’s. At the Community Public Charter, one of the highly segregated charter schools discussed in the section above, the gap exceeds 51 percent. In the former white-flight academy, Hobgood, the gap is more than 71 percent when compared to the poor Halifax County schools, where over 90 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

Students with disabilities

Included in the category of educationally disadvantaged students are students with disabilities. Twenty of the 28 awardee schools (71 percent) with 2020 data served a lower percentage of students with disabilities than their public school district. In 11 cases, the difference was 5 percent or greater.

The Queen City STEM School is part of TMSA, the self-designated “premier public charter school district.” Only 2.78 percent of its students had disabilities, yet it received an $800,000 grant to expand. There was a 6.99-point difference in the percentage of students with disabilities between the for-profit run Torchlight Academy and the public school district in which it is located. It is likely that its harsh no-excuses discipline code that includes corporal punishment discourages students with disabilities from enrolling.

Segregation by design?

Although each awardee has promised to increase its number of educationally disadvantaged students, the policies and practices used by many seem designed to ensure that little progress will be made.
University of Colorado Boulder Professor Kevin Welner and doctoral candidate Wagma Mommandi researched the ways that charter schools influence the makeup of their student bodies, which they describe in their upcoming book, “School’s Choice: How Charter Schools Control Access and Shape Their Enrollment.” Mommandi and Welner documented 13 different approaches — from marketing decisions to push-out discipline. “In the hands of unscrupulous operators, charter schools can become a devastating tool for exclusion and segregation,” Welner said.
Catered lunches

One of the categories identified by Mommandi and Welner was whether the school participated in the National School Lunch Program.

Ninety-five percent of all publicly funded K-12 U.S. schools, including charter schools, participate in the National School Lunch Program. Rates of reimbursement increase slightly as the proportion of eligible students increases.

Despite the near-universal participation in the program, 24 of the 35 open grantee schools do not participate in the National Lunch Program and made it clear in their application that they have no plans to apply. Instead, they claimed, their schools have their own equivalent program to provide for students in need.
We took a closer look.

Achievement Charter Academy (ACA) received a $400,000 CSP grant. It was previously a private school, operated by a mother-and-daughter team that previously ran a private school. The school stated in its application: “ACA will not participate in the National School Lunch program for reimbursement. To provide parents autonomy in food choice, ACA will purchase $50 gift cards from Food Lion. Parents who qualify for FRL can choose to receive one gift card per month per child instead of catered lunches and pack lunch daily.”
The small amount doled out is substantially less than what the National Lunch Program would provide. Equally concerning is the fact that the child would bring a low-cost lunch from home even as classmates eat catered lunches.

This concern was expressed by one of the reviewers of the school’s grant application: “Will all students have an option of purchasing lunch from the MyHotLunchBox or other local vendors? If not, how will the school ensure that EDS students who qualify to receive this lunch are not easily identified by peers as receiving this service?”
The percentage of students who are economically disadvantaged at ACA is not published on the report card website. However, in its first year of operation as a charter, 77 percent of ACA’s students were White compared to 44 percent of the home district, Harnett County Schools.

A lack of a solid plan to provide an alternative lunch or breakfast to students in need was often cited in other reviews of North Carolina’s successful CSP grant proposals. A few examples are listed below.


• “The application’s lunch plan needs to include more assurances that all students will receive affordable and nutritious meals. Presently, the plan identifies an ‘intent’ rather than a clear explanation for how the meals will meet the EDS population’s needs.” The Exploris School. Economically Disadvantaged gap: 26.12 percent.• “The applicant does not provide any additional details of how the school will offer food service to all students, nor do they outline a plan to collect free and reduced-price lunch information.” Hobgood Charter School. Economically Disadvantaged gap: 71 percent.• “The $25,000 revenue from the current hot lunch plan may not be enough to cover the cost of providing lunch for the increased educationally disadvantaged enrollment.” Bradford Preparatory Academy. Economically Disadvantaged gap: 46 percent.

Bradford Preparatory Academy, in its application, explained that it caters lunches from Jimmy Johns and Panda Express. “All lunches remaining after 12:15 p.m. are given to students or staff without lunches that day, so they don’t go to waste.”

Lack of transportation

A second and equally important factor in attracting disadvantaged students is transportation, which is another access-shaping concern raised by Mommandi and Welner in their coming book.
Several of the North Carolina grantees are located in rural counties. Others are in White neighborhoods within integrated school districts. Without a robust transportation plan to bring disadvantaged students to the school, diversity is unlikely.

Nearly all applicants had weak plans for transportation that relied on carpooling, very limited bus service and cluster stops that would still necessitate parents driving long distances to drop children off. Comments by reviewers included:

The Exploris Charter School relies on parents to provide transportation — either individually or through carpooling. Its transportation policy on its website says the following: “We have chosen to focus our resources on teacher quality and a safe facility, rather than providing transportation for students on school buses.”
In summaries of the application, reviewers noted that while the school was looking into purchasing one or two vans, they would be used for field trips, not daily transportation.


• “The Applicant proposes to implement cluster stops to eliminate transportation barriers. Is applicant confident that families will be able to get their student(s) to the cluster stop in order to catch the bus to school?” Lake Lure Classical Academy. Economically Disadvantaged gap: 52.3 percent.• “The applicant’s transportation plan relies primarily upon carpool to transport students to and from school. The applicant provides no data to indicate that this will be sufficient, particularly for ED students.” Cardinal Charter Academy at Wendall Falls, a Charter Schools USA school. Economically Disadvantaged gap: 13.2 percent.


Expected donations

Not included in the federal Charter School Program application was an inquiry regarding whether parents were expected to donate time or money to the school, which also presents challenges for low-income parents. Therefore, we searched awardees’ websites and handbooks to answer that question. In several cases, the answer was yes.

The Cardinal Charter Academy, run by for-profit Charter Schools USA, requires parents to volunteer a minimum of 20 hours a year for one student and 30 for two or more students. “Each family is required to complete a minimum of 20 hours (30 if you have 2+ students) each school year. If they cannot meet that requirement, the website says they can “buy out” of their obligation by providing $20 gift cards for every hour they cannot complete.

Grantee ArtSpace Charter School also requires families to “complete 20 hours of volunteer time per family each year.”

Two Rivers Charter School encourages all parents and staff to make a donation. In addition, all parents are expected to commit to a minimum of four hours per month after submitting to a background check.


For families who are working multiple low-paying jobs to make ends meet, such expectations can drive them away.

For-profit charter operators


Only nonprofit charter schools may receive CSP grants, and the Education Department issues strict guidelines regarding those operated by for-profits. Those guidelines, however, did not discourage the North Carolina Department of Education from giving CSP grants to four charters operated for profit.

The executive director of Torchlight Academy, which received a $500,000 grant, is Donnie McQueen. His wife, Cynthia, is the principal of the school. McQueen is also the executive manager of Torchlight Academy Schools, LLC, the for-profit management company (EMO) that manages not only Torchlight Academy but another soon to be opened CSP grantee, Elaine Riddick Charter School.

McQueen operates the school with a sweeps contract — a contract by which all revenue goes to his EMO, which also owns the building. From the school’s 2017 audit: “As part of the consideration received under the agreement, TAS also provides the facility in which the school operates. The fee for these services are [sic] 100 percent of all revenues received by the school.”

From hiring his wife as principal to every aspect of the school’s day-to-day operations, McQueen’s company controls it all, including student discipline, according to the contract.

Torchlight Academy, a majority-minority school, is a no-excuse charter school that uses corporal punishment as reported by the school on page 10 of its application for the grant. Families must sign a behavioral compact that says students agree to “accepting the consequences from Torchlight Academy staff.”

Torchlight Academy’s grant application provides little in the way of strategy on how it will increase the number of educationally disadvantaged students in a school where educationally disadvantaged students are already overrepresented and where more than 1 in 4 students have been chronically absent during the past three years. Its largest budget item for the project is “professional fees and contractual services” ($510,000), all of which would be provided by the for-profit entity.

In addition to Torchlight Schools, the national for-profit chains Charter Schools USA, Charter One, and National Heritage Academies will run grantee schools. To learn more about these for-profits and their contracts, read a report by the Network for Public Education here.

Why did these charter schools receive CSP grants?

It is likely that some of North Carolina’s grantees are sincere in their desire to expand enrollment to include more disadvantaged students. But the evidence is clear from applications and school websites that many of the awardees are engaged in practices known to keep minority and disadvantaged students out.

This was not lost on some of the application reviewers. In commenting on the Exploris School’s application, one reviewer noted: “It is difficult to understand why The Exploris School will need $600K to support an average increase of only 34 ED students per year. Given the large amount of the funding request, it appears that much of it will ultimately benefit The Exploris School’s non educationally disadvantaged students.”

The above is one of many critiques of applications that questioned the goals and strategies of the applications. Yet the grant was awarded.

What should the Biden administration do?

Each of the awards was signed by David Machado, director of the Office of Charter Schools in North Carolina. He is the administrator of the grant and the former director of Lincoln Charter School.
Machado signed off on his former school’s award of $700,000 to expand its educationally disadvantaged school population, even though “the applicant indicated that they are currently at capacity for grades K-8 at the Lincolnton and Denver campuses, and the Denver campus is also at capacity for grades 9-12.” The gap between the economically disadvantaged population of Machado’s former charter school (6.3 percent) and the district where it is located is 44 percent.

It is easy to blame Betsy DeVos for giving a $26.6 million grant to a state whose charter sector has come under repeated fire for increasing segregation in an already segregated school system.
Now the Biden administration and Secretary Miguel Cardona own the grant. Indeed, they own the whole flawed Charter Schools Program. Biden’s just-released proposed budget suggests flat funding for the program despite its well-known problems.

Will the administration continue to send funds to schools that physically discipline students or make their parents pay the school with gift cards when they cannot volunteer? Will it fund the mission of a White Pentecostal Church and expand schools that snub the National Lunch Program?

The Every Student Succeeds Act, which authorizes the CSP program, allows the secretary of education to “terminate or reduce the amount of the grant” [see Section 4303] following a mandated review in year three by the department. Will Education Secretary Miguel Cardona continue to fund schools whose existence has been based on avoiding those ideals?

