* Founder of The 1619 Project
* Views America as an irredeemably racist nation
* Has characterized white people as “savages” and “barbaric devils”
* Supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement
* Admirer of the late Fidel Castro and Communist Cuba
* Advocate of reparations for black Americans
Nikole Hannah-Jones was born as Nikole Sheri Hannah on April 9, 1976 in Waterloo, Iowa, to an African American father and a white mother. She graduated from Waterloo West High School in 1994 and went on to attend the University of Notre Dame.
As a college freshman, Miss Hannah struggled academically and she frequently skipped classes. As a sophomore in November 1995, she wrote a letter to the editor of the University’s student newspaper, The Observer, revealing her visceral hatred for America and for white people. Titled, “Modern Savagery,” the letter read as follows:
Dear Editor: I was shocked and disgusted when I read Fred Kelly’s article in the November 9 issue of the Observer. What responsible editor would print an article that applauds and dignifies the white race’s rape, plunder, and genocide of a whole race of people?
I find it hard to believe that any member of the white race can have the audacity and hypocrisy to call any other culture savage. The white race is the biggest murderer, rapist, pillager, and thief of the modern world. Europeans have colonized and destroyed the indigenous populations on every continent of this planet. They have committed genocide against cultures that have never offended them in their greed and insatiable desire to control and dominate every non-white culture.
Christopher Columbus and those like him were no difierent then [sic] Hitler. The crimes they committed were unnecessarily cruel and can only be described as acts of the devil. Africans had been to the Americas long before Columbus or any Europeans. The difference is that Africans had the decency and respect for human life to learn from the Native Americans and trade technology with them. The pyramids of the Aztecs and the great stone heads of the Olmecs are lasting monuments to the friendship of these two peoples. But as David Walker wrote in his Appeal in 1829, the white men acted “more like devils than accountable men … whites have always been an unjust. jealous, unmerciful, avaricious, and blood· thirsty set of beings, always seeking after power and authority.” It was not enough for whites to come to the Americas and learn, they looked upon the native people as inferior and a people to be annihilated. Their lasting monument was the destruction and enslavement of two races of people.
Using Christianity as their excuse, the white race denied the native people their humanity. Not only did they rape and murder the indigenous peoples of America, but they killed off many more by introducing diseases which came from filth and uncleanliness to the native people. The white race used deceit and trickery, warfare and rape, to steal the land from the people that had lived here for thousands and thousands of years. Over and over again whites made peace treaties with the Native Americans[,] telling them that if they moved just this one last time and gave up their land to the greedy settlers just this one last time[,] they would never have to move again. It was common knowledge that the white man’s word could not be trusted.
Even today, the descendants of these savage people pump drugs and guns into the Black community, pack Black people into the squalor of segregated urban ghettos, and continue ot be bloodsuckers in our communites. Yes, it was Columbus that set the platforms for these racist American institutions. A devil calling someone a savage is like the pot calling the kettle black.
But after everything that those barbaric devils did, I do not hate them or their descendants. I understand that because of some lacking, they needed to constantly prove their superiority. [Fred] Kelly felt threatened by NASA-ND’s exposure of’ the true Columbus, so he felt it necessary to degrade their whole culture to maintain his security. Fred Kelly, I pity you for feeling that just because you are white and Christian, you can celebrate the destruction of another human being. In closing, a famous American, who was beat down by members of the christian [sic] society, once said “Why can’t we all just get along?” Why? because white America’s dream is colored America’s nightmare. To Kelly I say: It does not feel good to have your cuiture put under a microscope, does it?
In the September 20, 1996 edition of The Observer, Miss Hannah claimed that a white Notre Dame student-athlete had recently used the racial epithet “nigger” against her and some other black students — an incident which she portrayed as a reflection of widespread white racism. She wrote:
They tell us that those who attend Notre Dame are part of a family; they tell us that we all belong here despite our differences, and after two years of struggling to find truth in these statements … I was coldly thrust back into reality — I am Black, therefore, Notre Dame Is not my family…..
