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Deconstructing the 1619 Project

Several years ago, I purchased a used copy of Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman’s Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery (1974), one of the five most important books on American slavery that have appeared in the last 50 years. The previous owner had inserted a series of newspaper clippings of book reviews and essays written around the time the book was published. This material also included his handwritten notes on the subject, including a description of a Liberty Fund conference on slavery held during the late 1990s. He expressed shock at the taboo nature of the topic and was dismayed by the relative lack of civility from the panel even 30 years after the height of the Civil Rights movement.

To my accidental correspondent, the passage of time should have allowed for greater nuance and dispassionate conversation. He failed to realize that the history of American slavery will always arouse strong emotions because it is intimately bound with current-day struggles over U.S. political power. This is still the case in 2020.

“The 1619 Project,” a special project by The New York Times Magazine, highlights the undeniable fact that American slavery remains a potent political issue. According to the magazine’s editor and director of the project, Jake Silverstein, “We are journalists, trained to look at current events and situations and ask the question: Why is this...

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