The backlash against what Robert L. Woodson calls the “race-grievance industry” is surging, and leading the revolt are right-tilting Black intellectuals like himself.
On the heels of 1776 Unites, the Woodson Center’s response to the 1619 Project, Mr. Woodson has a surprise bestseller on his hands with “Red, White and Black: Rescuing American History from Revisionists and Race Hustlers,” a collection of essays by prominent Black thought leaders and scholars.
Published by Emancipation Books, the book hit No. 1 on Amazon in categories including Social Sciences, African American Studies, and New Releases shortly after its May 18 debut, thanks to what Mr. Woodson called a yearning for “a counter-narrative that celebrates America’s founding.
“There’s a real thirst for authentic American history and a real desire to push back against this race-grievance onslaught,” said Mr. Woodson, the book’s editor. “Every day we get requests from groups, even some corporations, that want an alternative to the race-grievance narrative. The very fact that the book is selling so aggressively — in fact, Amazon sold out and had to get resupplied.”
The authors of the book’s 28 essays include: John Sibley Butler, Jason D. Hill, Coleman Cruz Hughes, Charles Love, John McWhorter, Dean Nelson, Clarence Page, Wilfred Reilly, Ian Rowe, Shelby Steele and Carol M. Swain.
They offer an “indispensable corrective to the falsified version of black history presented by The 1619 Project, radical activists, and money-hungry ‘diversity consultants,’” according to the publisher. It’s a necessary counter-narrative that Mr. Woodson said must be led by Black Americans.
“Millions are being made by corporations hiring diversity experts. Universities are hiring six-figured salaried individuals to oversee diversity and equity training. School systems, county governments are getting racial audits,” he said. “I mean, it’s really created a whole race-grievance industry that has galvanized around this notion that America is a racist society and racism is in its DNA.”
Indeed, the 1619 Project, a New York Times project introduced by a Pulitzer-winning essay by Nikole Hannah-Jones, has gained enormous influence, with its curriculum in schools, its ads running during the 2020 Super Bowl, and a Disney-backed documentary in the works.
“Unfortunately, you have a lot of traditional institutions caving into this, and so that’s why we felt like there must be pushback,” said Mr. Woodson. “Since the radical left is using America’s birth defect of slavery and Jim Crow to bludgeon or destroy the traditional values underpinning our democracy, we felt it was it was incumbent upon the counter-message to come from Blacks as well.”
At age 84, Mr. Woodson finds himself on the front lines of a cultural and political struggle against the journalism establishment, Hollywood, academia and the Biden administration over the push to date the nation’s founding to 1619 — the year the first slaves were brought to America — and cast the country as racist to its core.
The Biden administration has proposed a grant program for U.S. history and civics classes that will prioritize “systemic marginalization, biases, inequities, and discriminatory policy and practice in American history,” referencing the 1619 Project and antiracism writer Ibram X. Kendi.
Fighting the proposal are 20 Republican attorneys general, who have urged Education Secretary Miguel Cardona not to adopt the priorities, calling them “a thinly veiled attempt at bringing into our states’ classrooms the deeply flawed and controversial teachings of Critical Race Theory and the 1619 Project.”
Even without the grant program, the concepts are already being taught in schools. The Pulitzer Center said last year that its 1619 Project curriculum had reached 4,500 classrooms while being adopted by five public-school systems: Buffalo, Chicago, the District of Columbia, Wilmington, Delaware, and Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
“As our 1619 curricular resources are freely available online to anyone, we have a survey attached to the resources where teachers can self-report whether or not they intend to use them in the classroom,” said Jeff Barrus, Pulitzer Center spokesperson, in an email. “As of today, 5,620 survey respondents have indicated that they would use at least one of the 1619 Project curricular materials in their classrooms.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Woodson is fighting fire with fire. His 1776 Unites project began releasing free-of-charge history lessons last year that “celebrate Black excellence, reject victimhood culture, and showcase African Americans who have prospered by embracing America’s founding ideals.”
The curriculum now has 11 installments for high school students, with a K-8 model in the works. So far there have been 11,000 downloads, with the lessons being used in public and private classrooms in all 50 states as well as in after-school and prison-exit programs.
“We’ve released 11 lessons, and they’re being scooped up,” Mr. Woodson said. “And 60% to 70% of the downloads are from educators. I think we’re meeting a demand.”
The principles and ideals embedded in the nation’s founding documents “constitute the surest basis for individual prosperity and the key to reuniting a country divided over the role that race should play,” said Mr. Woodson in his introductory essay for “Red, White and Black.”
The book includes a recounting of little-known Black success stories immediately after the Civil War, including examples of former slaves who died millionaires.
“Most people don’t know that,” he said. “Many of the slaves who were freed were very skilled craftsmen — they were iron workers, they were carpenters, they were the ones who built these plantations, and there was a bidding war for the labor of these artisans.”
He said wages soared until “local governments began to crack down and pass vagrancy laws.”
“It was government intervention that helped restrict skilled slave labor after slavery, and even some of those went on to start their own businesses,” Mr. Woodson said. “And some of them, ironically enough, actually purchased the plantations on which they were slaves. In two cases, they even took in the slave owners’ families that had become destitute. I call that an act of radical grace.”
Ironically, that kind of pro-capitalist, pro-entrepreneurial message doesn’t attract donors like the left’s anti-capitalist push does. Last year, the Black Lives Matter Global Network reported $90 million in donations. The Woodson Center had $6 million.
The 1619 Project plans to release in November a children’s book, “Born on the Water,” while The New York Times, Lionsgate and Disney General Entertainment are collaborating with Oprah Winfrey on a documentary series for Hulu, according to an April press release.
Academy Award-winning director Roger Ross Williams, who will produce and oversee the documentary series, called the 1619 Project “an essential reframing of American history.”
“Our most cherished ideals and achievements cannot be understood without acknowledging both systemic racism and the contributions of Black Americans,” Mr. Williams said. “And this isn’t just about the past — Black people are still fighting against both the legacy of this racism and its current incarnation.”
Mr. Woodson, who describes himself not as a conservative but as a “radical pragmatist,” said he would like to produce 1776 Unites books for kids, too, as well as videos. So far, however, Ms. Winfrey hasn’t come knocking.
“It’s a matter of taking the content that we have and raising the kind of money,” he said. “After all, 1619 has been well-financed. There are millions and millions of dollars behind this false history of the country. This is a real David-and Goliath-fight of ours.”