[T]wo vehicles full of white, athletic-looking students drove up behind us and started yelling at us…. Then, It happened. One of them stuck his head out of the window and yelled, “Get out of’ the way, you g–damn niggers!” l felt as if my heart stopped beating as they sped off laughing.
I guess I have been lucky, because despite all of the things that white people have done to me, it took twenty years before one called me a nigger….
[I]t wasn’t until I called my mom the next morning that I realized how much that word — nigger — had hurt me. As I told her what had happened, I just broke down and cried….
Some of you may say, nigger is just a word. and to you it may be … But to me It signifies centuries of brutality, oppression, and dehumanization of my people. The use of it today shows that things have not changed that much. Being Black at Notre Dame is an everyday struggle, but I had convinced myself that it would be worth it. But Saturday [the day of the alleged incident] I was forced to see that no matter what I accomplish, or how many degrees I achieve, to any whites I am always going to be just a nigger. I know that it should not bother me, but it does. It hurts that an ignorant white athlete. who probably can hardly read and most likely was so drunk that he can’t remember what he did, hurt me so deeply and make [sic] my two hard years here seem as if they were not worth anything,…
I tell you this: This nigger is going to get her degree from Notre Dame and use it against those very people that seek to oppress my people. No one has the right to make someone feel like l felt that night, but white racists only make me more determined. White people cannot hold a strong Black person down if they are smart. We just have to be cautious in this white wilderness called Notre Dame and give up the illusion that we belong to this family. Incidents like this can easily make one hate white people, but they are not worth the effort that hating them takes. I do not need to “fit in” here as long as l get my degree.
Other notable pieces that Miss Hannah authored in Notre Dame’s The Observer included the following:
1. “O.J. Trial Points to Persistent Issue of Race” (1995):
Hannah graduated from Notre Dame in 1998 with a B.A. degree in History and African American Studies. In 2003, she received an M.A. in Journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media, which she had attended with the financial support of the Roy H. Park Fellowship program.
In November 2003, Miss Hannah married Faraji Jones, who worked as a senior technical specialist for Time Warner Cable. (In 2020, he would become an information support technician for the ACLU.) After her marriage, Miss Hannah took the hyphenated surname Hannah-Jones.
Hannah-Jones worked as a reporter for The News and Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina from 2003 to 2006. She then relocated to Portland, Oregon and spent the next several years reporting for The Oregonian (2006 to 2011).
During the late 2000s, the Institute for Advanced Journalism Studies — an organization dedicated to promoting “black journalists and journalism” — afforded Hannah-Jones the opportunity to report on “universal health care” in Cuba. In a 2008 piece — “The Cuba We Don’t Know” — Hannah-Jones praised Fidel Castro’s “Cuban Revolution” for having contributed to the nation’s “99.8 percent literacy rate, the lowest HIV infection rate in the Western Hemisphere, free college and health care.” She touted Cubans’ “scrappy pride forged by a half-century of this tiny nation fending off the will of its superpower neighbor [the United States].” And she noted “what Cuba has accomplished, through socialism and despite poverty, that the United States hasn’t.” While acknowledging that some problems still existed, Hannah-Jones concluded that “Cuba is not the great evil we are led to believe.”
From 2011 to 2016, Hannah-Jones served as an investigative reporter for the left-leaning ProPublica in New York City. In this capacity, she “covered civil rights with a focus on segregation and discrimination in housing and schools.” In 2012, she published Living Apart: How the Government Betrayed a Landmark Civil Rights Law. For her coverage of what she described as the federal government’s complicity in discriminatory housing practices, Hannah-Jones receieved Columbia University’s Paul Tobenkin Memorial Award in 2013.
Hannah-Jones became a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine in April 2015. The publication’s then-editor-in-chief, Jake Silverstein, announced at the time that Hannah-Jones “brings an incredible passion for the power of journalism to do good in the world.”
