Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) is getting push back from all directions after claiming in an interview that the Founding Fathers of this country considered slavery a “necessary evil.” The statement was made in defense of a bill proposal that would make any school that includes The New York Times’s 1619 Project in its curriculum ineligible to receive the totality of their federal funding.

“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 told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “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.”

Cotton’s issue with The 1619 Project is that he believes it is “historically flawed” and does not like the fact that it calls the nation out for being systemically racist at its core. “America is a great and noble country,” Cotton defended during the interview in which he called The 1619 Project a project spearheaded by NYT journalist Nikole Hannah Jones}s “left-wing propaganda.” Interestingly enough, Cotton also labeled the Pulitzer Prize–winning initiative “revisionist history at its worst.”

Nikole Hannah Jones, New York Times journalist and lead reporter on The 1619 Project defends critiques from Sen. Tom Cotton
New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah Jones is the lead reporter on The 1619 Project.

MSNBC host Joy Reid responded to the controversy, saying, “It’s easy for Tom Cotton (@TomCottonAR) to call slavery a “necessary evil.” The evil wasn’t done to people like him. It was done to kidnapped African people for hundreds of years and was followed by 100+ years of lynching, theft, massacres and denial of basic human rights.”

Another twitter user wrote, “Tom Cotton says the following were necessary evils: Owning humans. Rape. Beating humans. Murdering humans. Selling humans. No wonder he is a Republican and a Trump supporter.”

Hannah-Jones also weighed in on the conversation concerning her brainchild. Her comments were targeted at Cotton, and she used his conclusion on slavery to open up a broader discussion.  “If chattel slavery—heritable, generational, permanent, race-based slavery where it was legal to rape, torture and sell human beings for profit—were a “necessary evil” as @TomCottonAR says, it’s hard to imagine what cannot be justified if it is a means to an end.” 

On Twitter, Cotton reacted with claims that his comments were taken out of context. He called the entire debacle “the definition of fake news.”

It still stands that Cotton introduced the Saving American History Act of 2020 because he does not want children to learn about the founding of the United States from the lens of slavery. To that point, Hannah-Jones has some thoughts, which she shared on Twitter. 

“Imagine thinking a non-divisive curriculum is one that tells Black children the buying and selling of their ancestors, the rape, torture, and forced labor of their ancestors for PROFIT, was just a ‘necessary evil’ for the creation of the ‘noblest’ country the world has ever seen,” the award-winning journalist tweeted.

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