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Biden’s Suspension of 1776 Commission Allows Boosts to 1619 Project
May 20 – Jun 02, 2021
ric murphy

On January 20, 2021, hours after Joseph Biden was inaugurated as President of the United States of America, he issued an executive order dissolving his predecessor’s 1776 Commission. The unsung decision not only gave more oxygen to the 1619 Project, but is affecting the financial prospects of many equity fighters across the United States, from coast to coast.

Donald Trump first spoke of giving American students a "patriotic education" on September 2, 2020. According to Education Week, “Trump attacked the 1619 Project and public schools’ approach to teaching history, saying they brainwashed children with malicious ‘left-wing indoctrination.’ He created the 1776 Commission as his official vehicle for his position; the commission produced a report about American history that the Biden administration quickly disowned.”

Poet, author, and Frederick Douglass historian Nathan Richardson explained, “Conservatives started the 1776 Commission to silence the 1619 Project, which finally changed the narrative to one that told the history, including slavery and the contributions of Blacks made founding the democracy.” According to the executive order establishing the 1776 Commission, the commission's goal was to end what it called the "radicalized view of American history." Oddly, but maybe not unexpectedly, the 18-member commission included no professional historians of the United States.
“I think the Trump administration gave some institutions in the West who wanted a way out, a way out of the conversation.”

- Elena Featherston, San Francisco

“African Americans have played a prominent role in American history since 1619. African American historians want to tell the complete story of American history including the prominent role and contributions of Americans of African decent from 1619 to the present day,” affirmed Ric Murphy, President General of the Society of the First African Families of English America and former Vice President of History for the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society.

Murphy, whose certified family lineage lands in the earliest colonial periods of Plymouth, Massachusetts, and Jamestown, Virginia, continued, “The 1776 Commission envisioned by former President Trump attempted to stifle any knowledge of the prominent role of Americans of African descent in American history. By President Biden suspending by 1776 Commission Executive Order, he is allowing for the full teaching of African American history and the significant contributions of Americans of African descent to the founding and greatness of America from 1619 to present day.”

However, Biden’s stroke of a pen in no panacea. There are many federal laws that prohibit the federal government from directly regulating school curricula, which are governed by local school districts under rules established by state governments. Nevertheless, the federal government influences state and local policy decisions through direct federal funding.

Tony Neal, President of Education Equity Consultant in St. Louis, says it is too early to determine if Biden’s decision has “given breath and action” in local school districts embracing the 1619 Project’s goals. “The response to equitable education remains uneven,” he says. However, he says the dismantling of the 1776 Commission “did shed light or deeper awareness of the 1619 project.”

In San Francisco, Elena Featherston, President of Featherston & Associates says “I lost contracts that were depended upon government money and some schools, I think, because of the 1776 Commission.” She added, “I think the Trump administration gave some institutions in the West who wanted a way out, a way out of the conversation.” In the last month or so, the equity, inclusion, and diversity trainer and consultant has noticed more interest in her LinkedIn account.
“The pendulum is swinging and room will be taken and language created for those historically left without voice or agency.”

- Dr. Ida Jones, Washington, Douglass Commonwealth

The battle continues. On the federal level, The U.S. Department of Education, on April 19, proposed a new rule to prioritize grant applications from school districts to implement critical race theory, the 1619 Project, and anti-racism into civics curriculum. The proposal continues the Biden administration’s reversal of Trump-era prohibitions on critical race theory in trainings throughout the federal government, and support for the advancement of critical race theory in federally funded programs.

However, in early May, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) signed a bill into law that bans the teaching of critical race theory in schools. "Nothing in this bill prevents or discourages those conversations," he added. "We can and should teach this history without labeling a young child as an oppressor or requiring he or she feel guilt or shame based on their race or sex." Weeks later, the commission created to observe the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre ousted Stitt from the commission for signing the bill.

Morgan State University Archivist and historian Dr. Ida Jones doesn’t follow Stitt’s logic adding that western discourse does not allow a big tent dialogue. She concluded, “The binary use of language, influenced by culture, labels winner/loser; victim/victimizer and no nuances for interstitial spaces.” However, the frequent Port Of Harlem Talk Radio guest remains optimistic, “The pendulum is swinging and room will be taken and language created for those historically left without voice or agency.”
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