In 2016, Hannah-Jones helped establish the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting, which: (a) was started with the financial support of the Ford Foundation and George Soros‘ Open Society Foundations, and (b) sought to “provide the training and mentorship necessary for journalists of color.” Along with Hannah-Jones, the other primary co-founders of the Wells Society were the leftist reporters Corey Johnson, Ron Nixon, and Topher Sanders.
Hannah-Jones’ New York Times Magazine essays have focused heavily on the theme of “racial injustice” against African Americans. Below are a few of her notable titles, along with key excerpts from each:
1) “The Continuing Reality of Segregated Schools” (July 31, 2015):
“Next month [August 2015] will mark a year since Michael Brown was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., a small St. Louis suburb. The death of the unarmed black teenager and the ensuing protests helped focus the nation’s eyes on the long-ignored specter of police brutality against black Americans, birthing a movement to assert that black lives matter. Brown quickly became a national symbol of police violence against black youth, but after spending the last year reporting on the devastating consequences of the resegregation of America’s schools, I realized he was also a symbol of something much more common.
“Most black children will not be killed by the police. But millions of them will go to a school like Michael Brown’s: segregated, impoverished and failing. The nearly all-black, almost entirely poor Normandy school district from which Brown graduated just eight days before he was killed placed dead last on its accreditation assessment in the 2013-2014 school year: 520th out of 520 Missouri districts. The circumstances were so dire that the state stripped the district of its accreditation and eventually took over.”
2) “Choosing a School for My Daughter in a Segregated City” (June 9, 2016):
“For many white Americans, millions of black and Latino children attending segregated schools may seem like a throwback to another era, a problem we solved long ago. And legally, we did. In 1954, the Supreme Court issued its landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling, striking down laws that forced black and white children to attend separate schools. But while Brown v. Board targeted segregation by state law, we have proved largely unwilling to address segregation that is maintained by other means, resulting from the nation’s long and racist history.”
3) “The Grief That White Americans Can’t Share” (July 22, 2016):
“I am a human being, a black woman in a country where black death has long been spectacle. […] For white people, who have been trained since birth to see themselves as individuals, the collective fear and collective grief that black Americans feel can be hard to grasp. But for black Americans like me, the killings of black men and women at the hands of the state with no justice to be had, is among the oldest and most familiar American stories.
“How do you explain the visceral and personal pain caused by the killing of a black person you did not even know to people who did not grow up with, as their legacy, the hushed stories of black bodies hung from trees by a lynching mob populated with sheriff’s deputies? Or of law enforcement, who often doubled as the Ku Klux Klan, killing black Southerners on lonely roads under the gaze of a silent moon?
“To many of us, the almost guaranteed failure in modern times to hold the police responsible for these deaths feels eerily familiar; black Americans add these recent cases to the list of countless black people who died a few generations ago ‘at the hands of persons unknown.’
“But, of course, this is not just about history and our disparate recollections of it. It is about now, and the way the vast gulf between the collective lived experiences of white Americans and that of black Americans can make true empathy seem impossible.”
4) “The End of the Postracial Myth” (November 15, 2016):
“On a cold, clear night in January 2008, when Iowa Democrats selected Barack Obama over a white woman and a white man in the state’s first-in-the-nation caucus, the moment felt transformative. If voters in this overwhelmingly white, rural state could cast their ballots for a black man as president, then perhaps it was possible for the entire nation to do what had never been done; perhaps America had turned far enough away from its racist past that skin color was no longer a barrier to the highest office of the land. […]
“Of course, that post-racial dream did not last long, and nothing epitomizes the naïveté of that belief more than the election last week of Donald J. Trump. As I watched my home state of Iowa join the red flood that overtook the electoral map last Tuesday [Election Day], I asked myself the same questions that so many others did: What happened? Why had states that reliably backed Obama — states like Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — flipped Republican?