This article by Marisa Iati in the Washington Post is a good layperson’s guide to the furor over “critical race theory” and teaching about race and racism in the schools. As I read the article, I was gratified to see the reference to the late legal scholar Derrick Bell. For just a moment, I felt like a Forrest Gump of American history because Derrick and I became friends in the mid-1980s and in personal meetings, we debated whether racism was more or less vitriolic than it had been in the past. I believed the Brown decision changed everything and that racism would eventually be reduced to an insignificant ember. He argued that the Brown decision was gratifying but changed very little, and that racism was as virulent as ever even though it was less respectable. In retrospect, I feel that I was a naive optimist and that he was prescient. After the Trump presidency, it is clear that racism remains a potent force in American life.

I’m willing to bet dollars to donuts that very few, if any, elected officials ever read anything that Derrick Bell wrote. Why are they so exercised about “critical race theory?” They (especially the Trumpian Republicans) want American youth to be indoctrinated in a sanitized version of American history, where they learn about slavery and Jim Crow as bad and aberrant things that happened long ago. For them, the only way to teach American history is through its stated ideals, of a nation where everyone is equal and has the same opportunity to succeed, if they work hard.

Derrick Bell was right but the Republicans prefer not to acknowledge that the debate about racism ever occurred.

The article in The Washington Post begins:

The latest front in the culture wars over how U.S. students should learn history and civics is the concept of critical race theory, an intellectual tool set for examining systemic racism. With roots in academia, the framework has become a flash point as Republican officials across the country seek to prevent it from being taught in schools.

In reality, there is no consensus on whether or how much critical race theory informs schools’ heightened focus on race. Most teachers do not use the term “critical race theory” with students, and they generally do not ask them to read the work of legal scholars who use that framework.

Some lessons and anti-racism efforts, however, reflect foundational themes of critical race theory, particularly that racism in the United States is systemic. The New York Times’s landmark 1619 Project, which addresses slavery’s role in shaping the nation, also has an associated school curriculum.

What is critical race theory?

At least five Republican-led state legislatures have passed bans on critical race theory or related topics in recent months, and conservatives in roughly nine other states are pressing for similar measures. Some teachers have said they worry that the legislation will have a chilling effect on robust conversations, or could even put their jobs at risk, at a time when the nation is embroiled in a reckoning on race relations.

Critical race theory is an academic framework centered on the idea that racism is systemic, and not just demonstrated by individual people with prejudices. The theory holds that racial inequality is woven into legal systems and negatively affects people of color in their schools, doctors’ offices, the criminal justice system and countless other parts of life.

The writings that coalesced into critical race theory date from the 1970s, when the late Harvard Law School professor Derrick Bell expressed frustration with what he saw as the limitations of the civil rights movement. He and other legal scholars — including Kimberlé Crenshaw, Richard Delgado and Mari Matsuda, among others — contended that civil rights laws and court victories had not actually managed to eradicate racial injustice.

Khiara Bridges, author of “Critical Race Theory: A Primer,” said traditional civil rights discourse maintained that racism would end when people stopped thinking about race. The dissenting scholars, she said, rejected that conclusion and believed race consciousness was necessary to overcoming racial stratification. Critical race theory emerged as an organized field in 1989, when academics gathered for the first Workshop on Critical Race Theory.

This way of thinking “compels us to confront critically the most explosive issue in American civilization: the historical centrality and complicity of law in upholding white supremacy,” some of the founding scholars wrote in 1995 in “Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings that Formed the Movement.”

While critical race theory does not have a set of doctrines, its scholars say they aim to overturn what they characterize as a bond between law and racial power. Critical race theory holds that race is a social construction upheld by legal systems and that racism is banal and common. Under this framework, George Floyd’s killing and Black Americans’ higher mortality rate from covid-19 are not aberrations, Bridges said.


“Critical race theory is an effort really to move beyond the focus on finding fault by impugning racist motives, racist bias, racist prejudice, racist animus and hatred to individuals, and looking at the ways in which racial inequality is embedded in structures in ways of which we are very often unaware,” said Kendall Thomas, co-editor of “Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings That Formed the Movement.”

What are the criticisms of critical race theory?


Critics of this intellectual framework often contend that it is divisive and even racist to examine the role of race in U.S. systems and structures. Opponents also argue that critical race theory is a Marxist framework that suggests the nation is inherently evil and that White people should feel guilty for their skin color.

On May 14, several Republican members of Congress introduced a bill banning the teaching of critical race theory in federal institutions and a resolution highlighting “the dangers” of teaching the theory in schools. In statements accompanying the announcement, the representatives said critical race theory promotes discrimination and stokes division.

“I grew up attending segregated schools in the Jim Crow South during a time when people were treated differently based on the color of their skin,” wrote Rep. Burgess Owens (R-Utah). “Critical Race Theory preserves this way of thinking and undermines civil rights, constitutionally guaranteed equal protection before the law, and U.S. institutions at large.”

The 1776 Project PAC, a new political action committee established to back school board candidates who oppose critical race theory, alleges that adherents to this framework are trying to remake the United States to reject capitalism and the nation’s founding principles. The PAC contends that critical race theory is “hostile to white people.”

While critical race theory is not characteristically Marxist, there is a loose connection. Scholars of “critical legal studies,” a precursor to critical race theory, included neo-Marxists “and other varieties of oppositionists in law schools,” according to “Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings That Formed the Movement.” Critical race theorists diverged from critical legal studies scholars to focus on studying race, Bridges said.


Some critical race theorists also believe that racism endures because it is profitable and that fighting racism therefore must mean opposing capitalism, Bridges said — but that opinion is far from universal within the field.

Critical race theorists disagree about whether the United States can overcome racism. While some believe racial discrimination will always exist, Bridges said others are more optimistic. Thomas said in his understanding, critical race theory maintains that racism “does not have to define our future if we have the will and the courage to reckon with it.”


Rather than encouraging White people to feel guilty, Thomas said critical race theorists aim to shift focus away from individual people’s bad actions and toward how systems uphold racial disparities.

What do conservatives mean when they use the term ‘critical race theory’?

Although the phrase “critical race theory” refers to an area of academic study, its common usage has diverged from its exact meaning. Conservative activists and politicians now use the term as a catchall phrase for nearly any examination of systemic racism in the present. Critical race theory is often portrayed as the basis of race-conscious policies, diversity trainings and education about racism, regardless of how much the academic concept actually affects those efforts.

In a public presentation this month, a member of Utah’s state school board offered a long list of words that she said were euphemisms for critical race theory, including “social justice,” “culturally responsive” and “critical self-reflection.”

The Heritage Foundation, a right-leaning think tank, recently attributed a range of events to critical race theory: property destruction and violence during the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, efforts to fire a Yale University professor amid a Halloween costume controversy, two White actresses stating that they would not play mixed-race characters, and the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17. They reasoned that critical race theory makes race the primary lens through which people see the world and reimagines the United States as divided by factions that are pitted against each other.

Christopher Rufo, a prominent opponent of critical race theory, in March acknowledged intentionally using the term to describe a range of race-related topics and conjure a negative association.
“We have successfully frozen their brand — ‘critical race theory’ — into the public conversation and are steadily driving up negative perceptions,” wrote Rufo, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. “We will eventually turn it toxic, as we put all of the various cultural insanities under that brand category. The goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think ‘critical race theory.’”

What does critical race theory have to do with schools?

Since the murder of George Floyd by a police officer last year, schools across the country have been overhauling their curriculums to address systemic racism and seek to make classrooms more equitable. Among other efforts, districts are instituting anti-bias training for teachers and requiring that history lessons include the experiences of marginalized groups.

Conservative politicians have pushed back on these attempts to talk about race more often. Critics say teachers are trying to “rewrite history” and should not consider race when interacting with students. Proponents counter that discussing race creates more inclusive schools and helps students overcome systemic barriers restricting their achievement.

Academic critical race theorists do not necessarily agree on whether schools are promoting critical race theory. Bridges said she would not characterize the increased focus on diversity and multiculturalism as critical race theory, while Thomas said critical race theory “is defined by this more expansive view of history now taught in classrooms.”

What is the status of efforts to ban critical race theory?

In September, President Donald Trump directed federal agencies to cease any trainings related to critical race theory, White privilege or other forms of what he called “propaganda.” A federal judge later blocked the directive on First Amendment grounds, and President Biden rescinded the ban after he took office.

The anti-critical race theory movement is now focused on classrooms, with Senate Republicans criticizing the Biden administration in April for pushing for federal funding for U.S. history programs that “reflect the diversity” of all students. Most efforts to stop the teaching of systemic racism have played out in state legislatures, at least a dozen of which have taken up the issue in recent months.

Republican-led legislatures in Arkansas, Idaho, Tennessee, Texas and Oklahoma have passed bans, with some restricting the teaching of critical race theory in public colleges, in addition to lower-level classrooms. A teacher at Oklahoma City Community College said this week that the race theory class she has taught for six years was canceled because of her state’s new law. A spokesman for the college confirmed that the class has been paused while administrators evaluate the legislation’s ramifications.

Republican lawmakers, governors, prosecutors and political candidates are also pressing the issue in a range of other states, from Utah to New Hampshire. While some bills name critical race theory, others reference “divisive concepts” or race-related guilt.


“Let me be clear, there’s no room in our classrooms for things like critical race theory,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said in March at a news conference. “Teaching kids to hate their country and to hate each other is not worth one red cent of taxpayer money.”

In Utah, Democratic members of the state’s House walked off the floor to protest a resolution recommending the state review school curriculums that address how racism influences American politics, culture and law.

“What this is about is an attempt or first step in assuring that my history and the history of many people of color are not taught in our school system in the state of Utah,” Rep. Sandra Hollins, the only Black member of Utah’s legislature, told the Associated Press at the time.

The American Civil Liberties Union characterized the bans as an attempt to silence teachers and students and impose a version of American history “that erases the legacy of discrimination and lived experiences of Black and Brown people.”


“Our country needs to acknowledge its history of systemic racism and reckon with present day impacts of racial discrimination — this includes being able to teach and talk about these concepts in our schools,” the ACLU wrote.

These attempts to restrict the teaching of critical race theory and broader lessons about racism are likely to face legal challenges focused on the constitutional right to free speech, and it is unclear how courts will rule.


Laura Meckler and Hannah Natanson contributed to this report.

NCBT Teacher Justin Parmenter writes here about the reaction of the Republican-controlled Legislature to their rampant fear that teachers might try to indoctrinate students into radical views of American history and society, like discussing shameful episodes in the past. The legislators want patriotic history that makes students proud to be Americans.

