“How can anything be right, the public wondered, that makes innocent young people hate themselves?”

In 1930, Lorenzo Greene traveled around the United States selling books about black history on behalf of his boss, Carter G. ­Woodson, the man who invented Black ­History Week (later Month), and his organization, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Greene had a degree from ­Columbia University and “could rattle off Negro history like one could the multiplication table,” according to one customer. He kept a diary of his journey, which was published in 1996. It is a fascinating record of the reception he encountered hawking black history ­textbooks from Atlanta to Philadelphia to Chicago. This visit took place in Riverton, New Jersey, in January 1931:

There were some 350 to 400 children present—the majority of them white. I told them some of the many achievements of the ­Negro, not in isolated fashion but in relation to similar contributions of other races and nationalities. I merely placed the Negro in the picture with all other groups. ­Everyone seemed to be pleased . . . The white superintendent and the principal, Mr. ­Bryan, took me to their office and had me relate much more to them than I had told the children. . . . They took two sets of books.

After his presentations, he wrote, black students “feel proud to have these contributions made known to them. . . . White students, too, enjoy it, as I know from my experience, not only in New York but also in the South.”

This is not at all the picture Nikole Hannah-Jones paints. In her preface to The 1619 Project, she describes the attitude of white America to the teaching of black history as dismissive or even hostile. African Americans “were largely absent from the histories I read” as a public school student in Iowa, she writes. “The vision of the past I absorbed from school textbooks, television, and the local history museums depicted a world, perhaps a wishful one, where Black people did not ­really exist.” The need to remedy this absence is the motivation for The 1619 Project and its constellation of supplemental materials, ­including sample curricula and reading guides.

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