Nikole Hannah-Jones is interviewed at her home in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Tuesday, July 6, 2021. Hannah-Jones says she will not teach at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill following an extended fight over tenure. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

By Wayne Dawkins

Thanks, but no thanks. That is what Nikole Hannah-Jones said to the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill after months of becoming a reluctant cause celeb.

Hannah-Jones, New York Times writer and Pulitzer Prize winner of the 1619 Project, had been offered a tenured professorship at the school where she earned a Master’s degree in journalism and said she was inspired by professors Chuck Stone and Harry Amana.  

Such a lovefest with a campus and its faculty, until conservative haters pressured UNC trustees to withhold the tenure prize. The haters despised Hannah-Jones’ fiery essay that introduced the 1619 Project series, a historical rewrite of the African-American narrative from the birth of English America in Virginia to the present. 

As co-founder of the Ida B. Wells Society, a Black investigative reporting organization, Hannah-Jones’ piece torched oppressors who did not want to hear the truth about their treachery. The messenger then had to be punished with extreme prejudice. 

Hannah-Jones was hung out in public to be psychologically assaulted and battered. After the pundit whipping ended, UNC offered the woman a 5-year teaching contract but no tenure like every other professor before her.

Hannah-Jones’ haters forgot an important detail. She did not need the UNC job nor was there any indication she pined for the distinguished chair. Hannah-Jones is a top investigative reporter at the New York Times, and she’s not leaving that job. 

As for her beloved UNC, her words, Hannah-Jones did not have a grovel for crumbs from the master’s table. The Knight Foundation, which underwrites endowed professorship, agreed. The foundation said she could take their $15 million gift elsewhere.

Hannah-Jones told CBS’ Gayle King on July 6 she is taking that money to Howard University.  

Boom.

Hannah-Jones announced the funding is intended to strengthen journalism education at historically Black colleges and universities. There is talk of a consortium and collaboration, which could mean synergy among the five HBCU J-schools: Howard, Hampton, Florida A&M, Texas Southern and, drumroll please, Morgan State. Other HBCUs, notably North Carolina A&T, a department inside a liberal arts school, is in the mix too.

At the start of this century, another foundation, Scripps Howard, invested over $10 million to create a stand-alone journalism school at Hampton, which is a 30-minute drive from Jamestown. 

The investment nourished and raised several hundred outstanding journalists and communicators, among them a former student who is my editor at this newspaper. 

Now more than ever we need take-no-prisoners, neither-fear-nor-favor Black-inspired journalism. 

It is justice then that unlike 1619 when Black women were property with no legal rights, unprotected to be beaten, tortured, raped and murdered, now four centuries later, a Black professional woman can withstand a political gang attack, hire a crack legal team that said the attackers influenced a hallowed institution to irrationally violate their rules and precedents. 

Hannah-Jones in the end was offered the tenure that was proffered, however as a colleague wistfully said on social media a few days ago, why does a Black woman have to fight so hard for something she rightfully earned?  

Well maybe said person can change their mind. 

Welcome to your new haven, Nikole Hannah-Jones.

Wayne Dawkins is a writer, and a professor of professional practice at Morgan State University School of Global Journalism and Communication.

The writer is a professor of professional practice at Morgan State University School of Global Journalism and Communication.

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