First they passed a law requiring teachers to make public their lesson plans to prove that they are not “indoctrinating” students.

Parmenter begins:

Last month the NC House of Representatives passed a law entitled “An Act to Ensure Academic Transparency” which would require teachers to post their lesson plans and details about all instructional materials online for public review. 

In defense of their support for the new legislation, which passed almost entirely along partisan lines, some Republican legislators cited the need to prevent indoctrination of North Carolina students.  

Iredell County Representative Jeffrey McNeely said, “Hopefully we’re just gonna teach the kids. We’re not gonna try to indoctrinate ’em or teach ’em in a certain way to make ’em believe something other than the facts.”

At its meeting today, the North Carolina State Board of Education reviewed glossaries and unpacking documents related to new state social studies standards which will be implemented in school year 2021-22. (Unpacking documents are overarching documents intended to help teachers understand how the standards should be taught).

During the discussion, board member Amy White expressed her view that the standards unpacking documents needed to ensure North Carolina teachers are teaching their students that America is a great nation.

Is that true? Is it indoctrination?

When I grew up in Houston, Texas, I attended segregated public schools. Everything was segregated, including movie theaters, drinking foundations, churches, restaurants, public transit (the sign “colored” divided passengers, with blacks in the back of the bus; if there were more white passengers than black passengers, the sign was moved back and black passengers gave up their seats and stood), and everything else. Even newspaper ads were segregated, by both race and gender. Blacks entered white homes through the back door. Blacks were expected to step off the sidewalk and into the street when passing a white pedestrian.

In my high school American history class, we learned almost nothing about black history. Our textbooks recognized George Washington Carver and his discovery of the many uses of peanuts. That was about it. In eleventh-grade U.S. history, the textbook taught the now-discredited Dunning theory of the Reconstruction Era (William Archibald Dunning was a Columbia University history professor who taught the white Southern view of the period); we were taught that the South after the Civil War was overrun by corrupt black politicians who bankrupted their states and by white carpetbaggers who helped the corrupt blacks. We now know that the Dunning version of history was untrue, and that the post-Reconstruction governments in the Southern states produced a remarkable period of progressive legislation.

In college in the late 1950s, there were no courses in black history. Not until I was in graduate school did I study black history in depth and learn about the systematically vicious, brutal, and demeaning treatment of black Americans by white Americans. I knew it from life experience, but at the same time I did not know it in full, as Hannah-Jones presents it in The 1619 Project.

Her essay in the collection is a powerful and persuasive history of black people in the United States.

History has often been taught simply as facts to be memorized. But history taught well involves not only facts, but discussion about controversies. Historians agree about basic facts, but not about causes and consequences. Historians disagree. Events seldom if ever have a single cause. And they usually have multiple consequences. Students must learn about the disagreements and think critically about what they learned. They may come down on one side or the other, but they should learn to respect those who disagree with them.

Was the American Revolution intended to preserve slavery, as Hannah-Jones asserts? Most seismic events have multiple causes, and their participants have different motives. Some American rebels fought to escape British colonialism; some fought to avoid British taxation; and some fought to stop the abolitionist fervor from reaching their plantations. Is racism part of the DNA of America? If so, the situation is hopeless and the prospects for change are out of reach. Thoughtful people look at the same set of facts and draw different conclusions about their meaning. That’s what makes the study of history interesting.

In the current controversy surrounding The 1619 Project, Hannah-Jones offers a pessimistic view of the treatment of black people in America. Her critics think she is too pessimistic. They don’t differ about facts, but about interpretations of facts. I usually find myself responding to questions of interpretation by saying, “It depends.”

Some white Americans say that the proof of black progress is that the nation elected and re-elected a black President; that some blacks (like Oprah and other stars of the entertainment and sports industries) are fabulously successful; that affirmative action has allowed blacks to enter elite universities and executive suites; and that Congress has passed multiple civil rights laws to forbid racial discrimination.

Other white Americans recognize that institutional and personal racism still exists, despite laws on the books, despite the success of Obama and Oprah. They know the statistics about black poverty, segregated schools, maternal health, access to medical care, and other indicators of disadvantage. They see black neighborhoods that are blighted, racially segregated, and lack decent public services. They know the incarceration rates for people of color. They know that state legislatures are passing laws to make it harder for them to vote. They see how few blacks make it into the executive suites.

If I were black, I would admire The 1619 Project and share it with my family and friends. I would be impressed by Nikole Hannah-Jones’ courage, audacity, and scholarship. I would feel that at long last the story of black people was told.

Should The 1619 Project be used in high schools when teaching American history? Absolutely yes. It should be taught alongside the criticisms of its ideas. It is a wonderful teaching tool. It is thought-provoking. It demonstrates how history can challenge conventional thinking. It shows black people as agents, not simply as victims. It shows a seamy and vicious side of American life that was real and important to know. Students should not be ignorant of black history. By using this material, students will learn that our understanding of history is constantly evolving and that the subject is a fascinating battleground of ideas.

Whether they agree with critic Sean Wilentz of Princeton or Hannah-Jones, they will be far better educated about American history by reading their disagreements. We must confront and debate our history and move beyond efforts to indoctrinate students with a whitewashing of the past.

Criticism of The 1619 Project appeared soon after its publication. On the right, it was denounced as an unjustified, outrageous attack on traditional American values and ideals, an attack on the Founding Fathers, an attack on the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. President Trump denounced it and established the “1776 Commission” to urge the teaching of “traditional” history that instills patriotism and pride. Legislators in Republican-dominated states framed legislation to ban it as well as the teaching of “critical race theory.”

It was not only conservatives who objected to The 1619 Project. Five respected historians published their disagreements, sent them to The New York Times, and demanded corrections. Adam Serwer of The Atlantic reviewed the debate and offered a balanced view of the different criticisms, as well as the response by The New York Times to the critics.

He wrote:

The reaction to the project was not universally enthusiastic. Several weeks ago, the Princeton historian Sean Wilentz, who had criticized the 1619 Project’s “cynicism” in a lecture in November, began quietly circulating a letter objecting to the project, and some of Hannah-Jones’s work in particular. The letter acquired four signatories—James McPherson, Gordon Wood, Victoria Bynum, and James Oakes, all leading scholars in their field. They sent their letter to three top Times editors and the publisher, A. G. Sulzberger, on December 4. A version of that letter was published on Friday, along with a detailed rebuttal from Jake Silverstein, the editor of the Times Magazine.

The letter sent to the Times says, “We applaud all efforts to address the foundational centrality of slavery and racism to our history,” but then veers into harsh criticism of the 1619 Project. The letter refers to “matters of verifiable fact” that “cannot be described as interpretation or ‘framing’” and says the project reflected “a displacement of historical understanding by ideology.” Wilentz and his fellow signatories didn’t just dispute the Times Magazine’s interpretation of past events, but demanded corrections.

In the age of social-media invective, a strongly worded letter might not seem particularly significant. But given the stature of the historians involved, the letter is a serious challenge to the credibility of the 1619 Project, which has drawn its share not just of admirers but also critics.

Nevertheless, some historians who declined to sign the letter wondered whether the letter was intended less to resolve factual disputes than to discredit laymen who had challenged an interpretation of American national identity that is cherished by liberals and conservatives alike.

Sean Wilentz of Princeton University delivered a lecture criticizing the Project, which was published in the New York Review of Books, and subsequently organized the letter signed by the five distinguished historians.

He first describes the traditional view of America as a nation becoming ever more committed to its ideals and then contrasts it to Hannah-Jones’ pessimistic view.

There is another view that challenges the familiar one, hailed by its supporters for forcing an honest reckoning with slavery and its unending consequences. This account asks profound and unsettling questions about the nation’s origins and bids us to regard the experience of the slaves as the true test of America’s professed ideals. Slavery, in this view, wasn’t simply an important part of American society at the founding and after; it defined a nation born in oppression and bad faith. While this view acknowledges the ideals of equality proclaimed by Jefferson and others, it regards them as hollow. Even after slavery ended, the racism that justified slavery persisted, not just as an aspect of American life but at its very core.

If the familiar view courts complacency, this one is vulnerable to an easy cynicism. Once slavery’s enormity is understood, as it should be, not as a temporary flaw but as an essential fact of American history, it can make the birth of the American republic and the subsequent rise of American democracy look as nothing more than the vindication of glittering generalities about freedom and equality founded on the oppression of blacks, enslaved and free, as well as the expropriation and slaughter of Native Americans. It can resemble, ironically, the reactionary proslavery insistence that the egalitarian self-evident truths of the Declaration were self-evident lies. It can leave our understanding of American history susceptible to moralizing distortions that seem compelling simply because they defy reassuring versions of the past.

Some of that cynicism is on display in The New York Times Magazine’s recently launched 1619 Project, enough to give ammunition to hostile critics who would discredit or minimize the entire enterprise of understanding America’s history of slavery and antislavery. The project’s lead essay, for example, by Nikole Hannah-Jones berates our national mythology for “conveniently” omitting “that one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery.” Supposedly, Britain, by 1776, “had grown deeply conflicted over its role in the barbaric institution that had reshaped the Western Hemisphere.” There were, the essay says, “growing calls” in London to abolish the slave trade, which would have “upended the economy of the colonies, in both the North and the South.” Americans, in short, “may never have revolted against Britain” had the founders not believed that independence “was required in order to ensure that slavery would continue.” The American Revolution, in effect, anticipated the slaveholders’ rebellion eighty-odd years later: the American patriots allegedly declared their independence of Britain in 1776 for the same reason that the Southern states seceded in 1860–1861, to guarantee that slavery would endure. American independence, in this view, was a precursor of Southern secession…

The five historians wrote the following letter, which was reproduced in the New York Times:

We write as historians to express our strong reservations about important aspects of The 1619 Project. The project is intended to offer a new version of American history in which slavery and white supremacy become the dominant organizing themes. The Times has announced ambitious plans to make the project available to schools in the form of curriculums and related instructional material.

We applaud all efforts to address the enduring centrality of slavery and racism to our history. Some of us have devoted our entire professional lives to those efforts, and all of us have worked hard to advance them. Raising profound, unsettling questions about slavery and the nation’s past and present, as The 1619 Project does, is a praiseworthy and urgent public service. Nevertheless, we are dismayed at some of the factual errors in the project and the closed process behind it.

