Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton is under fire after he called American slavery a “necessary evil” for the progression of the United States.
Cotton made the comments while criticizing The New York Times’ 1619 Project, an editorial initiative started to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the date the first slave ship arrived in the United States. Nikole Hannah-Jones, the writer who leads the project, won a 2020 Pulitzer Prize for it.
“We have to study the history of slavery and its role and impact on the development of our country because otherwise we can’t understand our country,” Cotton said during an interview with The Arkansas Democrat Gazette on Friday. “As the Founding Fathers said, it was the necessary evil upon which the union was built, but the union was built in a way, as Lincoln said, to put slavery on the course to its ultimate extinction.”
The commentary sparked backlash on social media.
“Tom Cotton is wrong,” tweeted hedge fund manager and former 2020 Democratic 2020 presidential candidate Tom Steyer. “He continues to reveal his racist motivations by whitewashing slavery and genocide. A clear example of white supremacy in politics and why the demands for justice must stay loud. We must teach our children the real and racist history of America.”
“Why spend time discussing anything #TomCotton says about race?” questioned one Twitter user. “Enough white nationalists in Arkansas voted for him to send another one of their own to DC as a senator. There’s no debating a racist worldview weaponized by power. He and his ilk must be defeated, not debated.”
Hannah-Jones responded to Cotton’s comments on her own Twitter page.
The comments were brought up during Cotton’s weekend appearance on Fox and Friends. When host Brian Kilmeade read his words on-air, Cotton denied making the remarks.
“Well, that is fake news, Brian,” he said. “That is not what I said.”
Cotton went on to claim he was merely quoting the Founding Fathers without specifying which ones.
“What I said is that many Founders believed that only with the Union and the Constitution could we put slavery on the path to its ultimate extinction,” Cotton said. “Of course, slavery is an evil institution in all its forms, at all times, in America’s past or around the world today.”
“But the fundamental moral principle of America is right there in the Declaration: ‘All men are created equal.’ And the history of America is the long and sometimes difficult struggle to live up to that principle,” he added.
Cotton took a dig at the 1619 Project as he concluded his argument.
“That’s a history we ought to be proud of, not the historical revisionism of ‘The 1619 Project,’ which wants to indoctrinate America’s kids and teach them to hate America,” the senator added. “To believe that America was founded not on human freedom, but on racism. To think that slavery was not an aberration, but the true heart of America.”
On July 23, a day before the Democrat Gazette interview, Cotton introduced the Saving American History Act of 2020, a bill designed to prevent the use of federal funds to distribute the 1619 Project to K-12 schools. If the Arkansas senator has his way, schools that use the project’s curriculum could lose their federal professional development funds. The bill stated funding would be cut to reflect “cost associated with teaching the 1619 Project, including in planning time and teaching time.”
“It won’t be much money,” Cotton said. “But even a penny is too much to go to the 1619 Project in our public schools. The New York Times should not be teaching American history to our kids.”