Veteran journalist: I read “The 1619 Project.” Critics need to calm down.

“The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story” is displayed at a New York City bookstore on November 17, 2021. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

You’d have to be completely out of the political loop—and I suspect you aren’t, if you are reading this—to not have heard of “The 1619 Project” and the brouhaha surrounding it.

A publication of journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and The New York Times, “1619” first appeared in an August 2019 issue of the New York Times Magazine. In May 2020, Hannah-Jones was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for her opening essay.

It was in 1619 that African slaves were first brought to America—the year before the Mayflower arrived—and the dust jacket of the expanded book version of the project refers to it as “a new origin story.” 1619, writes Hannah-Jones, is when the real story of America began, not 1776 when the American Revolution began.

I managed to miss out on reading the original version in the Times and I may not have maintained interest in it were it not for former President Donald Trump. Trump introduced many people to the project in September 2020, when he lumped it in with critical race theory, an academic concept many Americans had never heard of before. He called both “a crusade against American history . . . toxic propaganda, ideological poison that, if not removed, will dissolve the civic bonds that tie us together, will destroy our country.”

I’m one of the people who had never heard of critical race theory before and now that I’m familiar with it, I feel confident telling you that your kids in public school aren’t going to get schooled in it. While “The 1619 Project” has developed a curriculum that can be taught in schools, I also feel confident that wasn’t going to happen in many public schools even before the legislatures in Tennessee and some other states passed laws earlier this year banning the instruction of critical race theory. [Editor’s note: North Carolina lawmakers passed a similar bill, but it was successfully vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper.]

But I like a challenge and there’s nothing like the president of the United States calling writing “toxic” to make me want to check it out. I bought the book as soon as I could, read it as fast as possible and now I’m here to review it.

There’s been so much Sturm und Drang over “The 1619 Project” from right wing groups like “Moms For Liberty” and Trump supporters, I was surprised the book didn’t arrive with a big “Trigger warning!” sticker on it. I went into the book with an open mind, frankly expecting to be surprised by historical revelations.

I wasn’t surprised, as much of the book seems to be common sense, but I learned a hell of a lot. Read more

If it’s Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson must be embarrassing the state again

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson

It’s always a little risky to try and psychoanalyze or diagnose the mental well-being of a public figure from a distance, but one thing is undeniable about North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson: the man has a serious case of homophobia — what Merriam Webster defines as “irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or gay people.”

What’s more, Robinson likes to share his affliction publicly.

The latest of what now seem like umpteen incidents involving this deeply troubled man engaging in utterly outrageous and hurtful behavior took place yesterday afternoon, when he publicly confronted and attempted to bully a state lawmaker who courageously spoke in defense of human rights for all people.

This is from a story on WRAL.com:

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson confronted a Democratic lawmaker on Monday afternoon following her speech calling out elected officials who speak out against minorities.

Sen. Julie Mayfield, D-Buncombe, gave a speech that did not name Robinson, but said elected officials should have respect for all their constituents. Senate rules forbid members from criticizing other members by name on the chamber floor.

“My comments were absolutely in response to his very hateful statements against LGBTQ individuals,” Mayfield told WRAL News on Monday night.

After the session, Robinson told … Mayfield…”next time, before you get ready to say something on that floor, come see me.”

The confrontation appeared to be in response to Mayfield’s speech Monday, according to a tweet by Sen. Natasha Marcus, D-Mecklenburg…..

“As elected leaders, we have a responsibility to serve all of our constituents. Not just those who look like us, think like us or worship at the same church as us. We are here to serve everyone, even if we may not understand them and even if they didn’t – and never will – vote for us. And yes, even if they love differently from us,” Mayfield told fellow state lawmakers.

Mayfield went on to say that it was “folly” for elected officials to think they could speak in public and separate themselves from their elected office.

Sen. Julie Mayfield

Click here to explore the full story, which contains some video of the confrontation that Marcus captured.

The bottom line: Hardly a day goes by now in which Robinson doesn’t embarrass our state and cause pain and harm to good people. Meanwhile, as is noted in today’s edition of the Weekly Briefing, cowardly Republican leaders who know better stand by in cynical silence and allow this cruelty to continue.

Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: On repatriating stolen artifacts…like my deviled egg platter

Recent news reports confirm stolen artifacts—many of them in the “priceless” category– are finally being returned home by the countries who took them as the spoils of war or bought them on the “gray” market. This actually makes me giddy. Yes, I’m filled with hope that if this can happen on such a massive scale all over the globe, perhaps, one day the unnamed person who never returned my deviled egg platter with the bunny rabbit handles will follow suit.

I know what you’re thinking: How can you possibly try to compare  decades of delicate geo-political negotiations required to return a Colonial-era treasure trove of ancient artifacts to a flippin’ missing deviled egg platter that may or may not have had a significant chip on the left handle as I recall.