“I was struck by how quickly white pundits sought to tamp down assertions that race had anything to do with it. It was, it seemed to me, almost a relief to many white Americans that Trump’s victory encompassed so many of the heavily white places that voted for a black man just years before. It was an absolution that let them reassure themselves that Donald Trump’s raucous campaign hadn’t revealed an ugly racist rift after all, that in the end, the discontent that propelled the reality-TV star into the White House was one of class and economic anxiety, not racism.
“But this analysis reveals less about the electorate than it does about the consistent inability of many white Americans to think about and understand the complex and often contradictory workings of race in this country, and to discuss and elucidate race in a sophisticated, nuanced way. […] For historians who have studied race in the United States, the change from blue to red in heavily white areas is not surprising. In fact, it was entirely predictable.”
As a result of these and other, similar reports on racial injustices, Hannah-Jones was recognized by the MacArthur Foundation in 2017 for uncovering “a problem that many are unwilling to acknowledge still exists and its tragic consequences for African American individuals, families, and communities.”
As a result of her MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and Genius Award, Hannah-Jones was soon able to launch “The 1619 Project,” which consisted of 10 essays that were published on August 14, 2019 in a special 100-page edition of The New York Times Magazine — in recognition of “the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery.” According to New York Times Magazine editor-in-chief Jake Silverstein, the “goal of The 1619 Project is to reframe American history by considering what it would mean to regard 1619 as our nation’s birth year.” He elaborated:
“What if … we were to tell you that the moment that the country’s defining contradictions first came into the world was in late August of 1619? That was when a ship arrived at Point Comfort in the British colony of Virginia, bearing a cargo of 20 to 30 enslaved Africans. Their arrival inaugurated a barbaric system of chattel slavery that would last for the next 250 years. This is sometimes referred to as the country’s original sin, but it is more than that: It is the country’s very origin. Out of slavery — and the anti-black racism it required — grew nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional: its economic might, its industrial power, its electoral system, its diet and popular music, the inequities of its public health and education, its astonishing penchant for violence, its income inequality, the example it sets for the world as a land of freedom and equality, its slang, its legal system and the endemic racial fears and hatreds that continue to plague it to this day. The seeds of all that were planted long before our official birth date, in 1776, when the men known as our founders formally declared independence from Britain.”
One of the original ten featured essays in the 1619 Project included Hannah-Jones’ “America Wasn’t a Democracy, Until Black Americans Made It One.” In that piece, the author affirmed that, “More than any other group in this country’s history, we have served, generation after generation, in an overlooked but vital role: It is we who have been the perfecters of this democracy.” Moreover, she declared that the United States had been founded “on both an ideal and a lie”:
“Our Declaration of Independence, approved on July 4, 1776, proclaims that ‘all men are created equal’ and ‘endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.’ But the white men who drafted those words did not believe them to be true for the hundreds of thousands of black people in their midst. ‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’ did not apply to fully one-fifth of the country. Yet despite being violently denied the freedom and justice promised to all, black Americans believed fervently in the American creed. Through centuries of black resistance and protest, we have helped the country live up to its founding ideals. And not only for ourselves — black rights struggles paved the way for every other rights struggle, including women’s and gay rights, immigrant and disability rights.”
Proclaiming that “one of the primary reasons some of the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery,” Hannah-Jones in her essay stated that Thomas Jefferson and America’s other Founding Fathers were “keenly aware” of their own “hypocrisy”:
“The wealth and prominence that allowed Jefferson, at just 33, and the other founding fathers to believe they could successfully break off from one of the mightiest empires in the world came from the dizzying profits generated by chattel slavery. In other words, we may never have revolted against Britain if some of the founders had not understood that slavery empowered them to do so; nor if they had not believed that independence was required in order to ensure that slavery would continue. It is not incidental that 10 of this nation’s first 12 presidents were enslavers, and some might argue that this nation was founded not as a democracy but as a slavocracy.”
