Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he doesn’t think the year enslaved Africans were first brought to colonial America is one of the most important points in U.S. history.
McConnell made the comments Monday when asked why he sent a letter to the U.S. Education secretary, calling for the New York Times’ 1619 Project to not be included in school-related federal grant programs.
“There are a lot of exotic notions about what are the most important points in American history. I simply disagree with the notions the New York Times laid out there that the year 1619 was one of those years,” McConnell said during a news conference in Louisville.
McConnell added that racial discrimination is the country’s “original sin,” but still said the origins of American slavery didn’t need to be a central part of lesson plans.
“I just simply don’t think that’s part of the core underpinning of what American civic education ought to be about.”
Launched in 2019, the 1619 Project is an ongoing initiative at the New York Times focused on the history of slavery and racism in the U.S. The year 1619 is when the first enslaved Africans arrived in the British colony of Jamestown, located in present-day Virginia.
The U.S. Department of Education listed the 1619 Project in its priorities for American History and Civics Education and proposed grant programs for schools to use it in lessons.
McConnell and 38 other Republican senators sent a letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona on April 29 denouncing the move, saying it would reorient U.S. history lessons “toward a politicized and divisive agenda.”
In a tweet Monday, Democratic state Rep. Attica Scott denounced McConnell’s comments.
“@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. While we’re here, what the hell are “exotic notions?” Scott wrote.
Many Republicans have criticized the 1619 Project since it began. Former President Donald Trump released “The 1776 Report” in the final days of his administration as a refutation of teachings about systemic racism and critical race theory in the country.
For the most part, the federal Department of Education doesn’t set school curricula. That’s up to state government and local school districts.
The 1619 Project was founded by journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2020 for an essay she wrote for the project.
In an interview on CNN on Monday morning, Hannah-Jones said McConnell and other Republicans are trying to “prohibit the teaching of ideas they don’t like.”
“What Mitch McConnell and others like him want is for our children to get a propagandistic, nationalistic understanding of history that is not about fact, but is about how they would want to pretend that our country is,” Hannah-Jones said.
This story has been updated to add context from McConnell’s comments.