Easy. I’m a Southerner.

France recently agreed to return to Africa a trove of statues and paintings and even the Hobby Lobby folks are returning some of the 17,000 smuggled ancient pieces acquired for display in their Bible museum in Washington.

That seems appropriate. Although legally obtained from what I can tell, there was definitely an awkward “fell off the back of a truck” vibe to the Hobby Lobby booty.

Honestly, I applaud the return. They could just as easily have stashed that stuff in aisles 1-40,000,000 in just one store. (“You lookin’ for Cricut scoring wheels? They’re right over there ‘hind those Torah scrolls and ancient Israeli antiquities.”)

I’m guessing right about now you’re not all that excited about me missing my dumb deviled egg bunny plate. But, yeah, it’s part of my culture and it needs to be repatriated pronto.

See, as a Southern woman, I constantly live in three states: making a casserole, freezing a casserole, or delivering a casserole. The long-ago pilfering of my beloved Peter Cottontail egg plate taught me to deliver food to the bereaved and aggrieved via disposable foil pan. This may seem tacky but it’s ultimately the kindest gesture of all because, as I was told by a new neighbor from the North, “I’ve heard you people think you shouldn’t return an empty dish.”

Blech. Us people. While it’s technically true Southerners get pretty  knotted up about rules like always returning a dish with something in it, I disagree. If the casserole is delivered in a Handi-Foil pan, you can just heat, eat and recycle the empty pan instead of having to fret about returning it with box brownies to ease your conscience. For example.

I’d sooner hire ragey podcast host turned medical doctor in his own mind, Joe Rogan, to do my inevitable knee replacement than give someone a meal that leaves them burdened all over again because they think they are obligated to pay me back. It gets silly. We could do this for years back and forth and sideways and nobody wins.

“I’ll get your dish back” is a phrase I don’t want to hear because now we’re both on the hook. It is almost as sad and unwelcome as the other four-word sentence we hear this time of year: “Daylight Savings Time Ends.” To be fair, neither of those is as legitimately depressing as the headline screaming from every supermarket food magazine through November: “A Vegetarian Thanksgiving!” Hard pass. Just let me munch on this empty foil turkey roasting pan.

But I digress, also a Southern quirk. None of this has much to do with the news of repatriated artifacts. I’m a huge fan of the museum…gift shop. I think it’s crucial for people to be able to see how they got here. Cambodia is stepping up efforts to get its history back from the Met, for instance.

And if their tactics work, I may want them to hop on the bunny trail.

Celia Rivenbark is a NYT-bestselling author and columnist. Write her at [email protected].

Veteran Georgia journalist: Guilty verdicts in Arbery killing give no pleasure, only relief

Ahmaud Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones his hugged by a supporter after the jury convicted Travis McMichael in the trial of McMichael, his father, Greg McMichael, and neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021, in the Glynn County Courthouse in Brunswick, Ga. The three defendants were found guilty Wednesday in the death of Ahmaud Arbery. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton, Pool)

There’s no pleasure to be taken from the guilty verdicts returned Wednesday by a Glynn County jury in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery; there is only relief and thanksgiving that in the end justice could be done, at least in a case in which the evidence was so well-documented and seemingly obvious.

Given that they reached their weighty verdicts in just a matter of hours, the jury members – 11 white Georgians, one Black Georgian – must have thought it was obvious as well.

However, it’s crucially important to remember that this just and necessary resolution almost didn’t happen, that if justice was served in the end, it came almost accidentally. For 74 days after Arbery’s murder in February of 2020, no charges had been filed; no arrests were made, no presentment was made to a grand jury. Even though law enforcement possessed the now-famous video as well as much of the testimony that the jury found so convincing, two different district attorneys looked at the case and basically determined that Arbery deserved his fate, that if anything Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan should be lauded rather than prosecuted.

The local district attorney, Jackie Johnson, knew Greg McMichael from his work as an investigator for her office. She allegedly forbid police officers from making an arrest, and then arranged for the case to be transferred to the neighboring Waycross Judicial District, where George Barnhill worked as district attorney. As she was aware, she was referring the case to someone who had already made known that he too had no desire to pursue the case.

According to a memo written by Barnhill at the time, after what he called an “extensive” review, the actions by the McMichaels and Bryan had been “perfectly legal.” It was Arbery “who attacks Travis McMichael” in the video, it was Arbery “who initiated the fight,” it was Arbery’s “apparent aggressive nature” that drove him “to attack an armed man.”

“Given the fact that Arbery initiated the fight, at the moment Arbery grabbed the shotgun, under Georgia law, (Travis) McMichael was allowed to use deadly force to defend himself,” Barnhill advised the Glynn County Police Department.