Also in her “America Wasn’t a Democracy,” Hannah-Jones attacked Abraham Lincoln as someone who opposed “black equality” and who “believed that free black people were a ‘troublesome presence’ incompatible with a democracy intended only for white people.” She argued that after the Civil War, America’s Reconstruction era gave brief hope to the idea that “we could create the mutiracial democracy that black Americans envisioned even if our founding fathers did not.” She lamented, however, that “it would not last”:
“Anti-black racism runs in the very DNA of this country, as does the belief, so well articulated by Lincoln, that black people are the obstacle to national unity. The many gains of Reconstruction were met with fierce white resistance throughout the South, including unthinkable violence against the formerly enslaved, wide-scale voter suppression, electoral fraud and even, in some extreme cases, the overthrow of democratically elected biracial governments. Faced with this unrest, the federal government decided that black people were the cause of the problem and that for unity’s sake, it would leave the white South to its own devices.”
Hannah-Jones also praised black Americans for their resilience and perseverance in seeking to cultivate a more just nation despite the stiff opposition they faced from whites:
“For the most part, black Americans fought back alone. Yet we never fought only for ourselves. The bloody freedom struggles of the civil rights movement laid the foundation for every other modern rights struggle. This nation’s white founders set up a decidedly undemocratic Constitution that excluded women, Native Americans and black people, and did not provide the vote or equality for most Americans. But the laws born out of black resistance guarantee the franchise for all and ban discrimination based not just on race but on gender, nationality, religion and ability.”
In her essay’s concluding remarks, Hannah-Jones affirmed that “by virtue of [their] bondage,” African Americans ultimately “became the most American of all”:
“At 43, I am part of the first generation of black Americans in the history of the United States to be born into a society in which black people had full rights of citizenship. Black people suffered under slavery for 250 years; we have been legally ‘free’ for just 50. Yet in that briefest of spans, despite continuing to face rampant discrimination, and despite there never having been a genuine effort to redress the wrongs of slavery and the century of racial apartheid that followed, black Americans have made astounding progress, not only for ourselves but also for all Americans.”
Since its inception, The 1619 Project has regularly been critiqued for its historical inaccuracies. In December 2019, for example, historians Gordon Wood, Victoria Bynum, James Oakes, James McPherson, and Sean Wilentz together issued a letter calling for Jake Silverstein to rework The 1619 Project’s “factual errors” which “suggest a displacement of historical understanding by ideology.” According to The Heritage Foundation, The New York Times later, in 2020, “quietly edited” various portions of the Project’s essays “without even an editor’s note to explain the changes.” Among the noteworthy revisions was the removal of the phrase “our true founding” in reference to the year 1619. In March 2020, Silverstein provided an “update” to include the assertion that only “some of” the patriots had been motivated to fight the Revolutionary War in order to protect the institution of slavery — contrary to Hannah-Jones’ original claim that slavery had been a priority for all of them.
Hannah-Jones justified the Black Lives Matter-led looting and rioting that took place across the United States after George Floyd’s infamous death in May 2020, as: (a) a “symbolic taking” for African Americans, and (b) an indication of “a lot of movement in how people were understanding racial inequality.”
In June 2020, Hannah-Jones endorsed a conspiracy theory claiming that the U.S. government, in a “coordinated attack on Black and Brown communities,” was using fireworks in Brooklyn, New York as a form of “psychological warfare” designed to cause “sleep deprivation” and “stoke tensions between Black and Brown peoples.”
As of May 2020, The 1619 Project’s official education partner, the Pulitzer Center, had connected curricula based on the work of Hannah-Jones and her collaborators to some 4,500 classrooms since August 2019.
