Republican Senator Tom Cotton said slavery was a “necessary evil” in the United States.
In an interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Cotton made the comments in an effort to discredit a New York Times project called the 1619 Project, which explores slavery in the U.S.
He is proposing a bill to cut federal funding to schools that will use the 1619 Project as part of their curriculum in teaching slavery.
According to the NYTimes, the project is meant to place “the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.”
The project was launched last year to mark the 400th anniversary of the beginning of slavery in America.
Arkansas Rep. Cotton has been a big opponent of the project, saying the U.S. 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.”
He added: “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. 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.”
Nikole Hannah-Jones, the journalist who created the project and won a Pulitzer Prize for it, replied to Cotton’s comments in a tweet Sunday.
“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 wrote.
Cotton then changed his tune and said he was only describing “the views of the Founders,” and that it was not his view.