Sen. Tom Cotton says slavery was ‘necessary evil’

Twitter erupts as allegations surrounding the senator's family and their connection to slavery emerge as a reason why he opposes 'the 1619 Project' curriculum

Sen. Tom Cotton described the institution of slavery in America as a “necessary evil upon which the union was built, but the union was built in a way, as (Abraham) Lincoln said, to put slavery on the course to its ultimate extinction.” 

The Arkansas senator made the statement after championing a bill to stop federal support of a new and expansive curriculum on slavery that some school districts are considering using when train teachers on this segment of American history.

READ MORE: GOP senator introduces bill to stop federal funding for schools teaching ‘1619 Project’

In an interview with a local newspaper, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Cotton defended the bill that he put forth in Congress that would restrict federal funds from being used to support K-12 schools that teach The New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project. He has labeled it “a distortion of American history.” 

“The 1619 Project is left-wing propaganda. It’s revisionist history at its worst,” he said in an interview Friday.

Cotton’s legislation, which has little chance of passing, would take away federal funds from professional development for teachers. “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.”

GOP Senators Hold News Conference To Announce Opposition To DC Statehood
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) attends a press conference on Washington D.C. statehood
(Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

He said that instead of portraying America as “an irredeemably corrupt, rotten and racist country,” the nation should be viewed “as an imperfect and flawed land, but the greatest and noblest country in the history of mankind.” 

The 1619 Project was written by Nikole Hannah-Jones and graphically depicted the life of enslaved Africans in America. She responded to Cotton’s proposed legislation on Twitter saying, “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,” she writes, “It’s hard to imagine what cannot be justified it is a means to an end.” 

Cotton responded by calling Hannah-Jones comments “more lies.” 

He frequently disputes that there is systemic racism in America, instead said, “I reject that root and branch. America is a great and noble country founded on the proposition that all mankind is created equal. We have always struggled to live up to that promise, but no country has ever done more to achieve it.”

READ MORE: Pulitzer Prize awarded to Ida B. Wells and NYT’s 1619 Project author

Cotton’s family owned a large farm in Arkansas for seven generations. Twitter users were quick to point out that his family owned slaves, a point that has not been substantiated by the senator. 

Many believe that one of his ancestors, Leonard Ryan Cotton, owned slaves and passed them down through generations.

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