Nikole Hannah-Jones, founder of the discredited “1619 Project,” has rejected a tenured position at her alma mater, the University of North Carolina (UNC) Chapel Hill. Instead, she will join Ta-Nehisi Coates, a former columnist at The Atlantic, at one of America’s most prestigious Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Howard University. Hannah-Jones argued that the controversy over her hiring and tenure had more to do with racism and sexism than her outright lies about American history.
“It’s pretty clear that my tenure was not taken up because of political opposition, because of discriminatory views against my viewpoints and, I believe, because of my race and my gender,” Hannah-Jones told Gayle King on CBS This Morning, the Raleigh News & Observer reported.
“It has to be made clear: I went through the official tenure process and my peers in academia said that I was deserving of tenure,” the 1619 Project founder argued. “The board members are political appointees who decided that I wasn’t.”
While opposition to Hannah-Jones’ tenured position was indeed partially political, the political dispute traces back to the 1619 Project’s shameless twisting of history.
In April, UNC’s Hussman School of Journalism announced that Hannah-Jones would become the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism, taking a Knight Chair professorship, endowed by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The professorship brings top professionals to classrooms to teach and mentor students.
Yet this announcement rightly triggered loud opposition and controversy. In the wake of scholarly and political complaints, UNC offered Hannah-Jones a fixed-term position rather than a tenured position. All of the Knight Chair professors teaching at the Chapel Hill campus have been tenured since 1980, but not all Knight Chair professorships are tenured. It seems the university offered Hannah-Jones a five-year fixed-term position in part because such positions do not require board approval.
Through her lawyers, Hannah-Jones said she would not accept the job without tenure and she even threatened to sue the university for discrimination. Activists claimed that UNC’s treatment of Hannah-Jones smacked of racism and a desire to restrict academic freedom.
Late last month, however, UNC did another abrupt about-face, offering Hannah-Jones tenure.
This battle appears to have left a sour taste in Hannah-Jones’ mouth, however. Howard University offered her a tenured Knight Chair position, and she accepted it.
The UNC Hussman School faculty wrote a statement condemning the backlash to Hannah-Jones as racist.
“Today, we learned that Ms. Nikole Hannah-Jones has declined a tenured appointment as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media,” the faculty wrote. “While disappointed, we are not surprised. We support Ms. Hannah-Jones’s choice. The appalling treatment of one of our nation’s most-decorated journalists by her own alma mater was humiliating, inappropriate, and unjust.”
“We will be frank: It was racist,” the professors declared.
Yet NPR traced the opposition to Hannah-Jones’ tenure to Walter Hussman, a UNC donor, alumnus, and Arkansas newspaper publisher whose name adorns the university’s journalism school. Hussman told NPR that he opposed granting Hannah-Jones tenure in part because she had distorted the historical record, particularly arguing that the “one of the primary reasons” the American colonists revolted against Britain in 1776 was to preserve the institution of slavery.
This claim led The New York Times to make an embarrassing correction shortly after launching the project. Slavery was not one of the motivating factors of the revolution, which itself disrupted slavery. Despite this fact, Hannah-Jones recently claimed that she will be able to back up this false contention in her forthcoming book.
The 1619 Project twists American history along the lines of Marxist critical race theory, reframing many aspects of American life as rooted in race-based slavery and oppression, including capitalism, the consumption of sugar, and America’s rejection of 100 percent government-funded health care. The project goes right to the heart of America, featuring graphics crossing out “July 4, 1776” and replacing the founding date with “August 20, 1619.”
Until September 2020, the 1619 Project website had announced that the project “aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.” In September, the Times stealth-edited the website to remove the claim about 1619 being America’s “true founding” and the project’s founder, Nikole Hannah-Jones, told CNN that the project “does not argue that 1776 was not the founding of the country.” Psyche!
Historians have criticized the project for twisting the truth. For instance, there were black slaves, and black freedmen, in America for about a century before 1619. Whoops!
The Smithsonian Magazine disputed the 1619 Project, explaining that the Spanish brought slaves to present-day South Carolina in 1526.
“In 1526, enslaved Africans were part of a Spanish expedition to establish an outpost on the North American coast in present-day South Carolina. Those Africans launched a rebellion in November of that year and effectively destroyed the Spanish settlers’ ability to sustain the settlement, which they abandoned a year later. Nearly 100 years before Jamestown, African actors enabled American colonies to survive, and they were equally able to destroy European colonial ventures,” the magazine reported.
Ignoring these and other pre-1619 slaves “effectively erases the memory of many more African peoples than it memorializes,” the Smithsonian Magazine article argued. Therefore, the New York Times project “silences the memory of the more than 500,000 African men, women, and children who had already crossed the Atlantic against their will, aided and abetted Europeans in their endeavors, provided expertise and guidance in a range of enterprises, suffered, died, and – most importantly – endured.”
Citing these and other errors, scholars have demanded that the Pulitzer Prize board revoke the prize awarded to Hannah-Jones and the 1619 Project.
Of course, the 1619 Project is also false in a much deeper sense. Its narrative delegitimizes the very real benefits of American freedom and prosperity by claiming that racist oppression is the central truth behind the country’s ideals, while in truth the country was founded in pursuit of freedom and equality. Although the Founders allowed slavery to persist, they laid the groundwork to defeat it eventually.
Marxist critical race theory inspired much of the destruction of the Black Lives Matter and antifa riots over the summer. While protesters rightly expressed outrage at the treatment of George Floyd, many of the protests devolved into looting, vandalism, and arson in which lawless thugs — acting in the name of fighting racism — destroyed black lives, black livelihoods, and black monuments.
When vandals toppled a statue of George Washington in Portland, they spray-painted “1619” on it. When Claremont’s Charles Kesler wrote in The New York Post, “Call them the 1619 riots,” Hannah-Jones responded (in a since-deleted tweet) that “it would be an honor” to claim responsibility for the destructive riots.
Due to these and other reasons, lawmakers across the country are pushing back against the 1619 Project. Republican lawmakers have filed bills to stop the 1619 Project from invading schools in Arkansas (H.B. 1231), Iowa (H.F. 222), Mississippi (S.B. 2538), Missouri (H.B. 952), and South Dakota (H.B. 1158). These bills would cut funding to K-12 schools and colleges that use a curriculum based on the 1619 Project.
By hiring Nikole Hannah-Jones, UNC sent a chilling message to prospective conservative students who are considering journalism. Trustees were right to raise objections, and the school should reconsider aligning with this deceptive effort. Unfortunately, Howard University appears all too willing to endorse the 1619 Project’s distortions of American history.
Opposition to Hannah-Jones has far less to do with her sex or her skin color than it has to do with the fact that she has peddled outright lies about American history, lies that have inspired violence and destruction. Yet, like so many on the Left before her, Hannah-Jones dismisses all legitimate criticism of her work as mere racism and sexism.