Johnson was defeated for re-election in November of 2020; two months ago, she was arrested and charged with interfering with a police officer in the case and with violating her oath of office. Barnhill remains in office.

I’ve called this a modern-day lynching, an evocative phrase that should not be employed lightly. However, it meets the two-part test: One, it was a brutal act of vigilante violence; two, the local political elite stepped in afterward to protect the perpetrators. Only when the video was leaked to the public and reached an audience outside the local corridors of power was the coverup thwarted.

And if a case like this, with its obvious evidence of criminality, could come so close to being covered up, think about how many other such cases had been handled over the years, not just in the Waycross and Brunswick districts but all across Georgia, all across the country.

Think about the effect that those cases, the cultural memories of those cases, have had on the mindsets and power relationships in these communities. The McMichaels were not unusual in thinking that they had the right to treat Arbery as they did, that they had the power to tell this Black man what to do and that he had the obligation to obey. The attitudes and the arrogance that they demonstrated that day in the Satilla Shores neighborhood did not come from nowhere, it came from everywhere.

Over their lifetimes, they had been taught that it was their right to act in that fashion, that it was their duty to enforce the unwritten code, that people like themselves had power while others did not, and that they would be protected for defending that system.

They were right.

Until they finally weren’t.

Jay Bookman is a regular contributor to the Georgia Recorder, which first published this essay.

Giving thanks to America’s medical community for life-saving vaccines

School children wait in line for immunization shots in the 1940s at a child health station in New York City. (Courtesy of Library of Congress)

If we were not still in the grip of a deadly pandemic, with the seven-day average U.S. death toll from the coronavirus hovering just over 1,100 a day, I probably would not have thought of giving thanks this year for the medical researchers who have given this country protection against many life-threatening illnesses.

Back in the late ’40s and early ’50s, when I became aware of vaccinations, my thoughts were anything but thankful. When a doctor or nurse brought out a needle, they had to pry me out from behind the furniture to administer a shot. I refused Novocain in the dentist’s office.

Then came the 1952 polio epidemic, which was the worst outbreak in the nation’s history. We saw pictures of kids in iron lungshuge mechanical devices to help kids breathe.

We did not know what caused polio, but we were told not to gather together or drink from public fountains or swim in public pools. My uncle, Uli, got polio and his legs withered, bringing the disease close to home. When the Salk polio vaccine became available in about 1955, everyone in our community and across the country could not get shots fast enough.

That softened my fear of needles. It further softened over the years when the effectiveness of various vaccines was proven time and again — measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, and so on. When I developed hay fever, it was a mixed blessing. I did not have to work in the hay, which was the worst work on the farm, but I did have to get regular injections, which my mom did very slowly so as not to hurt. Yikes!

Then, in 1968, I volunteered to fight in Vietnam and had to get a long list of vaccinations. Everyone had to take the vaccinations for the protection of the entire unit the old thing about the chain breaking at the weakest link, obviously the unvaccinated one. They included plague, yellow fever, typhus, typhoid fever, cholera, and the very worst, gamma globulin in the posterior for hepatitis. It left a big bump in the rear that slowly dissipated over a week or so.

As one continues through life, it is easy to take for granted the fact that you don’t have to worry about the dread diseases that our ancestors had to face on practically a daily basis. Plague and smallpox wiped out entire populations before the scientific community developed means of prevention that could be administered in a painless injection.

We don’t know how very fortunate we are and how thankful we should be.

When I was a kid and we learned that someone in the community had been diagnosed with cancer of practically any variety, we all thought it was a death sentence. When Dr. Gupta called on Jan. 13, 2017, to say that I had pancreatic cancer, that was my very question: “Is this a death sentence?” His response was, “Not necessarily.” I was told later that chemotherapy would increase my chances of survival to 30%.

In order to get chemo, you had to get a whole range of shots, which I gladly accepted and would have taken many more. It was not a question as to whether the Food and Drug Administration or anyone else had given its blessing to any of them. My trusted physicians had said they were necessary, and that was enough. They put a port in your chest so they could mainline it, and you were happy to put up with all of it for a chance of survival.

You see many other dear souls in the injection lounge taking in stuff that some would call poison, just for the chance of more life with their loved ones not a lot of bellyachers and dissidents in that venue. I’m now four years cancer free.

So, let me raise a toast this Thanksgiving weekend to the doctors, nurses, medical researchers and other medical personnel who have strived so hard over the many years to find ways of saving the public from illness and death at the hands of deadly diseases such as COVID-19 and all of the other scourges I’ve previously mentioned.

We owe you, we salute you, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts, which are still beating because of you.

Jim Jones served as Idaho attorney general for eight years (1983-1991) and as a justice of the Idaho Supreme Court for 12 years (2005-2017). His columns are featured regularly in the Idaho Capital Sun, which first published this essay.