In the June 30, 2020 edition of The New York Times Magazine, Hannah-Jones wrote an extensive cover piece entitled “What is Owed,” making a case in favor of reparations for black Americans. Some key excerpts:
Black Americans protesting the violation of their rights are a defining tradition of this country. In the last century, there have been hundreds of uprisings in black communities in response to white violence…. Most of the time these uprisings have produced hand-wringing and consternation but few necessary structural changes. […]
After years of black-led activism, protest and organizing, the weeks of protests since George Floyd’s killing have moved lawmakers to ban chokeholds by police officers, consider stripping law enforcement of the qualified immunity that has made it almost impossible to hold responsible officers who kill, and discuss moving significant parts of ballooning police budgets into funding for social services. Black Lives Matter … saw its support among American voters rise almost as much in the two weeks after Floyd’s killing than in the last two years. […]
Multiracial groups of Americans have defaced or snatched down monuments to enslavers and bigots from Virginia to Philadelphia to Minneapolis and New Mexico, leading local and state politicians to locate the moral courage to realize that they indeed did have the power to purge from public spaces icons to white supremacy. […] Unlike so many times in the past, in which black people mostly marched and protested alone to demand recognition of their full humanity and citizenship, a multiracial and multigenerational protest army has taken to the streets over the last month. They’ve spread across all 50 states in places big and small, including historically all-white towns….
Black Americans, in particular, have borne a disproportionate number of deaths from both Covid-19 and law enforcement, and many nonblack protesters have reasoned that black people should not have to risk their lives alone in taking to the streets demanding that the state not execute its citizens without consequence. And as they did, white Americans both in the streets and through the screens of their phones and televisions got a taste of the wanton police violence that black Americans regularly face. […]
It devastates black people that all the other black deaths before George Floyd did not get us here. It devastates black people to recall all the excuses that have come before. […] It should devastate us all that in 2020 it took a cellphone video broadcast across the globe of a black man dying from the oldest and most terrifying tool in the white-supremacist arsenal to make a vast majority of white Americans decide that, well, this might be enough. […]
No one can predict whether this uprising will lead to lasting change. […] If we are truly at the precipice of a transformative moment, the most tragic of outcomes would be that the demand be too timid and the resolution too small. If we are indeed serious about creating a more just society, we must go much further than that. We must get to the root of it. […]
Wealth, not income, is the means to security in America. […] While unchecked discrimination still plays a significant role in shunting opportunities for black Americans, it is white Americans’ centuries-long economic head start that most effectively maintains racial caste today. As soon as laws began to ban racial discrimination against black Americans, white Americans created so-called race-neutral means of maintaining political and economic power. For example, soon after the 15th Amendment granted black men the right to vote, white politicians in many states, understanding that recently freed black Americans were impoverished, implemented poll taxes. In other words, white Americans have long known that in a country where black people have been kept disproportionately poor and prevented from building wealth, rules and policies involving money can be nearly as effective for maintaining the color line as legal segregation. You do not have to have laws forcing segregated housing and schools if white Americans, using their generational wealth and higher incomes, can simply buy their way into expensive enclaves with exclusive public schools that are out of the price range of most black Americans.It has worked with impressive efficiency. Today black Americans remain the most segregated group of people in America and are five times as likely to live in high-poverty neighborhoods as white Americans. […]
The difference between the lived experience of black Americans and white Americans when it comes to wealth — along the entire spectrum of income from the poorest to the richest — can be described as nothing other than a chasm. […]
The prosperity of this country is inextricably linked with the forced labor of the ancestors of 40 million black Americans for whom these marches are now occurring, just as it is linked to the stolen land of the country’s indigenous people. Though our high school history books seldom make this plain: Slavery and the 100-year period of racial apartheid and racial terrorism known as Jim Crow were, above all else, systems of economic exploitation. To borrow from Ta-Nehisi Coates’s phrasing, racism is the child of economic profiteering, not the father. […]
Freed people, during and after slavery, tried again and again to compel the government to provide restitution for slavery, to provide at the very least a pension for those who spent their entire lives working for no pay. They filed lawsuits. They organized to lobby politicians. And every effort failed. […]
Racial income disparities today look no different than they did the decade before King’s March on Washington. […] The typical black household today is poorer than 80 percent of white households. […]
Reparations are a societal obligation in a nation where our Constitution sanctioned slavery, Congress passed laws protecting it and our federal government initiated, condoned and practiced legal racial segregation and discrimination against black Americans until half a century ago. And so it is the federal government that pays.