These errors, which concern major events, cannot be described as interpretation or “framing.” They are matters of verifiable fact, which are the foundation of both honest scholarship and honest journalism. They suggest a displacement of historical understanding by ideology. Dismissal of objections on racial grounds — that they are the objections of only “white historians” — has affirmed that displacement.

On the American Revolution, pivotal to any account of our history, the project asserts that the founders declared the colonies’ independence of Britain “in order to ensure slavery would continue.” This is not true. If supportable, the allegation would be astounding — yet every statement offered by the project to validate it is false. Some of the other material in the project is distorted, including the claim that “for the most part,” black Americans have fought their freedom struggles “alone.”

Still other material is misleading. The project criticizes Abraham Lincoln’s views on racial equality but ignores his conviction that the Declaration of Independence proclaimed universal equality, for blacks as well as whites, a view he upheld repeatedly against powerful white supremacists who opposed him. The project also ignores Lincoln’s agreement with Frederick Douglass that the Constitution was, in Douglass’s words, “a GLORIOUS LIBERTY DOCUMENT.” Instead, the project asserts that the United States was founded on racial slavery, an argument rejected by a majority of abolitionists and proclaimed by champions of slavery like John C. Calhoun.

The 1619 Project has not been presented as the views of individual writers — views that in some cases, as on the supposed direct connections between slavery and modern corporate practices, have so far failed to establish any empirical veracity or reliability and have been seriously challenged by other historians. Instead, the project is offered as an authoritative account that bears the imprimatur and credibility of The New York Times. Those connected with the project have assured the public that its materials were shaped by a panel of historians and have been scrupulously fact-checked. Yet the process remains opaque. The names of only some of the historians involved have been released, and the extent of their involvement as “consultants” and fact checkers remains vague. The selective transparency deepens our concern.

We ask that The Times, according to its own high standards of accuracy and truth, issue prominent corrections of all the errors and distortions presented in The 1619 Project. We also ask for the removal of these mistakes from any materials destined for use in schools, as well as in all further publications, including books bearing the name of The New York Times. We ask finally that The Times reveal fully the process through which the historical materials were and continue to be assembled, checked and authenticated.

Sincerely,

Victoria Bynum, distinguished emerita professor of history, Texas State University;
James M. McPherson, George Henry Davis 1886 emeritus professor of American history, Princeton University;
James Oakes, distinguished professor, the Graduate Center, the City University of New York;
Sean Wilentz, George Henry Davis 1886 professor of American history, Princeton University;
Gordon S. Wood, Alva O. Wade University emeritus professor and emeritus professor of history, Brown University.

Jake Silverstein, the editor-in-chief of the New York Times Magazine, responded to the letter from the five historians.

He wrote:

Editor’s response: 

Since The 1619 Project was published in August, we have received a great deal of feedback from readers, many of them educators, academics and historians. A majority have reacted positively to the project, but there have also been criticisms. Some I would describe as constructive, noting episodes we might have overlooked; others have treated the work more harshly. We are happy to accept all of this input, as it helps us continue to think deeply about the subject of slavery and its legacy.

The letter from Professors Bynum, McPherson, Oakes, Wilentz and Wood differs from the previous critiques we have received in that it contains the first major request for correction. We are familiar with the objections of the letter writers, as four of them have been interviewed in recent months by the World Socialist Web Site. We’re glad for a chance to respond directly to some of their objections.

Though we respect the work of the signatories, appreciate that they are motivated by scholarly concern and applaud the efforts they have made in their own writings to illuminate the nation’s past, we disagree with their claim that our project contains significant factual errors and is driven by ideology rather than historical understanding. While we welcome criticism, we don’t believe that the request for corrections to The 1619 Project is warranted.

The project was intended to address the marginalization of African-American history in the telling of our national story and examine the legacy of slavery in contemporary American life. We are not ourselves historians, it is true. We are journalists, trained to look at current events and situations and ask the question: Why is this the way it is? In the case of the persistent racism and inequality that plague this country, the answer to that question led us inexorably into the past — and not just for this project. The project’s creator, Nikole Hannah-Jones, a staff writer at the magazine, has consistently used history to inform her journalism, primarily in her work on educational segregation (work for which she has been recognized with numerous honors, including a MacArthur Fellowship).

Though we may not be historians, we take seriously the responsibility of accurately presenting history to readers of The New York Times. The letter writers express concern about a “closed process” and an opaque “panel of historians,” so I’d like to make clear the steps we took. We did not assemble a formal panel for this project. Instead, during the early stages of development, we consulted with numerous scholars of African-American history and related fields, in a group meeting at The Times as well as in a series of individual conversations. (Five of those who initially consulted with us — Mehrsa Baradaran of the University of California, Irvine; Matthew Desmond and Kevin M. Kruse, both of Princeton University; and Tiya Miles and Khalil G. Muhammad, both of Harvard University — went on to publish articles in the issue.) After those consultations, writers conducted their own research, reading widely, examining primary documents and artifacts and interviewing historians. Finally, during the fact-checking process, our researchers carefully reviewed all the articles in the issue with subject-area experts. This is no different from what we do on any article.

As the five letter writers well know, there are often debates, even among subject-area experts, about how to see the past. Historical understanding is not fixed; it is constantly being adjusted by new scholarship and new voices. Within the world of academic history, differing views exist, if not over what precisely happened, then about why it happened, who made it happen, how to interpret the motivations of historical actors and what it all means.

The passages cited in the letter, regarding the causes of the American Revolution and the attitudes toward black equality of Abraham Lincoln, are good examples of this. Both are found in the lead essay by Hannah-Jones. We can hardly claim to have studied the Revolutionary period as long as some of the signatories, nor do we presume to tell them anything they don’t already know, but I think it would be useful for readers to hear why we believe that Hannah-Jones’s claim that “one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery” is grounded in the historical record.

The work of various historians, among them David Waldstreicher and Alfred W. and Ruth G. Blumrosen, supports the contention that uneasiness among slaveholders in the colonies about growing antislavery sentiment in Britain and increasing imperial regulation helped motivate the Revolution. One main episode that these and other historians refer to is the landmark 1772 decision of the British high court in Somerset v. Stewart. The case concerned a British customs agent named Charles Stewart who bought an enslaved man named Somerset and took him to England, where he briefly escaped. Stewart captured Somerset and planned to sell him and ship him to Jamaica, only for the chief justice, Lord Mansfield, to declare this unlawful, because chattel slavery was not supported by English common law.

It is true, as Professor Wilentz has noted elsewhere, that the Somerset decision did not legally threaten slavery in the colonies, but the ruling caused a sensation nonetheless. Numerous colonial newspapers covered it and warned of the tyranny it represented. Multiple historians have pointed out that in part because of the Somerset case, slavery joined other issues in helping to gradually drive apart the patriots and their colonial governments. The British often tried to undermine the patriots by mocking their hypocrisy in fighting for liberty while keeping Africans in bondage, and colonial officials repeatedly encouraged enslaved people to seek freedom by fleeing to British lines. For their part, large numbers of the enslaved came to see the struggle as one between freedom and continued subjugation. As Waldstreicher writes, “The black-British alliance decisively pushed planters in these [Southern] states toward independence.”

The culmination of this was the Dunmore Proclamation, issued in late 1775 by the colonial governor of Virginia, which offered freedom to any enslaved person who fled his plantation and joined the British Army. A member of South Carolina’s delegation to the Continental Congress wrote that this act did more to sever the ties between Britain and its colonies “than any other expedient which could possibly have been thought of.” The historian Jill Lepore writes in her recent book, “These Truths: A History of the United States,” “Not the taxes and the tea, not the shots at Lexington and Concord, not the siege of Boston; rather, it was this act, Dunmore’s offer of freedom to slaves, that tipped the scales in favor of American independence.” And yet how many contemporary Americans have ever even heard of it? Enslaved people at the time certainly knew about it. During the Revolution, thousands sought freedom by taking refuge with British forces.

As for the question of Lincoln’s attitudes on black equality, the letter writers imply that Hannah-Jones was unfairly harsh toward our 16th president. Admittedly, in an essay that covered several centuries and ranged from the personal to the historical, she did not set out to explore in full his continually shifting ideas about abolition and the rights of black Americans. But she provides an important historical lesson by simply reminding the public, which tends to view Lincoln as a saint, that for much of his career, he believed that a necessary prerequisite for freedom would be a plan to encourage the four million formerly enslaved people to leave the country. To be sure, at the end of his life, Lincoln’s racial outlook had evolved considerably in the direction of real equality. Yet the story of abolition becomes more complicated, and more instructive, when readers understand that even the Great Emancipator was ambivalent about full black citizenship.

The letter writers also protest that Hannah-Jones, and the project’s authors more broadly, ignore Lincoln’s admiration, which he shared with Frederick Douglass, for the commitment to liberty espoused in the Constitution. This seems to me a more general point of dispute. The writers believe that the Revolution and the Constitution provided the framework for the eventual abolition of slavery and for the equality of black Americans, and that our project insufficiently credits both the founders and 19th-century Republican leaders like Lincoln, Thaddeus Stevens, Charles Sumner and others for their contributions toward achieving these goals.

It may be true that under a less egalitarian system of government, slavery would have continued for longer, but the United States was still one of the last nations in the Americas to abolish the institution — only Cuba and Brazil did so after us. And while our democratic system has certainly led to many progressive advances for the rights of minority groups over the past two centuries, these advances, as Hannah-Jones argues in her essay, have almost always come as a result of political and social struggles in which African-Americans have generally taken the lead, not as a working-out of the immanent logic of the Constitution.

And yet for all that, it is difficult to argue that equality has ever been truly achieved for black Americans — not in 1776, not in 1865, not in 1964, not in 2008 and not today. The very premise of The 1619 Project, in fact, is that many of the inequalities that continue to afflict the nation are a direct result of the unhealed wound created by 250 years of slavery and an additional century of second-class citizenship and white-supremacist terrorism inflicted on black people (together, those two periods account for 88 percent of our history since 1619). These inequalities were the starting point of our project — the facts that, to take just a few examples, black men are nearly six times as likely to wind up in prison as white men, or that black women are three times as likely to die in childbirth as white women, or that the median family wealth for white people is $171,000, compared with just $17,600 for black people. The rampant discrimination that black people continue to face across nearly every aspect of American life suggests that neither the framework of the Constitution nor the strenuous efforts of political leaders in the past and the present, both white and black, has yet been able to achieve the democratic ideals of the founding for all Americans.

