Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) is facing backlash after referring to slavery as a “necessary evil” as part of the country’s founding.
The Arkansas senator made the comment during a Sunday interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazete, in which he discussed his latest bill that seeks to slash federal funding for schools that teach the New York Times’ 1619 Project.
Cotton criticized the project, a written series analyzing slavery’s role in U.S. history, as “left-wing propaganda,” the newspaper reported.
“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,” he said to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazete. “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 Little Rock Republican emphasized that he doesn’t believe America is “a systemically racist country to the core and irredeemable,” but agreed that the role of slavery needs to be taught.
Here’s what you need to know:
Cotton is Facing a Wave of Criticism Online
Many have taken to Twitter to share their thoughts on the senator’s stance.
While some sharply criticized his response as tone-deaf and racist, others called for his resignation.
Nikole Hannah-Jones, a New York Times reporter and director of the 1619 Project, was among the outspoken critics.
“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,” she tweeted.
Below are some of the responses on Twitter:
The Senator tweeted on Sunday afternoon that his quote had been taken out of context, calling the buzz “fake news.”
“This is the definition of fake news. I said that *the Founders viewed slavery as a necessary evil* and described how they put the evil institution on the path to extinction, a point frequently made by Lincoln,” he wrote.
“Tom Cotton” was trending on Twitter early Monday morning, with more than 90,000 tweets.
Cotton’s Legislation Seeks to Disincentive the NYT Curriculum
According to the New York Times, the 1619 Project is an “ongoing initiative” from the company’s magazine that began in August 2019 — the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery.
“It aims to re-frame the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative,” the project’s website reads.
Cotton’s bill characterizes the series as “a distortion of American history,” the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette said.
“Even a penny is too much to go to the 1619 Project in our public schools,” he told the newspaper. “The New York Times should not be teaching American history to our kids.”
During the interview, the senator also condemned the “angry mobs” tearing down confederate statues and monuments.
When asked “what he’d say to people who consider Confederate statues and military base names ‘racially divisive,'” the newspaper wrote, Cotton indicated that Arkansas is already working to remediate the issue.
“I have no problem with people debating that in a constructive, reasoned, deliberate fashion,” he expressed to the outlet. “What I can’t tolerate, what I think no one should tolerate, are angry mobs tearing down statues of anyone. They tear down a statue of [Confederate Gen.] Robert E. Lee today; tomorrow they come for [Presidents George] Washington and for [Abraham] Lincoln and for [Ulysses S.] Grant.”