Civil Rights veteran Bob Woodson has condemned the Roosevelt Institute’s decision to present Nikole Hannah-Jones with its freedom of speech award, insisting that her ‘insulting’ work demeans black people and goes against American values.
Hannah-Jones won a Pulitzer for her controversial work for The New York Times, the 1619 Project – the date being when the first black slaves landed in the United States.
The 1619 Project was launched by the New York Times in 2019 to mark the 400th anniversary of African slaves’ arrival in what later became the US. The venture examines how slavery shaped and continues to permeate all aspects of American society by expanding on early accounts that are largely left out of the historical narrative taught in most schools
She argues that inadequate attention is paid to how America is built in part from slave labor, and how the story of America’s founding has been sanitized and distorted, celebrating 1776 instead, and brushing over the past. Critics say she is labeling the United States as a racist country, and trying to make people hate their homeland.
Woodson has been a fervent critic of the 1619 Project from the start, arguing that it insults black Americans by suggesting they are not in control of their own destiny.
He founded in February 2020 a counter to the 1619 Project, named 1776 Unites, which sets out to ‘promote current and historical examples of prosperous black communities as a powerful refutation of the claim that the destiny of black Americans is determined by what whites do, or what they have done in the past.’
Woodson on Thursday criticized the Roosevelt Institution’s decision, accusing Hannah-Jones of ‘fostering anti-American sentiment.’
Nikole Hannah-Jones, founder of the 1619 Project, is seen on Wednesday evening accepting her award for promoting freedom of speech from the Roosevelt Institute. The decision was condemned by Civil Rights veteran Bob Woodson
Woodson, pictured with Donald Trump and Mike Pence at the Bedminster golf club in November 2016, has long been a critic of Hannah-Jones’ work
Bob Woodson, far left, and Bayard Rustin, left, with two other civil rights activists in the 1960s. In recent years Woodson has dedicated himself to the Woodson Center, promoting community-based solutions to help low-income neighborhoods
He told Fox News that ‘she has given aid and comfort to those who speak out against the founding principles of the country.’
New York Times’ 1619 Project
In August 2019 the New York Times Magazine published the 1619 project, a collection of essays, photo essays, short fiction pieces and poems aimed to ‘reframe’ American history based on the impact of slaves brought to the US.
It was published to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of enslaved Africans in the English colonies.
It argues that the nation’s birth was not 1776 with independence from the British crown, but in August 1619 with the arrival of a cargo ship of 20 to 30 enslaved Africans at Point Comfort in the colony of Virginia, which inaugurated the system of slavery.
The project argues that slavery was the country’s origin and out of it ‘grew nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional.’
That includes economic might, industry, the electoral system, music, public health and education inequities, violence, income inequality, slang, and racial hatred.
However, the project is debated among historians for its factual accuracy.
In March 2020 historian Leslie M. Harris who served as a fact checker for the project said authors ignored her corrections, but believed the project was needed to correct prevailing historical narratives.
One aspect up for debate is the timeline.
Time Magazine said the first slaves arrived in 1526 in a Spanish colony in what is now South Carolina, 93 years prior to the landing in Jamestown.
Some experts say slaves first arrived at present-day Fort Monroe in Hampton, instead of Jamestown.
Others argue the first Africans in Virginia were indentured servants as laws on lifetime slavery didn’t appear till 17th century and early 18th century, but worked essentially as slaves.
‘It’s kind of like an arsonist being honored at the firefighter’s convention,’ Woodson said.
He noted that when Claremont McKenna College professor Charles Kesler said the George Floyd riots throughout the summer of 2020 should be named ‘the 1619 riots,’ Hannah-Jones responded with a tweet saying she would be ‘honored’. She later deleted the tweet.
‘That seems like a strange thing for someone who’s being honored for free speech to have this happen,’ said Woodson.
‘People who advocate critical race theory and 1619 have been at the forefront of cancel culture.
‘It’s ironic that Nikole Hannah-Jones would be honored for freedom of speech.’
The Roosevelt Institute – founded in 1972 ‘to carry forward the legacy and values of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt by developing progressive ideas and bold leadership in the service of restoring America’s promise of opportunity for all’ – said that Hannah-Jones was a worthy winner.
They praised her ‘visionary work that exposed the systemic and institutionalized racism embedded in our country’s laws and policies,’ and her ‘commitment to mentoring and training investigative reporters of color.’
Yet Woodson, 84, whose own foundation, the Woodson Center, backs community-based initiatives to help low-income areas, said he was dismayed by the decision.
‘As a veteran of the civil rights movement myself, what I find most disheartening is their support of the dumbing down of standards,’ he said, accusing Hannah-Jones of choosing to ‘ignore that history of excellence and achievement against the odds and instead demand that the standards be lowered because blacks can’t compete.’
He said he rejected Hannah-Jones’s theory of systemic racism, saying it reduced black Americans to victims.
‘It is very, very insulting to black America,’ Woodson said.
He said he preferred ‘the old-fashioned bigotry’ of outspoken racism over the ‘new progressive bigotry.’
‘The new progressive bigotry masquerades as fighting for social justice for blacks,’ he told Fox.
‘It masquerades as something promoting the interests of blacks while at the same time denigrating them.’
Roosevelt Institute defended the award.
Ariela Weinberger, a spokesman for the think tank, said: ‘Our decision to honor Ms Hannah-Jones speaks for itself.’
Hannah-Jones has not responded to Woodson’s criticism.