This is an important discussion to have, and we are eager to see it continue. To that end, we are planning to host public conversations next year among academics with differing perspectives on American history. Good-faith critiques of our project only help us refine and improve it — an important goal for us now that we are in the process of expanding it into a book. For example, we have heard from several scholars who profess to admire the project a great deal but wish it had included some mention of African slavery in Spanish Florida during the century before 1619. Though we stand by the logic of marking the beginning of American slavery with the year it was introduced in the English colonies, this feedback has helped us think about the importance of considering the prehistory of the period our project addresses.

Valuable critiques may come from many sources. The letter misperceives our attitudes when it charges that we dismiss objections on racial grounds. This appears to be a reference not to anything published in The 1619 Project itself, but rather to a November Twitter post from Hannah-Jones in which she questioned whether “white historians” have always produced objective accounts of American history. As is so often the case on Twitter, context is important. In this instance, Hannah-Jones was responding to a post, since deleted, from another user claiming that many “white historians” objected to the project but were hesitant to speak up. In her reply, she was trying to make the point that for the most part, the history of this country has been told by white historians (some of whom, as in the case of the Dunning School, which grossly miseducated Americans about the history of Reconstruction for much of the 20th century, produced accounts that were deeply flawed), and that to truly understand the fullness and complexity of our nation’s story, we need a greater variety of voices doing the telling.

That, above all, is what we hoped our project would do: expand the reader’s sense of the American past. (This is how some educators are using it to supplement their teaching of United States history.) That is what the letter writers have done, in different ways, over the course of their distinguished careers and in their many books. Though we may disagree on some important matters, we are grateful for their input and their interest in discussing these fundamental questions about the country’s history.

Sincerely,


Jake Silverstein
Editor in chief

Adam Serwer reviewed the debate and wrote this in his article in The Atlantic:

In fact, the harshness of the Wilentz letter may obscure the extent to which its authors and the creators of the 1619 Project share a broad historical vision. Both sides agree, as many of the project’s right-wing critics do not, that slavery’s legacy still shapes American life—an argument that is less radical than it may appear at first glance. If you think anti-black racism still shapes American society, then you are in agreement with the thrust of the 1619 Project, though not necessarily with all of its individual arguments.

The clash between the Times authors and their historian critics represents a fundamental disagreement over the trajectory of American society. Was America founded as a slavocracy, and are current racial inequities the natural outgrowth of that? Or was America conceived in liberty, a nation haltingly redeeming itself through its founding principles? These are not simple questions to answer, because the nation’s pro-slavery and anti-slavery tendencies are so closely intertwined.

The letter is rooted in a vision of American history as a slow, uncertain march toward a more perfect union. The 1619 Project, and Hannah-Jones’s introductory essay in particular, offer a darker vision of the nation, in which Americans have made less progress than they think, and in which black people continue to struggle indefinitely for rights they may never fully realize. Inherent in that vision is a kind of pessimism, not about black struggle but about the sincerity and viability of white anti-racism. It is a harsh verdict, and one of the reasons the 1619 Project has provoked pointed criticism alongside praise.

In light of this debate, should The 1619 Project be used as a resource in teaching American history or should it be banned, as several states are now intending to do? I will address that question in the next post.

A series of essays called The 1619 Project was published in August 2019 by The New York Times Magazine, the nation’s most prestigious newspaper. Its primary organizer was Nikole Hannah-Jones, a highly experienced journalist who won a MacArthur award in 2017 and received the Pulitzer Prize in 2020 for The 1619 Project. The 1619 Project asserts that the history of America began with the arrival of slaves in that year. Hannah-Jones, in her introductory essay, argues that the United States was not a democracy until the civil rights struggles of blacks made it so. Her essays has the subtitle “Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written; Black Americans have fought to make them true.”

The 1619 Project encountered a buzzsaw of criticism, some from distinguished historians who disagreed with some of its central premises (I will post their critique). It also outraged President Trump, who saw it as a great opportunity to unleash a culture war to defend “traditional” American values. In the final days of his administration, Trump appointed a “1776 Commission,” which recommended that American history should be taught in a way that would inspire patriotism and pride. Although there is no evidence that Republican state legislators read any part of The 1619 Project, they painted it as a demonic anti-American tirade that had to be banned from the schools.

Legislatures in Republican-controlled states began passing bans on teaching The 1619 Project and “critical race theory.” The Texas legislature recently proposed to restrict how teachers discuss current events, bar students from receiving course credit for civic engagement and, in the words of advocates, restore the role of “traditional history” to its rightful place of primacy by emphasizing the nation’s noble ideals, rather than its centuries-long record of failing to live up to them. Other states are devising similar legislation to assure that students learn only “patriotic” history.

I am reposting Nikole Hannah-Jones’ essay here, so you can reach your own judgment. I hope you will take the time to read it in full. While you may disagree with some of her interpretive statements (was the American Revolution intended to preserve slavery from the growing abolitionist spirit in England? Is racism part of the American DNA?). Her account of the history of blacks in America is very different from what appears in high school textbooks.

Whether or not you agree with her interpretations, you should inform yourself by reading her essay. Trump, the governors and legislatures of Red states do not want students to be informed about black history. Debate her views, please, but read them first.

Nikole Hannah-Jones writes:

My dad always flew an American flag in our front yard. The blue paint on our two-story house was perennially chipping; the fence, or the rail by the stairs, or the front door, existed in a perpetual state of disrepair, but that flag always flew pristine. Our corner lot, which had been redlined by the federal government, was along the river that divided the black side from the white side of our Iowa town. At the edge of our lawn, high on an aluminum pole, soared the flag, which my dad would replace as soon as it showed the slightest tatter.

My dad was born into a family of sharecroppers on a white plantation in Greenwood, Miss., where black people bent over cotton from can’t-see-in-the-morning to can’t-see-at-night, just as their enslaved ancestors had done not long before. The Mississippi of my dad’s youth was an apartheid state that subjugated its near-majority black population through breathtaking acts of violence. White residents in Mississippi lynched more black people than those in any other state in the country, and the white people in my dad’s home county lynched more black residents than those in any other county in Mississippi, often for such “crimes” as entering a room occupied by white women, bumping into a white girl or trying to start a sharecroppers union. My dad’s mother, like all the black people in Greenwood, could not vote, use the public library or find work other than toiling in the cotton fields or toiling in white people’s houses. So in the 1940s, she packed up her few belongings and her three small children and joined the flood of black Southerners fleeing North. She got off the Illinois Central Railroad in Waterloo, Iowa, only to have her hopes of the mythical Promised Land shattered when she learned that Jim Crow did not end at the Mason-Dixon line.

Grandmama, as we called her, found a house in a segregated black neighborhood on the city’s east side and then found the work that was considered black women’s work no matter where black women lived — cleaning white people’s houses. Dad, too, struggled to find promise in this land. In 1962, at age 17, he signed up for the Army. Like many young men, he joined in hopes of escaping poverty. But he went into the military for another reason as well, a reason common to black men: Dad hoped that if he served his country, his country might finally treat him as an American.

The 1619 Project is an ongoing initiative from The New York Times Magazine that began in August 2019, the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative. Read all the stories.

The Army did not end up being his way out. He was passed over for opportunities, his ambition stunted. He would be discharged under murky circumstances and then labor in a series of service jobs for the rest of his life. Like all the black men and women in my family, he believed in hard work, but like all the black men and women in my family, no matter how hard he worked, he never got ahead.

So when I was young, that flag outside our home never made sense to me. How could this black man, having seen firsthand the way his country abused black Americans, how it refused to treat us as full citizens, proudly fly its banner? I didn’t understand his patriotism. It deeply embarrassed me.

I had been taught, in school, through cultural osmosis, that the flag wasn’t really ours, that our history as a people began with enslavement and that we had contributed little to this great nation. It seemed that the closest thing black Americans could have to cultural pride was to be found in our vague connection to Africa, a place we had never been. That my dad felt so much honor in being an American felt like a marker of his degradation, his acceptance of our subordination.

Like most young people, I thought I understood so much, when in fact I understood so little. My father knew exactly what he was doing when he raised that flag. He knew that our people’s contributions to building the richest and most powerful nation in the world were indelible, that the United States simply would not exist without us.

In August 1619, just 12 years after the English settled Jamestown, Va., one year before the Puritans landed at Plymouth Rock and some 157 years before the English colonists even decided they wanted to form their own country, the Jamestown colonists bought 20 to 30 enslaved Africans from English pirates. The pirates had stolen them from a Portuguese slave ship that had forcibly taken them from what is now the country of Angola. Those men and women who came ashore on that August day were the beginning of American slavery. They were among the 12.5 million Africans who would be kidnapped from their homes and brought in chains across the Atlantic Ocean in the largest forced migration in human history until the Second World War. Almost two million did not survive the grueling journey, known as the Middle Passage.

Before the abolishment of the international slave trade, 400,000 enslaved Africans would be sold into America. Those individuals and their descendants transformed the lands to which they’d been brought into some of the most successful colonies in the British Empire. Through backbreaking labor, they cleared the land across the Southeast. They taught the colonists to grow rice. They grew and picked the cotton that at the height of slavery was the nation’s most valuable commodity, accounting for half of all American exports and 66 percent of the world’s supply. They built the plantations of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, sprawling properties that today attract thousands of visitors from across the globe captivated by the history of the world’s greatest democracy. They laid the foundations of the White House and the Capitol, even placing with their unfree hands the Statue of Freedom atop the Capitol dome. They lugged the heavy wooden tracks of the railroads that crisscrossed the South and that helped take the cotton they picked to the Northern textile mills, fueling the Industrial Revolution. They built vast fortunes for white people North and South — at one time, the second-richest man in the nation was a Rhode Island “slave trader.” Profits from black people’s stolen labor helped the young nation pay off its war debts and financed some of our most prestigious universities. It was the relentless buying, selling, insuring and financing of their bodies and the products of their labor that made Wall Street a thriving banking, insurance and trading sector and New York City the financial capital of the world.

But it would be historically inaccurate to reduce the contributions of black people to the vast material wealth created by our bondage. Black Americans have also been, and continue to be, foundational to the idea of American freedom. More than any other group in this country’s history, we have served, generation after generation, in an overlooked but vital role: It is we who have been the perfecters of this democracy.

