State Watch

Republican bill seeking 1619 Project ban in Arkansas schools rejected by GOP-led committee

an empty school classroom and chalkboard

A Republican-led bill in Arkansas that seeks to ban the use of public school funds to teach about The New York Times’s 1619 Project failed to advance in a state House committee on Tuesday.

The bill, dubbed the Saving American History Act of 2021, was introduced last month by Republican state Rep. Mark Lowery and had a handful of Republican co-sponsors. It was considered in the state House’s Education Committee, where Republicans also hold control, before it was shot down in a voice vote on Tuesday, according to The Associated Press.

The 1619 Project is an initiative that was launched by The New York Times Magazine in 2019 that aims to “reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of the United States.” 

It includes a collection of essays and pieces from writers that examine “different aspects of contemporary American life, from mass incarceration to rush-hour traffic, that have their roots in slavery and its aftermath,” according to a statement from the publication explaining the project.

The series drew immediate praise following its release and resulted in Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones receiving the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for commentary for her work on the project, which she came up with.

It has also drawn scrutiny from a number of conservatives, including former President Trump and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who last summer attacked the project as “left-wing propaganda” after initially facing criticism for claiming the Founding Fathers viewed slavery as a “necessary evil.” 

Cotton had also previously introduced legislation that sought to reduce federal funding for schools that include the project in their teachings. Since then, GOP legislators in a handful of states have in recent weeks introduced similar legislation aimed at preventing schools from focusing on the project in their curriculum.

When H.B. 1231 was considered by the Education Committee on Tuesday, Lowery, who called the 1619 Project “a racially divisive and revisionist account of history” in his legislation, said slavery was “an awful stain on our history and it should be discussed in our classrooms, but the 1619 Project is not the vehicle for that.”

While the 1619 Project has drawn pushback from Republicans, as well as critiques from some historians, the project was selected by faculty at the New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute and other prominent journalists as one of the “Top Ten Works of Journalism of the Decade.” The Times also said last year that the series has been used as “an educational tool by more than 4,000 teachers in all 50 states — augmenting, not replacing, the traditional curriculum for teaching U.S. history.”

According to the AP, Lowery’s bill was met with pushback from legislators on both sides of the aisle during the panel meeting, some of whom argued the matter on whether the project should be included in school curriculum was one best left up to local leaders.

Democratic state Rep. Reginald Murdock also accused the Arkansas Republican of censorship with the measure during the panel, the agency reported, saying he was “taking away the ability of those who have been trained to stand before our students and teach and provide trained guidance in curriculum development.”

The move also comes after the Arkansas Republican introduced another measure that also sought to place restrictions on how race is taught in schools, according to the AP.

Tags 1619 project Arkansas Donald Trump Tom Cotton

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