Washington

UNC hires ‘1619 Project’ author to teach journalism


The University of North Carolina has hired a journalism professor the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who developed The New York Times’ “1619 Project,” a series that reframed U.S. history with slavery and racism as the defining characteristic of the American story.

The writer, Nikole Hannah-Jones, 45, will begin teaching classes this summer the UNC’s flagship campus in Chapel Hill, according to the school.

Ms. Hannah-Jones is a UNC alum and began her reporting career in North Carolina. She now will hold the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism, according to the announcement by UNC-Chapel Hill’s Hussman School of Journalism.  

Ms. Hannah-Jones was one of the driving forces behind the 1619 Project, which the newspaper ambitiously hoped would alter the teaching of American history to put slavery and its consequences at the center of the story. The date comes from the arrival of the first slave ship on North American shores.

Ms. Hannah-Jones said her perspective on slavery and its lingering consequences will inform her classroom conduct.

“I see classrooms as democratic institutions, where all students should be encouraged to participate, but where the instructor must understand that not all students feel equally empowered to do so,” she said in a UNC press release. “I think it is critical that professors encourage students in their varied talents and experiences and give them equal weight within the classroom.”

The 1619 Project ran afoul of prominent historians who challenged the accuracy of the racist-dominant perspective.

The series, however, ran afoul of prominent historians who challenged the accuracy of the racist-dominant perspective and noted that some of its chief points were not true. For example, the project argued that a defense of the institution of slavery was the driving force behind the American Revolution, an idea that has no substance in the facts, according to Brown University’s Gordon Wood, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian on the colonial period.

Other top scholars, such as Princeton University’s professor emeritus James McPherson, a famous Civil War historian, also questioned the accuracy of The Times’s project.

In response to such criticism, The Times without fanfare altered the version of the Project available online, watering down or removing some of its key claims.

Still, journalists and left-wing academics welcomed the 1619 Project. It also made real inroads into public school curriculums, where ideas linked to critical race theory are rapidly taking root.

Critical race theory holds that White people are racist and retain political and economic power by oppressing people of color. Schools that adopt the racist-retribution curriculum often targeted White and heterosexual students as problematic based on their race and sexual orientation.

In addition to winning a Pulitzer for her essay, Ms. Hannah-Jones is also the recipient of a MacArthur Award, also known as the “Genius Grant,” for Chronicling the persistence of racial segregation in American society, particularly in education, and reshaping national conversations around education reform.

The prize is awarded by the MacArthur Foundation to individuals who, working in any field, show “extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction,” according to the foundation.

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