The United States is a nation founded on both an ideal and a lie. Our Declaration of Independence, approved on July 4, 1776, proclaims that “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” But the white men who drafted those words did not believe them to be true for the hundreds of thousands of black people in their midst. “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” did not apply to fully one-fifth of the country. Yet despite being violently denied the freedom and justice promised to all, black Americans believed fervently in the American creed. Through centuries of black resistance and protest, we have helped the country live up to its founding ideals. And not only for ourselves — black rights struggles paved the way for every other rights struggle, including women’s and gay rights, immigrant and disability rights.

Without the idealistic, strenuous and patriotic efforts of black Americans, our democracy today would most likely look very different — it might not be a democracy at all.

The very first person to die for this country in the American Revolution was a black man who himself was not free. Crispus Attucks was a fugitive from slavery, yet he gave his life for a new nation in which his own people would not enjoy the liberties laid out in the Declaration for another century. In every war this nation has waged since that first one, black Americans have fought — today we are the most likely of all racial groups to serve in the United States military.

My father, one of those many black Americans who answered the call, knew what it would take me years to understand: that the year 1619 is as important to the American story as 1776. That black Americans, as much as those men cast in alabaster in the nation’s capital, are this nation’s true “founding fathers.” And that no people has a greater claim to that flag than us.

In June 1776, Thomas Jefferson sat at his portable writing desk in a rented room in Philadelphia and penned these words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” For the last 243 years, this fierce assertion of the fundamental and natural rights of humankind to freedom and self-governance has defined our global reputation as a land of liberty. As Jefferson composed his inspiring words, however, a teenage boy who would enjoy none of those rights and liberties waited nearby to serve at his master’s beck and call. His name was Robert Hemings, and he was the half brother of Jefferson’s wife, born to Martha Jefferson’s father and a woman he owned. It was common for white enslavers to keep their half-black children in slavery. Jefferson had chosen Hemings, from among about 130 enslaved people that worked on the forced-labor camp he called Monticello, to accompany him to Philadelphia and ensure his every comfort as he drafted the text making the case for a new democratic republic based on the individual rights of men.

At the time, one-fifth of the population within the 13 colonies struggled under a brutal system of slavery unlike anything that had existed in the world before. Chattel slavery was not conditional but racial. It was heritable and permanent, not temporary, meaning generations of black people were born into it and passed their enslaved status onto their children. Enslaved people were not recognized as human beings but as property that could be mortgaged, traded, bought, sold, used as collateral, given as a gift and disposed of violently. Jefferson’s fellow white colonists knew that black people were human beings, but they created a network of laws and customs, astounding for both their precision and cruelty, that ensured that enslaved people would never be treated as such. As the abolitionist William Goodell wrote in 1853, “If any thing founded on falsehood might be called a science, we might add the system of American slavery to the list of the strict sciences.”

[Listen to a new podcast with Nikole Hannah-Jones that tells the story of slavery and its legacy like you’ve never heard it before.]

Enslaved people could not legally marry. They were barred from learning to read and restricted from meeting privately in groups. They had no claim to their own children, who could be bought, sold and traded away from them on auction blocks alongside furniture and cattle or behind storefronts that advertised “Negroes for Sale.” Enslavers and the courts did not honor kinship ties to mothers, siblings, cousins. In most courts, they had no legal standing. Enslavers could rape or murder their property without legal consequence. Enslaved people could own nothing, will nothing and inherit nothing. They were legally tortured, including by those working for Jefferson himself. They could be worked to death, and often were, in order to produce the highest profits for the white people who owned them.

Yet in making the argument against Britain’s tyranny, one of the colonists’ favorite rhetorical devices was to claim that they were the slaves — to Britain. For this duplicity, they faced burning criticism both at home and abroad. As Samuel Johnson, an English writer and Tory opposed to American independence, quipped, “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of Negroes?”

Conveniently left out of our founding mythology is the fact that one of the primary reasons some of the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery. By 1776, Britain had grown deeply conflicted over its role in the barbaric institution that had reshaped the Western Hemisphere. In London, there were growing calls to abolish the slave trade. This would have upended the economy of the colonies, in both the North and the South. The wealth and prominence that allowed Jefferson, at just 33, and the other founding fathers to believe they could successfully break off from one of the mightiest empires in the world came from the dizzying profits generated by chattel slavery. In other words, we may never have revolted against Britain if some of the founders had not understood that slavery empowered them to do so; nor if they had not believed that independence was required in order to ensure that slavery would continue. It is not incidental that 10 of this nation’s first 12 presidents were enslavers, and some might argue that this nation was founded not as a democracy but as a slavocracy.

Jefferson and the other founders were keenly aware of this hypocrisy. And so in Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration of Independence, he tried to argue that it wasn’t the colonists’ fault. Instead, he blamed the king of England for forcing the institution of slavery on the unwilling colonists and called the trafficking in human beings a crime. Yet neither Jefferson nor most of the founders intended to abolish slavery, and in the end, they struck the passage.

There is no mention of slavery in the final Declaration of Independence. Similarly, 11 years later, when it came time to draft the Constitution, the framers carefully constructed a document that preserved and protected slavery without ever using the word. In the texts in which they were making the case for freedom to the world, they did not want to explicitly enshrine their hypocrisy, so they sought to hide it. The Constitution contains 84 clauses. Six deal directly with the enslaved and their enslavement, as the historian David Waldstreicher has written, and five more hold implications for slavery. The Constitution protected the “property” of those who enslaved black people, prohibited the federal government from intervening to end the importation of enslaved Africans for a term of 20 years, allowed Congress to mobilize the militia to put down insurrections by the enslaved and forced states that had outlawed slavery to turn over enslaved people who had run away seeking refuge. Like many others, the writer and abolitionist Samuel Bryan called out the deceit, saying of the Constitution, “The words are dark and ambiguous; such as no plain man of common sense would have used, [and] are evidently chosen to conceal from Europe, that in this enlightened country, the practice of slavery has its advocates among men in the highest stations.”

With independence, the founding fathers could no longer blame slavery on Britain. The sin became this nation’s own, and so, too, the need to cleanse it. The shameful paradox of continuing chattel slavery in a nation founded on individual freedom, scholars today assert, led to a hardening of the racial caste system. This ideology, reinforced not just by laws but by racist science and literature, maintained that black people were subhuman, a belief that allowed white Americans to live with their betrayal. By the early 1800s, according to the legal historians Leland B. Ware, Robert J. Cottrol and Raymond T. Diamond, white Americans, whether they engaged in slavery or not, “had a considerable psychological as well as economic investment in the doctrine of black inferiority.” While liberty was the inalienable right of the people who would be considered white, enslavement and subjugation became the natural station of people who had any discernible drop of “black” blood.

The Supreme Court enshrined this thinking in the law in its 1857 Dred Scott decision, ruling that black people, whether enslaved or free, came from a “slave” race. This made them inferior to white people and, therefore, incompatible with American democracy. Democracy was for citizens, and the “Negro race,” the court ruled, was “a separate class of persons,” which the founders had “not regarded as a portion of the people or citizens of the Government” and had “no rights which a white man was bound to respect.” This belief, that black people were not merely enslaved but were a slave race, became the root of the endemic racism that we still cannot purge from this nation to this day. If black people could not ever be citizens, if they were a caste apart from all other humans, then they did not require the rights bestowed by the Constitution, and the “we” in the “We the People” was not a lie.

On Aug. 14, 1862, a mere five years after the nation’s highest courts declared that no black person could be an American citizen, President Abraham Lincoln called a group of five esteemed free black men to the White House for a meeting. It was one of the few times that black people had ever been invited to the White House as guests. The Civil War had been raging for more than a year, and black abolitionists, who had been increasingly pressuring Lincoln to end slavery, must have felt a sense of great anticipation and pride.

The war was not going well for Lincoln. Britain was contemplating whether to intervene on the Confederacy’s behalf, and Lincoln, unable to draw enough new white volunteers for the war, was forced to reconsider his opposition to allowing black Americans to fight for their own liberation. The president was weighing a proclamation that threatened to emancipate all enslaved people in the states that had seceded from the Union if the states did not end the rebellion. The proclamation would also allow the formerly enslaved to join the Union army and fight against their former “masters.” But Lincoln worried about what the consequences of this radical step would be. Like many white Americans, he opposed slavery as a cruel system at odds with American ideals, but he also opposed black equality. He believed that free black people were a “troublesome presence” incompatible with a democracy intended only for white people. “Free them, and make them politically and socially our equals?” he had said four years earlier. “My own feelings will not admit of this; and if mine would, we well know that those of the great mass of white people will not.”

That August day, as the men arrived at the White House, they were greeted by the towering Lincoln and a man named James Mitchell, who eight days before had been given the title of a newly created position called the commissioner of emigration. This was to be his first assignment. After exchanging a few niceties, Lincoln got right to it. He informed his guests that he had gotten Congress to appropriate funds to ship black people, once freed, to another country.

“Why should they leave this country? This is, perhaps, the first question for proper consideration,” Lincoln told them. “You and we are different races. … Your race suffer very greatly, many of them, by living among us, while ours suffer from your presence. In a word, we suffer on each side.”

You can imagine the heavy silence in that room, as the weight of what the president said momentarily stole the breath of these five black men. It was 243 years to the month since the first of their ancestors had arrived on these shores, before Lincoln’s family, long before most of the white people insisting that this was not their country. The Union had not entered the war to end slavery but to keep the South from splitting off, yet black men had signed up to fight. Enslaved people were fleeing their forced-labor camps, which we like to call plantations, trying to join the effort, serving as spies, sabotaging confederates, taking up arms for his cause as well as their own. And now Lincoln was blaming them for the war. “Although many men engaged on either side do not care for you one way or the other … without the institution of slavery and the colored race as a basis, the war could not have an existence,” the president told them. “It is better for us both, therefore, to be separated.”

As Lincoln closed the remarks, Edward Thomas, the delegation’s chairman, informed the president, perhaps curtly, that they would consult on his proposition. “Take your full time,” Lincoln said. “No hurry at all.”

Nearly three years after that White House meeting, Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox. By summer, the Civil War was over, and four million black Americans were suddenly free. Contrary to Lincoln’s view, most were not inclined to leave, agreeing with the sentiment of a resolution against black colonization put forward at a convention of black leaders in New York some decades before: “This is our home, and this our country. Beneath its sod lie the bones of our fathers. … Here we were born, and here we will die.”

