KEY POINTS

  • Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said in a new interview slavery in the U.S. was a "necessary evil" that helped build the country as it is seen today
  • Cotton's comments were in response to schools planning to adopt a history curriculum based on the New York Times' 1619 Project, which reexamines the roots slavery had in the foundation of the U.S.
  • Cotton has threatened federal funding to schools or school districts interested in adopting the curriculum in his proposed Saving American History Act of 2020

While speaking about his opposition to a new U.S. history curriculum pushed by the New York Times, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., referred to slavery as the “the necessary evil upon which the union was built.”

Cotton made the comment in an interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette released Sunday discussing schools looking to adopt the 1619 Project’s framework. The project, itself, is an ongoing reexamination of U.S. history and slavery in the U.S. started in 2019 by New York Times reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones.

The project argues U.S. history did not start on July 4, 1776, but in August of 1619 when the first slave ship landed in the Virginia Colony. A school curriculum was subsequently created using essays, poems, and various other materials contributed to the project by various writers, journalists, scholars, and historians. However, Cotton has taken issue with the possibility of schools teaching a curriculum he referred to as “revisionist history.”

“The entire premise of the New York Times’ factually, historically flawed 1619 Project,” Cotton told the Democrat-Gazette, “is that America is at root, a systemically racist country to the core and irredeemable. I reject that root and branch.”

“America is a great and noble country founded on the proposition that all mankind is created equal. We have always struggled to live up to that promise, but no country has ever done more to achieve it.”

Cotton introduced the Saving American History Act of 2020 as his proposed means of blocking schools from teaching the curriculum. It would block federal funds from schools and school districts that choose to teach the 1619 Project’s curriculum.

“We have to study the history of slavery and its role and impact on the development of our country because otherwise we can’t understand our country,” Cotton said. “As the Founding Fathers said, it was the necessary evil upon which the union was built, but the union was built in a way, as [Abraham] Lincoln said, to put slavery on the course to its ultimate extinction.”

Cotton’s comments drew harsh backlash from Hannah-Jones, who attacked the senator on Twitter.

The New York Times also responded to Cotton’s comments in a statement on Friday.

“It is in part due to these prevailing narratives that 60% of teachers polled in a 2017 [survey] said that they believed their textbook’s coverage of slavery was inadequate,” a New York Times spokesman said in a press release.

“We’re proud that, in partnership with The Pulitzer Center, we’ve been able to help address that problem by making The 1619 Project available as a course supplement that was taught last year in schools in all 50 states. We believe it is important for American students to understand the truth about their country’s history. To paraphrase the historian Alfred F. Young, we should not be so protective of the achievements of equality that we are unwilling to come to grips with inequality.”

It isn’t the first time the New York Times has found itself at odds with Cotton, either. The paper faced significant backlash after it published an op-ed piece by Cotton titled “Send in the Military,” which pushed for deployment of military forces into cities during the height of June’s Black Lives Matter protests. The Times said the piece “fell short” of its standards and led to the resignation of editorial page director James Bennet.

Tom Cotton Could Sen. Tom Cotton be the next head of the CIA? Photo: Joshua Roberts/REUTERS