The Cotton Gin, Squirrel Hill and Other Letters to the Editor

To the Editor:

The Constitution allowed Congress to ban the Atlantic slave trade. “The 1619 Project,” edited by Nikole Hannah-Jones, Caitlin Roper, Ilena Silverman and Jake Silverstein, says that for slave owners in states like Virginia, the ban was “self-serving” because by ending such imports, Virginians could sell their own excess slaves “south.” In his review (Nov. 21), Adam Hochschild says the book “proves” its assertion because, ultimately, Virginians sold more than 300,000 slaves “south.”

Contrary to this claim, however, when the Constitution was adopted, no one knew that a large demand for Virginia’s excess slaves would arise in what would become the old Southwest — Alabama, Mississippi and points west — because the cotton gin had not yet been invented. Invention of the cotton gin made possible cotton farming in the old Southwest, thus creating a demand for slaves to produce the cotton; the cotton gin was not invented until six years after the Constitution had been adopted.

Richard Joffe
New York

To the Editor:

In reference to Hochschild’s review: Having encountered many people who, depending on their politics, either celebrated or condemned “The 1619 Project” while barely familiar with it (let alone with the background information necessary to assess it), I find it refreshing to read an assessment by someone who actually knows what he is talking about.

Felicia Nimue Ackerman
Providence, R.I.

To the Editor:

James Yang’s “A Boy Named Isamu” (Nov. 14) is what excellent children’s literature is, the absence of the adult voice interfering in the telling of a story with the intent to teach a lesson or two. Children are surrounded by adult voices in life — in “A Boy Named Isamu,” there are Isamu and the reader alone.

This book will also be excellent for readers in their 80s and 90s as they, too, are surrounded by too many adult voices. What a pleasure of a stroll with Isamu, awakening our senses to our own world.

Frances H. Kakugawa

To the Editor:

Reviewing Mark Oppenheimer’s “Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue and the Soul of a Neighborhood” (Nov. 21), Irina Reyn mentions that the shooter was “particularly incensed by Dor Hadash, a progressive congregation participating in the National Refugee Shabbat, an initiative organized by HIAS,” originally the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society.

In his online rantings, the shooter, Robert Bowers, identified HIAS by name and singled them out for aiding the immigrants who were “flooding” into our country. Though Bowers voiced his dislike of Donald Trump, he expressed much of the same vitriol that the former president used. Large numbers of Pittsburgh residents informed the president that he was not wanted in their city because of his support of white nationalists and his anti-immigrant rhetoric. This was important to mention.

Arthur Salz
Kew Gardens, Queens

To the Editor:

I don’t think anything has dissolved my trust in contemporary writers so much as this business in the Book Review about night stands. You know, asking writers what books are on theirs in By the Book interviews.

It’s not the books they name but the assumption that they have a night stand.

I’m surprised so many give straight answers and don’t say something like: “Do you mean on top of the box of chocolates or under it?” Or: “If I had books on the small table near my bed, they would crush the miniature stuffed wild boar.”

Equally appalling is the cozy knowingness with which the Book Review assumes one has bought heaps of expensive books one might read and keeps them piled on that night stand.

When I find a book, I want to read it like one of these passionate weekends in Venice you see in the movies. It’s all over in a few days. There’s no night stand. Or if there was, we didn’t notice.

Ted Gachot
New York