UNC megadonor spoke out against Hannah-Jones: ‘Needless controversy’

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As illustrious groups of journalists, academics, and artists, and parts of the UNC community rally around acclaimed 1619 Project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones, opponents to her tenured position as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at UNC are being exposed. 

As theGrio previously reported, UNC’s board of trustees thwarted Hannah-Jones’ track to the tenured Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism by refusing to review her application, essentially backtracking the university’s offer for the position. Last week, 1,619 UNC alumni and students published a letter detailing their outrage about the board’s decision and a tenure request for the Pulitzer, Peabody, and MacArthur winner was re-submitted. 

Read More: Nikole Hannah-Jones’ tenure bid resubmitted to UNC Board of Trustees

Walter Hussman (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/JOHN SYKES JR.)

Now, more information is coming out about Hannah-Jones tenure opponent, Walter E. Hussman Jr. for whom UNC’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media is named. In 2019, the UNC alumnus, newspaper publisher, and megadonor donated $25 million to the school, the largest it had ever received. 

In emails acquired by the Assembly, Hussman said he was worried about the controversy of “tying the UNC journalism school to the 1619 project.” In December 2020, Hussman wrote emails to UNC Hussman dean Susan King, and university chancellors Kevin Guskiewicz and David Routh, that characterized Hannah-Jones as less than objective, writing “I find myself more in agreement with Pulitzer prize-winning historians like James McPherson and Gordon Wood than I do Nikole Hannah-Jones. These historians appear to me to be pushing to find the true historical facts.”

Hussman continued “Based on her own words, many will conclude she is trying to push an agenda, and they will assume she is manipulating historical facts to support it. If asked about it, I will have to be honest in saying I agree with the historians.” 

Ironically, Hussman has argued that Hannah-Jones’ essay America Wasn’t A Democracy Until Black Americans Made It One did not give enough acknowledgement to white Americans who made contributions citing a passage where Hannah-Jones wrote that “For the most part, Black Americans fought back alone.”

Read More: 1,619 UNC alumni, students take out ad in support of Nikole Hannah-Jones

In a September email, Hussman wrote that Hannah-Jones’ claim “denigrates the courageous efforts of many white Americans to address the sin of slavery and the racial injustices that resulted after the Civil War.” 

On Sunday, Hannah-Jones addressed Hussman’s critique in a tweet saying, “Also: completely irrelevant to my credentials as a journalist, for the record, I’ve long credited Black and white race beat reporters with inspiring my own journalism. This has been on the bio page of my web site for years.” 

Last week, King released an official statement doubling down on UNC Hussman faculty’s recommendation to make Hannah-Jones the Knight Chair. Hannah-Jones has retained the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and put the UNC board of trustees on deadline to renew her tenure offer by June 4, or she will take legal action. 

“I had no desire to bring turmoil or a political firestorm to the university that I love, but I am obligated to fight back against a wave of anti-democratic suppression that seeks to prohibit the free exchange of ideas, silence Black voices and chill free speech,” Hannah-Jones said in a statement released Thursday.

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