McConnell 5-3-21

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, at the University of Louisville on May 3, 2021.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The University of Louisville has issued a rare rebuke of one of its most famous and powerful graduates, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, over McConnell’s comments on Monday about the significance of slavery in American history.

Taking questions at a U of L event, McConnell was asked about his stance on the New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project, which seeks to “reframe 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 name of the project refers to the year enslaved Africans were first brought to American shores.

“There are a lot of exotic notions about what are the most important points in American history,” McConnell said Monday. “I simply disagree with the notion that the New York Times laid out there that the year 1619 was one of those years.”

On Thursday, a senior U of L administrator and the head of the committee overseeing the university’s new antiracism initiative snapped back at McConnell in a university-wide email.

“To imply that slavery is not an important part of United States history not only fails to provide a true representation of the facts, but also denies the heritage, culture, resilience and survival of Black people in America,” V. Faye Jones, U of L’s interim senior associate vice president of diversity and equity, said in the email.

She continued, “It also fails to give context to the history of systemic racial discrimination, the United States’ ‘original sin’ as Sen. McConnell called it, which still plagues us today. 

“What we know to be true is that slavery and the date the first enslaved Africans arrived and were sold on U.S. soil are more than an ‘exotic notion.’  If the Civil War is a significant part of history, should not the basis for it also be viewed as significant?”

Jones added that U of L President Neeli Bendapudi shares her view: "President Bendapudi, Provost (Lori Stewart) Gonzalez and I reject the idea that the year 1619 is not a critical moment in the history of this country."  

McConnell, a 1964 U of L graduate, has long been a booster of the university and maintained close ties to it. In 1991, he established U of L’s McConnell Center, a nonpartisan program that “seeks to identify, recruit and nurture Kentucky’s next generation of great leaders.”

Bendapudi, who was hired in 2018, has embraced an “antiracist agenda” for the university and added the word “antiracist” to U of L’s formal mandate from the legislature to become a “premier metropolitan research university.”

Bendapudi has said such an agenda should not be controversial.

“To me, anti-racism is extremely simple,” she told WDRB in October 2020. “A racist idea is when you say that one race, by itself, is superior or inferior to another. So, anti-racism is the very simple premise that your race does not confer any inherent inferiority, or superiority, to somebody.”

McConnell's May 3 remarks in their entirety:

"Well, look, I think this is about American history and the most important dates in American history. And my view, and I think most Americans think, dates like 1776, the Declaration of Independence; 1787. the Constitution; 1861 to 1865, the Civil War, are sort of the basic tenets of American history. There are a lot of exotic notions about what are the most important points in American history. I simply disagree with the notion that the New York Times laid out there that the year 1619 was one of those years. I think, that issue that we all are concerned about -- racial discrimination -- it was our original sin. We've been working for 200 and some odd years to get past it. We're still working on it. And I just simply don't think that's part of the core underpinning of what American civic education ought to be about."

U of L's V. Faye Jones May 6 email to the campus in its entirety:

UofL Community,

As I am sure most of you are aware, the recent statements made by Sen. Mitch McConnell during a press conference in Louisville this week are quite troubling for American descendents of slaves, our allies and those who support us.  

To imply that slavery is not an important part of United States history not only fails to provide a true representation of the facts, but also denies the heritage, culture, resilience and survival of Black people in America.  It also fails to give context to the history of systemic racial discrimination, the United States’ “original sin” as Sen. McConnell called it, which still plagues us today.  

What we know to be true is that slavery and the date the first enslaved Africans arrived and were sold on U.S. soil are more than an “exotic notion.”  If the Civil War is a significant part of history, should not the basis for it also be viewed as significant?  

Our vision statement affirms that we “commit ourselves to building an exemplary educational community that offers a nurturing and challenging intellectual climate, a respect for the spectrum of human diversity, and a genuine understanding of the many differences - including race, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, religion, diversity of thought and political ideology - that enrich a vibrant metropolitan research university.” To be true to that vision, President Bendapudi, Provost Gonzalez and I reject the idea that the year 1619 is not a critical moment in the history of this country.  

I hope you will join me in being committed to providing an exemplary educational community to our students and honoring the truth of our history in all its tragedy and triumph.  

V. Faye Jones, MD, PhD

Interim Senior Associate Vice President

Diversity and Equity

University of Louisville

Reach reporter Chris Otts at 502-585-0822, cotts@wdrb.com, on Twitter or on Facebook. Copyright 2021 WDRB Media. All rights reserved.