By TOM FOREMAN Jr. and AARON MORRISON
WINSTON-SALEM, NC (AP) – A black investigative journalist who won a Pulitzer Prize for her groundbreaking work on the bitter legacy of slavery in the United States announced on Tuesday that she would not join the faculty of the University of North Carolina after an extended tenure marked by allegations of racism and conservative backlash against his work.
Nikole Hannah-Jones will instead accept a post of chairman at Howard University, a historically black school in Washington, DC
The dispute over whether the flagship public university of North Carolina would grant Hannah-Jones a life professorship had sparked weeks of uproar inside and outside its Chapel Hill campus. Many professors and alumni have expressed frustration, and black students and professors have asked during the protests if the predominantly white university appreciates them.
And while the UNC belatedly offered her tenure last week, Hannah-Jones said in an interview with The Associated Press that the unfairness of the way she was treated as a black woman had caused her to refuse. the offer.
“I wanted to send a powerful message, or what I hope is a powerful message, that we are often treated as if we should be lucky these institutions are letting us in,” said Hannah-Jones, who obtained a mastery of UNC. . “But we don’t have to go to these institutions if we don’t want to.”
Hannah-Jones – who won the Pulitzer Prize for her work on The New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project which focused on the history of slavery in the United States – noted that she had not looked for the job and that ‘she had been recruited by the dean of journalism at UNC before her candidacy was blocked. amid objections from a powerful donor and concerns from the Conservatives about his work.
“I wasn’t looking to get into academia,” Hannah-Jones told AP. “It was that particular job at this particular place that I wanted to go and give back to college that helped me build the career that I have built.”
Hannah-Jones, 45, will instead accept a position as Knight Chair in Race and Journalism at Howard, who also announced on Tuesday that award-winning journalist and author Ta-Nehisi Coates would join his faculty. Coates, who won a National Book Award for “Between the World and Me,” and Hannah-Jones have both received MacArthur “genius” grants for their writings.
Hannah-Jones’ application for tenure was submitted to UNC trustees last year, but was halted after a board member who reviewed the appointments raised questions about his background non-academics. Instead, she first got a five-year contract, despite her predecessors getting tenure when they were appointed. Last week, the board, after weeks of mounting pressure, finally voted to offer tenure.
UNC School of Journalism Dean Susan King, who has supported Hannah-Jones throughout her candidacy, said in a statement that she hopes “UNC can learn from this long-running drama. date on how we need to change as a community of academics to grow “.
College enrollment is around 60% white and 8% black.
More than 30 faculty members at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media on Tuesday signed a statement saying they supported Hannah-Jones’ decision and denouncing “the appalling treatment of one of our country’s most decorated journalists by its own alma mater “.
“We will be frank: it was racist,” the statement said.
When asked if she agrees with their assessment, Hannah-Jones told AP that “the facts speak for themselves.”
“If there is a legitimate reason why someone, who has worked in the field for as long as me, who has the degrees, awards or status that I have, should be treated differently from any other white professor? who came before me, outside of the race, I would like to hear that explanation, ”she said. “I haven’t heard it yet.”
Hannah-Jones and Coates’ appointments to Howard are backed by nearly $ 20 million donated by three philanthropic foundations and an anonymous donor, gifts meant to bolster Howard’s investment in black journalists, the university said.
“At such a critical time for race relations in our country, it is essential that we understand the role of journalism in driving our national conversation and social progress,” Howard Wayne AI President Frederick said in a statement. hurry.
Coates celebrated his return to Howard, who is his alma mater.
“It’s the faculty that shaped me. It’s the faculty that made me stronger, ”Coates said. “Personally, I know of no higher personal honor than this.”
In her written statement, Hannah-Jones cited political interference and influence from a powerful donor to the school of journalism, a reference to Arkansas newspaper editor Walter Hussman. He admitted in previous interviews that he had emailed university leaders challenging his work as “very controversial and very controversial”.
Hussman, whose name graces the UNC journalism school after pledging a $ 25 million donation, said in a telephone interview on Tuesday that he was still concerned about Project 1619 but respected Hannah-Jones.
“I really felt a sense of regret that we never got to get together and never had the chance to sit down and talk to him,” he said.
What excites Hannah-Jones most about her appointment to Howard, she said, is the opportunity to help shape a new generation of journalists to serve “as truth-tellers in our democracy.”
“Sadly, for too long, the institutions that train black journalists… haven’t been able to get the kind of resources they need, to really compete and get into the newsrooms at the rates they should. . And I believe we can change that.
“Although it is unfortunate how this happened, and I am deeply saddened by what happened with my alma mater, it is not a consolation prize,” she said of the comment. from his new position at Howard.
“This, hopefully, also sends a message to other black people, who have achieved a certain status in their careers, that we can go home and build our own.”
Morrison reported from Brooklyn, NY
AP writer on race and ethnicity Aaron Morrison is a member, coach and mentor of the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting, co-founded by Hannah-Jones.