With much fanfare, the New York Times launched “The 1619 Project”, commemorating the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first 20 enslaved Africans in Jamestown colony. The Times misleadingly announced: “Though America did not even exist yet, their arrival marked its foundation, the beginning of the system of slavery on which the country was built.”
This sentence constitutes a dangerous lie, because the new colony in Virginia hardly marked “the beginning of the system of slavery” but rather the continuation of an ancient, universal system that flourished in some form, everywhere, in 1619.
What made America unique wasn’t slavery, but the freedom and opportunity offered to most New World arrivals resulting, within 150 years, in higher living standards, and more widespread liberty, than anywhere on earth. Recalling slavery’s cruelty and evil is important, but without context those recollections become a profound distortion of our past.