Trump Taps Ex-Gov. Bryant for ‘1776’ Effort to Keep History Friendly to White ‘Heroes’Historians in the News
tags: Mississippi, teaching history, Donald Trump, 1776 commission
Former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant is among a group of 18 individuals that outgoing President Donald Trump is appointing to his Advisory 1776 Commission to promote so-called “patriotic education.”
The pick, which Trump announced on Dec. 18, comes even as Mississippi’s former leader continues to support British nationalists in what Bryant once called an effort to make “Great Britain great again.”
Trump’s initiative is part of an effort to restore an uncritical version of American history education that focuses on the historic accomplishments of elite white male establishment figures—while sanitizing or ignoring the nation’s mistreatment of other groups, including Black and indigenous people.
“Our mission is to defend the legacy of America’s founding, the virtue of America’s heroes and the nobility of the American character. We must clear away the twisted web of lies in our schools and classrooms, and teach our children the magnificent truth about our country,” Trump said as he announced the project in September.
“We want our sons and daughters to know that they are the citizens of the most exceptional nation in the history of the world. … Our youth will be taught to love America with all of their heart and all of their soul.”
Trump’s appointment of Gov. Bryant to the commission adds a figure who, during his time as the governor of Mississippi, repeatedly catered to the wishes of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a neo-Confederate group, by quietly declaring April “Confederate Heritage Month.”
Since a 2016 Trump campaign rally in Jackson, Bryant has also built deep connections with leaders in the British far-right, and he helped lead a 2019 effort stateside to support Brexit, Britain’s exit from the European Union. In 2017, then-Gov. Bryant established the Royal Commonwealth Society USA in Jackson, which focuses on U.S.-U.K. relations.
Trump’s 1776 commission, in name and in intent, is an implicit rebuke of the New York Times’ 1619 Project, which is led by Black journalist Nikole Hannah Jones. It focuses the story of America’s founding not on the moment the nation’s white founders declared independence and stoked a rebellion, but on the arrival of the transatlantic slave trade in Virginia 157 years earlier.
July 1619 also marked the establishment of the Virginia General Assembly’s House of Burgesses—the first democratically elected body in the continent.
When announcing his “patriotic education” agenda, Trump pointed specifically to the 1619 Project and also to the late historian Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States.” That volume, popular in schools since its 1980 publication, teaches history from a diverse, bottom-up perspective focused on workers, activists, grassroots organizers and everyday people—rather than from the vantage point of typically white, male leaders.
“Critical race theory, the 1619 Project, and the crusade against American history is toxic propaganda, ideological poison that, if not removed, will dissolve the civic bonds that tie us together. It will destroy our country. … The only path to national unity is through our shared identity as Americans. That is why it is so urgent that we finally restore patriotic education to our schools,” Trump said when he announced the commission in September.
Current Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, a pro-Trump Republican, followed Trump’s lead, announcing his own “patriotic education” initiative when he released his budget proposal last month.
In a Mississippi Free Press Voices piece earlier this month, Ralph W. Eubanks, a visiting University of Mississippi professor of English and Southern studies who grew up in Mount Olive, Miss., denounced Reeves’ proposal, saying it seemed “to have its origins in the playbook of totalitarian leaders.”
“Gov. Tate Reeves’ Patriotic Education Fund is based in a felt history that is happy in forgetfulness,” Eubanks wrote. “This is a history based entirely in a feeling about American history rather than the facts. … It is nothing more than a piece of culture war agitprop, an ahistorical fantasy of American history.”
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