That the formerly enslaved did not take up Lincoln’s offer to abandon these lands is an astounding testament to their belief in this nation’s founding ideals. As W.E.B. Du Bois wrote, “Few men ever worshiped Freedom with half such unquestioning faith as did the American Negro for two centuries.” Black Americans had long called for universal equality and believed, as the abolitionist Martin Delany said, “that God has made of one blood all the nations that dwell on the face of the earth.” Liberated by war, then, they did not seek vengeance on their oppressors as Lincoln and so many other white Americans feared. They did the opposite. During this nation’s brief period of Reconstruction, from 1865 to 1877, formerly enslaved people zealously engaged with the democratic process. With federal troops tempering widespread white violence, black Southerners started branches of the Equal Rights League — one of the nation’s first human rights organizations — to fight discrimination and organize voters; they headed in droves to the polls, where they placed other formerly enslaved people into seats that their enslavers had once held. The South, for the first time in the history of this country, began to resemble a democracy, with black Americans elected to local, state and federal offices. Some 16 black men served in Congress — including Hiram Revels of Mississippi, who became the first black man elected to the Senate. (Demonstrating just how brief this period would be, Revels, along with Blanche Bruce, would go from being the first black man elected to the last for nearly a hundred years, until Edward Brooke of Massachusetts took office in 1967.) More than 600 black men served in Southern state legislatures and hundreds more in local positions.

These black officials joined with white Republicans, some of whom came down from the North, to write the most egalitarian state constitutions the South had ever seen. They helped pass more equitable tax legislation and laws that prohibited discrimination in public transportation, accommodation and housing. Perhaps their biggest achievement was the establishment of that most democratic of American institutions: the public school. Public education effectively did not exist in the South before Reconstruction. The white elite sent their children to private schools, while poor white children went without an education. But newly freed black people, who had been prohibited from learning to read and write during slavery, were desperate for an education. So black legislators successfully pushed for a universal, state-funded system of schools — not just for their own children but for white children, too. Black legislators also helped pass the first compulsory education laws in the region. Southern children, black and white, were now required to attend schools like their Northern counterparts. Just five years into Reconstruction, every Southern state had enshrined the right to a public education for all children into its constitution. In some states, like Louisiana and South Carolina, small numbers of black and white children, briefly, attended schools together.

Led by black activists and a Republican Party pushed left by the blatant recalcitrance of white Southerners, the years directly after slavery saw the greatest expansion of human and civil rights this nation would ever see. In 1865, Congress passed the 13th Amendment, making the United States one of the last nations in the Americas to outlaw slavery. The following year, black Americans, exerting their new political power, pushed white legislators to pass the Civil Rights Act, the nation’s first such law and one of the most expansive pieces of civil rights legislation Congress has ever passed. It codified black American citizenship for the first time, prohibited housing discrimination and gave all Americans the right to buy and inherit property, make and enforce contracts and seek redress from courts. In 1868, Congress ratified the 14th Amendment, ensuring citizenship to any person born in the United States. Today, thanks to this amendment, every child born here to a European, Asian, African, Latin American or Middle Eastern immigrant gains automatic citizenship. The 14th Amendment also, for the first time, constitutionally guaranteed equal protection under the law. Ever since, nearly all other marginalized groups have used the 14th Amendment in their fights for equality (including the recent successful arguments before the Supreme Court on behalf of same-sex marriage). Finally, in 1870, Congress passed the 15th Amendment, guaranteeing the most critical aspect of democracy and citizenship — the right to vote — to all men regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

For this fleeting moment known as Reconstruction, the majority in Congress seemed to embrace the idea that out of the ashes of the Civil War, we could create the multiracial democracy that black Americans envisioned even if our founding fathers did not.

But it would not last.

Anti-black racism runs in the very DNA of this country, as does the belief, so well articulated by Lincoln, that black people are the obstacle to national unity. The many gains of Reconstruction were met with fierce white resistance throughout the South, including unthinkable violence against the formerly enslaved, wide-scale voter suppression, electoral fraud and even, in some extreme cases, the overthrow of democratically elected biracial governments. Faced with this unrest, the federal government decided that black people were the cause of the problem and that for unity’s sake, it would leave the white South to its own devices. In 1877, President Rutherford B. Hayes, in order to secure a compromise with Southern Democrats that would grant him the presidency in a contested election, agreed to pull federal troops from the South. With the troops gone, white Southerners quickly went about eradicating the gains of Reconstruction. The systemic white suppression of black life was so severe that this period between the 1880s and the 1920 and ’30s became known as the Great Nadir, or the second slavery. Democracy would not return to the South for nearly a century.

White Southerners of all economic classes, on the other hand, thanks in significant part to the progressive policies and laws black people had championed, experienced substantial improvement in their lives even as they forced black people back into a quasi slavery. As Waters McIntosh, who had been enslaved in South Carolina, lamented, “It was the poor white man who was freed by the war, not the Negroes.”

Georgia pines flew past the windows of the Greyhound bus carrying Isaac Woodard home to Winnsboro, S.C. After serving four years in the Army in World War II, where Woodard had earned a battle star, he was given an honorable discharge earlier that day at Camp Gordon and was headed home to meet his wife. When the bus stopped at a small drugstore an hour outside Atlanta, Woodard got into a brief argument with the white driver after asking if he could use the restroom. About half an hour later, the driver stopped again and told Woodard to get off the bus. Crisp in his uniform, Woodard stepped from the stairs and saw the police waiting for him. Before he could speak, one of the officers struck him in his head with a billy club, beating him so badly that he fell unconscious. The blows to Woodard’s head were so severe that when he woke in a jail cell the next day, he could not see. The beating occurred just 4½ hours after his military discharge. At 26, Woodard would never see again.

There was nothing unusual about Woodard’s horrific maiming. It was part of a wave of systemic violence deployed against black Americans after Reconstruction, in both the North and the South. As the egalitarian spirit of post-Civil War America evaporated under the desire for national reunification, black Americans, simply by existing, served as a problematic reminder of this nation’s failings. White America dealt with this inconvenience by constructing a savagely enforced system of racial apartheid that excluded black people almost entirely from mainstream American life — a system so grotesque that Nazi Germany would later take inspiration from it for its own racist policies.

Despite the guarantees of equality in the 14th Amendment, the Supreme Court’s landmark Plessy v. Ferguson decision in 1896 declared that the racial segregation of black Americans was constitutional. With the blessing of the nation’s highest court and no federal will to vindicate black rights, starting in the late 1800s, Southern states passed a series of laws and codes meant to make slavery’s racial caste system permanent by denying black people political power, social equality and basic dignity. They passed literacy tests to keep black people from voting and created all-white primaries for elections. Black people were prohibited from serving on juries or testifying in court against a white person. South Carolina prohibited white and black textile workers from using the same doors. Oklahoma forced phone companies to segregate phone booths. Memphis had separate parking spaces for black and white drivers. Baltimore passed an ordinance outlawing black people from moving onto a block more than half white and white people from moving onto a block more than half black. Georgia made it illegal for black and white people to be buried next to one another in the same cemetery. Alabama barred black people from using public libraries that their own tax dollars were paying for. Black people were expected to jump off the sidewalk to let white people pass and call all white people by an honorific, though they received none no matter how old they were. In the North, white politicians implemented policies that segregated black people into slum neighborhoods and into inferior all-black schools, operated whites-only public pools and held white and “colored” days at the country fair, and white businesses regularly denied black people service, placing “Whites Only” signs in their windows. States like California joined Southern states in barring black people from marrying white people, while local school boards in Illinois and New Jersey mandated segregated schools for black and white children.

This caste system was maintained through wanton racial terrorism. And black veterans like Woodard, especially those with the audacity to wear their uniform, had since the Civil War been the target of a particular violence. This intensified during the two world wars because white people understood that once black men had gone abroad and experienced life outside the suffocating racial oppression of America, they were unlikely to quietly return to their subjugation at home. As Senator James K. Vardaman of Mississippi said on the Senate floor during World War I, black servicemen returning to the South would “inevitably lead to disaster.” Giving a black man “military airs” and sending him to defend the flag would bring him “to the conclusion that his political rights must be respected.”

Many white Americans saw black men in the uniforms of America’s armed services not as patriotic but as exhibiting a dangerous pride. Hundreds of black veterans were beaten, maimed, shot and lynched. We like to call those who lived during World War II the Greatest Generation, but that allows us to ignore the fact that many of this generation fought for democracy abroad while brutally suppressing democracy for millions of American citizens. During the height of racial terror in this country, black Americans were not merely killed but castrated, burned alive and dismembered with their body parts displayed in storefronts. This violence was meant to terrify and control black people, but perhaps just as important, it served as a psychological balm for white supremacy: You would not treat human beings this way. The extremity of the violence was a symptom of the psychological mechanism necessary to absolve white Americans of their country’s original sin. To answer the question of how they could prize liberty abroad while simultaneously denying liberty to an entire race back home, white Americans resorted to the same racist ideology that Jefferson and the framers had used at the nation’s founding.

This ideology — that black people belonged to an inferior, subhuman race — did not simply disappear once slavery ended. If the formerly enslaved and their descendants became educated, if we thrived in the jobs white people did, if we excelled in the sciences and arts, then the entire justification for how this nation allowed slavery would collapse. Free black people posed a danger to the country’s idea of itself as exceptional; we held up the mirror in which the nation preferred not to peer. And so the inhumanity visited on black people by every generation of white America justified the inhumanity of the past.

Just as white Americans feared, World War II ignited what became black Americans’ second sustained effort to make democracy real. As the editorial board of the black newspaper The Pittsburgh Courier wrote, “We wage a two-pronged attack against our enslavers at home and those abroad who will enslave us.” Woodard’s blinding is largely seen as one of the catalysts for the decades-long rebellion we have come to call the civil rights movement. But it is useful to pause and remember that this was the second mass movement for black civil rights, the first being Reconstruction. As the centennial of slavery’s end neared, black people were still seeking the rights they had fought for and won after the Civil War: the right to be treated equally by public institutions, which was guaranteed in 1866 with the Civil Rights Act; the right to be treated as full citizens before the law, which was guaranteed in 1868 by the 14th Amendment; and the right to vote, which was guaranteed in 1870 by the 15th Amendment. In response to black demands for these rights, white Americans strung them from trees, beat them and dumped their bodies in muddy rivers, assassinated them in their front yards, firebombed them on buses, mauled them with dogs, peeled back their skin with fire hoses and murdered their children with explosives set off inside a church.

