Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday he doesn’t think 1619 is one of the most important points in U.S. history.
That’s the year the first enslaved Africans were brought to and sold in the Virginia colony, a point often considered as the beginning of American slavery.
“I think this is about American history and the most important dates in American history. And my view — and I think most Americans think — dates like 1776, the Declaration of Independence; 1787, the Constitution; 1861-1865, the Civil War, are sort of the basic tenets of American history,” McConnell said during an appearance at the University of Louisville.
“There are a lot of exotic notions about what are the most important points in American history. I simply disagree with the notion that The New York Times laid out there that the year 1619 was one of those years.
“I think that issue that we all are concerned about — racial discrimination — it was our original sin. We’ve been working for 200-and-some-odd years to get past it,” he continued. “We’re still working on it, and I just simply don’t think that’s part of the core underpinning of what American civic education ought to be about.”
Kentucky’s longtime senator was referring to The 1619 Project, a New York Times initiative that emphasized the importance of the year American slavery began as well as slavery’s long-term consequences for the country. It also examined and reframed U.S. history through that lens.
The 1619 Project’s creator, journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, won a Pulitzer Prize for an essay she wrote for the project.
Last week, McConnell and almost 40 of his fellow Senate Republicans sent a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona criticizing a proposed plan to prioritize educational efforts that focus on systemic racism in U.S. history.
A spokesman for The New York Times defended The 1619 Project in the wake of McConnell’s letter, saying: “It deepened many readers’ understanding of the nation’s past and forced an important conversation about the lingering impact of slavery, and its centrality to the American story.”
University of Louisville political science professor Dewey Clayton said 1619 is “clearly a pivotal year” and called McConnell’s statement about it Monday “shocking.”
“Well, I think the comments are shocking, given the fact that Sen. McConnell is a learned man,” Clayton said. “That was the year that slaves were first brought to the Eastern shores and offloaded at Jamestown.
“You can’t move forward from that point without understanding what that meant to America, what that meant to commerce in this country, what that meant to the South … For McConnell to dismiss that — I find that deeply disturbing.”
Clayton noted the U.S. Constitution — which, as McConnell pointed out Monday, was established in 1787 — codified slavery and included several clauses directly related to it.
Likewise, Clayton said Thomas Jefferson, who owned slaves, wanted to include language in the Declaration of Independence that criticized the king of England for the British slave trade. However, the Declaration couldn’t get sufficient support if such a condemnation was included, so it wasn’t.
And, of course, slavery played a pivotal role in the Civil War.
“There is this sort of backlash to people who want to sort of really tell the truth about what happened in this country … even if it’s not all beautiful, because it’s not,” Clayton told The Courier Journal. “We have to expose the total truth.”
“Essentially, we’re starting to see this sort of blowback because some people are not comfortable having the truth being told,” he continued.
McConnell is far from the first GOP politician to criticize the 1619 Project. Former President Donald Trump was especially critical of it, and Clayton indicated Kentucky’s powerful senator is sending a signal, with his recent comments, to the Republican base.
State Rep. Attica Scott, D-Louisville, slammed McConnell’s comments Monday on Twitter, saying: “(McConnell) hates Black people — as do far too many people of his ilk. If he could, he’d probably erase our very existence from history — that’s what his comments this morning say to me and mine. While we’re here, what the hell are ‘exotic notions?'”
@LeaderMcConnell hates Black people—as do far too many people of his ilk. If he could, he’d probably erase our very existence from history—that’s what his comments this morning say to me and mine.
— Attica Scott (she/her) (@atticaforky) May 3, 2021
Terrance Sullivan, executive director of the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights and cofounder of the bipartisan coalition AntiRacismKY, tweeted: “The “core underpinning of American civic education” should be based in the truth. Pretty simple concept.”
“The true ‘exotic notion’ is what we were taught in history books thus far. Ignorance is not bliss for some of us,” Sullivan also said on Twitter. “Without 1619 — they wouldn’t have felt this country could sustain itself enough to make 1776 or 1787 even happen.”
The true 'exotic notion' is what we were taught in history books thus far.
Ignorance is not bliss for some of us. https://t.co/nSHagDQIJE
— Terrance A. Sullivan, J.D. (@TASullivan) May 3, 2021
McConnell made his latest comments about this issue Monday morning at the University of Louisville’s ShelbyHurst campus, where he toured its Regional Biocontainment Lab, one of a dozen such facilities nationwide.
University officials said the lab has worked on testing vaccines and therapeutics during the coronavirus pandemic, as part of its efforts to assist with that crisis.
McConnell held a press conference after his tour of the lab, during which he talked about the 1619 Project as well as President Joe Biden’s big infrastructure plan and the need for people who haven’t been vaccinated against COVID-19 yet to go ahead and do that.
Infrastructure and the Brent Spence Bridge
The Brent Spence Bridge in Northern Kentucky has long been overstressed by the traffic it handles day after day, and it has been in need of a significant upgrade or replacement for years.
But McConnell made it clear Monday he isn’t willing to back Biden’s multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure proposal, period, even if it were to include serious funding for the Brent Spence Bridge, which connects Kentucky with Cincinnati.
Instead, he advocated for a much smaller, roughly $600 billion infrastructure plan Senate Republicans have floated.
He indicated that while federal funding potentially could be provided for the Brent Spence Bridge in an infrastructure package if congressional Democrats and Republicans are able to reach a deal, some degree of state and perhaps local funding is likely to still be needed to finance such an undertaking in Northern Kentucky.
A red line Senate Republicans aren’t willing to cross, McConnell said, is any attempt to pay for new infrastructure investments at the national level by chipping away at the 2017 tax cuts Republicans passed during former President Donald Trump’s term in office.
“We’re happy to take a look at an infrastructure package that’s what basically both sides agree is infrastructure, and we’re not willing to pay for it by undoing the 2017 tax bill,” McConnell said Monday.
He and other conservatives repeatedly have criticized Biden’s proposal, saying it includes funding for a ton of things that aren’t actually infrastructure projects.
When The Courier Journal asked if he’s willing to consider and negotiate on an infrastructure package that goes above Republicans’ proposed $600 billion price tag, he said: “No, no. If it’s going to be about infrastructure, let’s make it about infrastructure. And I think there’s some sentiment on the Democratic side for splitting it off.”
In the ‘red zone’ for vaccinations
McConnell, who’s a big fan of football, used a sports metaphor as he described why it’s vital for more people in Kentucky (and nationwide) to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.
“We’re in the red zone here — that’s the last 20 yards before you score. We’re not in the end zone yet. And I think it is disturbing to see that vaccinations seem to be receding because everybody kind of thinks it’s over.”
He urged people to “finish the job” by getting vaccinated, which will help finally bring an end to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’m perplexed as to why we can’t finish the job, but I think we just keep talking about it … and make it as available as possible,” he said of the COVID-19 vaccines, which anyone who’s at least 16 years old is now eligible to get.
[via The Courier-Journal]