For the most part, black Americans fought back alone. Yet we never fought only for ourselves. The bloody freedom struggles of the civil rights movement laid the foundation for every other modern rights struggle. This nation’s white founders set up a decidedly undemocratic Constitution that excluded women, Native Americans and black people, and did not provide the vote or equality for most Americans. But the laws born out of black resistance guarantee the franchise for all and ban discrimination based not just on race but on gender, nationality, religion and ability. It was the civil rights movement that led to the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which upended the racist immigration quota system intended to keep this country white. Because of black Americans, black and brown immigrants from across the globe are able to come to the United States and live in a country in which legal discrimination is no longer allowed. It is a truly American irony that some Asian-Americans, among the groups able to immigrate to the United States because of the black civil rights struggle, are now suing universities to end programs designed to help the descendants of the enslaved.

No one cherishes freedom more than those who have not had it. And to this day, black Americans, more than any other group, embrace the democratic ideals of a common good. We are the most likely to support programs like universal health care and a higher minimum wage, and to oppose programs that harm the most vulnerable. For instance, black Americans suffer the most from violent crime, yet we are the most opposed to capital punishment. Our unemployment rate is nearly twice that of white Americans, yet we are still the most likely of all groups to say this nation should take in refugees.

The truth is that as much democracy as this nation has today, it has been borne on the backs of black resistance. Our founding fathers may not have actually believed in the ideals they espoused, but black people did. As one scholar, Joe R. Feagin, put it, “Enslaved African-Americans have been among the foremost freedom-fighters this country has produced.” For generations, we have believed in this country with a faith it did not deserve. Black people have seen the worst of America, yet, somehow, we still believe in its best.

They say our people were born on the water.

When it occurred, no one can say for certain. Perhaps it was in the second week, or the third, but surely by the fourth, when they had not seen their land or any land for so many days that they lost count. It was after fear had turned to despair, and despair to resignation, and resignation to an abiding understanding. The teal eternity of the Atlantic Ocean had severed them so completely from what had once been their home that it was as if nothing had ever existed before, as if everything and everyone they cherished had simply vanished from the earth. They were no longer Mbundu or Akan or Fulani. These men and women from many different nations, all shackled together in the suffocating hull of the ship, they were one people now.

Just a few months earlier, they had families, and farms, and lives and dreams. They were free. They had names, of course, but their enslavers did not bother to record them. They had been made black by those people who believed that they were white, and where they were heading, black equaled “slave,” and slavery in America required turning human beings into property by stripping them of every element that made them individuals. This process was called seasoning, in which people stolen from western and central Africa were forced, often through torture, to stop speaking their native tongues and practicing their native religions.

But as the sociologist Glenn Bracey wrote, “Out of the ashes of white denigration, we gave birth to ourselves.” For as much as white people tried to pretend, black people were not chattel. And so the process of seasoning, instead of erasing identity, served an opposite purpose: In the void, we forged a new culture all our own.

Today, our very manner of speaking recalls the Creole languages that enslaved people innovated in order to communicate both with Africans speaking various dialects and the English-speaking people who enslaved them. Our style of dress, the extra flair, stems back to the desires of enslaved people — shorn of all individuality — to exert their own identity. Enslaved people would wear their hat in a jaunty manner or knot their head scarves intricately. Today’s avant-garde nature of black hairstyles and fashion displays a vibrant reflection of enslaved people’s determination to feel fully human through self-expression. The improvisational quality of black art and music comes from a culture that because of constant disruption could not cling to convention. Black naming practices, so often impugned by mainstream society, are themselves an act of resistance. Our last names belong to the white people who once owned us. That is why the insistence of many black Americans, particularly those most marginalized, to give our children names that we create, that are neither European nor from Africa, a place we have never been, is an act of self-determination. When the world listens to quintessential American music, it is our voice they hear. The sorrow songs we sang in the fields to soothe our physical pain and find hope in a freedom we did not expect to know until we died became American gospel. Amid the devastating violence and poverty of the Mississippi Delta, we birthed jazz and blues. And it was in the deeply impoverished and segregated neighborhoods where white Americans forced the descendants of the enslaved to live that teenagers too poor to buy instruments used old records to create a new music known as hip-hop.

Our speech and fashion and the drum of our music echoes Africa but is not African. Out of our unique isolation, both from our native cultures and from white America, we forged this nation’s most significant original culture. In turn, “mainstream” society has coveted our style, our slang and our song, seeking to appropriate the one truly American culture as its own. As Langston Hughes wrote in 1926, “They’ll see how beautiful I am/And be ashamed —/I, too, am America.”

For centuries, white Americans have been trying to solve the “Negro problem.” They have dedicated thousands of pages to this endeavor. It is common, still, to point to rates of black poverty, out-of-wedlock births, crime and college attendance, as if these conditions in a country built on a racial caste system are not utterly predictable. But crucially, you cannot view those statistics while ignoring another: that black people were enslaved here longer than we have been free.

At 43, I am part of the first generation of black Americans in the history of the United States to be born into a society in which black people had full rights of citizenship. Black people suffered under slavery for 250 years; we have been legally “free” for just 50. Yet in that briefest of spans, despite continuing to face rampant discrimination, and despite there never having been a genuine effort to redress the wrongs of slavery and the century of racial apartheid that followed, black Americans have made astounding progress, not only for ourselves but also for all Americans.

What if America understood, finally, in this 400th year, that we have never been the problem but the solution?

When I was a child — I must have been in fifth or sixth grade — a teacher gave our class an assignment intended to celebrate the diversity of the great American melting pot. She instructed each of us to write a short report on our ancestral land and then draw that nation’s flag. As she turned to write the assignment on the board, the other black girl in class locked eyes with me. Slavery had erased any connection we had to an African country, and even if we tried to claim the whole continent, there was no “African” flag. It was hard enough being one of two black kids in the class, and this assignment would just be another reminder of the distance between the white kids and us. In the end, I walked over to the globe near my teacher’s desk, picked a random African country and claimed it as my own.

I wish, now, that I could go back to the younger me and tell her that her people’s ancestry started here, on these lands, and to boldly, proudly, draw the stars and those stripes of the American flag.

We were told once, by virtue of our bondage, that we could never be American. But it was by virtue of our bondage that we became the most American of all.

Julian Vasquez Heilig, T. Jameson Brewer, and Frank Adamson recently published an analysis of the neoliberal roots of school choice and its spillover into research on school choice.

They begin:

To conceptualize the politics of research on school choice, it is important to first discuss the politics of market- based approaches within the broader purview of public policy. Modern notions of “markets” and “choice” in schooling stem from the libertarian ideas Milton Friedman espoused in the 1950s. As these ideologies escalated in the 1980s under neoliberal theory and Republican orthodoxy, the argument that parents should have choice between competing schools within an education market with little regulation began to crack the public schoolhouse door, allowing an influx of private school vouchers and charter schools.

The ideology of a competitive education market supposes that competition and deregulation are necessary and fundamentally positive forces that will “fix” the “failed” public school sector (Vasquez Heilig, 2013). Mundy and Murphy (2000) argued that to build public support for their approaches, neoliberal proponents focus on three organizing economic rationales: 1) efficiency, 2) the axis of competition- choice- quality, and 3) the apparent scarcity of resources. On the supply side, neoliberals argue that private firms deliver goods and services more efficiently than the government. On the demand side, neoliberals “promote competition as a means to deliver more consumer choice, which theoretically leads to higher quality products” (Adamson & Astrand, 2016, p. 9).

Because school choice is a policy prescription, research and evaluation often follow soon after the policies are implemented. In theory, new reforms should be piloted, researched, and then deter-mined to what extent they can— or should— be scaled. School choice advocates work backward: They conduct multiple experiments on communities in an attempt to justify a policy rooted in ideology rather than empirical evidence. In fact, Lubienski and Weitzel (2010) found that many states passed laws supporting charter school expansion at a faster rate than they could build the schools and faster than the normal research cycle needed to determine their effectiveness. Furthermore, this ideology presupposes the efficiency and effectiveness of educational markets, requiring education to be understood as an individualistic good rather than a public one.

The dichotomy between the concepts of a “public” or a “private” good rests at the center of school choice approaches. The idea of education as a public, or common, good views it through the lens of the collective and, theoretically, ensures equal access and equitable experiences. Conceptions of education as a common good— in the same way we conceptualize, say, police/ fire services, public libraries, and public roads— stem from the understanding that individuals in society share an obligation to one another, and if we collectively focus on improvement, we collectively benefit.

The contrasting view is the ideology rooted in Friedman’s (1955) rugged individualism, with a limited conception of public or common goods. According to Friedman, there is little collective obligation to one another, and a self- interested focus on personal improvement will, theoretically, improve the collective. Note that within this theory, the byproduct of collective improvement is not necessarily a result of a spillover from the individual to the collective; rather, through hyper- individualistic accountability, everyone for him or herself, the improvement of individuals will, taken as a whole, represent the improvement of the masses. The conceptualization of education as an individualistic good— a commodity to be bought, sold, and traded in educational markets— requires a reliance on a theory of meritocracy, whereby success is “attainable” through education and “hard work.” By definition, success is the result of making use of such things. Poverty, then, becomes evidence of poor choices and a failure to pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps rather than an economically produced phenomenon. This myth that associates hard work with morals not only allows for the crass dismissal of systemic poverty and racism endemic in American society, but also informs how we conceive of educational choices within an educational marketplace. School “choice” systems in education further exacerbate individualistic accountability while also reinforcing the façade that success or poverty is a choice between working hard or failing to seize an opportunity. That is, if the choice exists for a “better” education in a charter school or by use of a school voucher, then generational poverty shifts the locus of accountability to the individual and family for failure to take advantage of the choice. Put simply, the presence of additional choices in education redefines public policy failures not as collective ones but as individualistic failures understood through deficit ideologies.

Considering the underlying politics of school choice, it is important to examine the ramifications of neoliberal and collective ideology on market- based school choice research. In this chapter, we point out that ideologically driven, neoliberal organizations push a sector of research suggesting positive findings of school choice models. We begin with a synthesis of the pertinent literature on the conceptions and funding of market- based school choice research. Next, we discuss the role of the production and politics of market- based school choice research in conceptualizing the current educational policy environment. In the third section, we delve into the politics of the use of market- based school choice research, focusing on the community level. We conclude by discussing the implications of how the comingling of ideology, methods, and funding informs the public discourse about market- based school choice and fits into the larger conversation about education reform.