Reparations would go to any person who has documentation that he or she identified as a black person for at least 10 years before the beginning of any reparations process and can trace at least one ancestor back to American slavery. Reparations … must include individual cash payments to descendants of the enslaved in order to close the wealth gap. […]
Race-neutral policies simply will not address the depth of disadvantage faced by people this country once believed were chattel. Financial restitution cannot end racism, of course, but it can certainly mitigate racism’s most devastating effects. […] If black lives are to truly matter in America, this nation must move beyond slogans and symbolism. […] A truly great country does not ignore or excuse its sins. It confronts them and then works to make them right. If we are to be redeemed, if we are to live up to the magnificent ideals upon which we were founded, we must do what is just. It is time for this country to pay its debt. It is time for reparations.
In July 2020, billionaire television mogul Oprah Winfrey announced that she planned to produce future film and TV adaptations of The 1619 Project, and she tweeted that she was “honored” to promote Hannah-Jones’ “transformative work to a global audience.” When the Hulu television network later revealed its plans to distribute Winfrey’s upcoming docuseries, it described The 1619 Project as “a landmark undertaking that connected the centrality of slavery in U.S. history with an unflinching account of the brutal racism that endures in so many aspects of American life today.” Filmmaker Roger Ross Williams, who produced and oversaw the docuseries, said in April 2021:
“‘The 1619 Project’ is an essential reframing of American history. Our most cherished ideals and achievements cannot be understood without acknowledging both systemic racism and the contributions of Black Americans. And this isn’t just about the past—Black people are still fighting against both the legacy of this racism and its current incarnation. I am thrilled and grateful for the opportunity to work with The New York Times, Lionsgate Television, Harpo Films and Hulu to translate the incredibly important ‘The 1619 Project’ into a documentary series.”
Hannah-Jones, for her part, said: “I could not ask for a more gifted and committed storyteller to entrust ‘The 1619 Project’ to than Roger Ross Williams. I have long admired the impact and authenticity of his filmmaking, and the fact that we’re working with Disney and Hulu aligns with our vision of partnering with the world’s greatest Black storytellers to bring this project to a global audience.”
In April 2021 as well, the Biden administration cited the 1619 Project as a leading source for its plan to promote the “development of culturally responsive teaching” and “anti-racism” — a variation of critical race theory (CRT):
“American History and Civics Education programs can play an important role in this critical effort by supporting teaching and learning that reflects the breadth and depth of our Nation’s diverse history and the vital role of diversity in our Nation’s democracy. For example, there is growing acknowledgement of the importance of including, in the teaching and learning of our country’s history, both the consequences of slavery, and the significant contributions of Black Americans to our society. This acknowledgement is reflected, for example, in the New York Times’ landmark ‘1619 Project’ and in the resources of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History.”
In May 2021, Hannah-Jones slammed critics who were opposed to incorporating the tenets of The 1619 Project and CRT into public education curricula, accusing those critics of “trying to prohibit the teaching of ideas that they don’t like.” She also downplayed the accusation that her work would be weaponized to convince students that the United States is an evil nation:
“Of course, there is no single line or argument in the 1619 Project that claims that this country is an evil country. And it’s frankly a ridiculous assertion. If you read my opening essay on democracy in the 1619 Project, in fact, what I say is that despite everything that this country has done to black America, black Americans have seen the worst of America and yet still believe in its best. I actually argue that black people are the greatest democratizing force in this country. So, no, this isn’t a project about trying to teach children that our country is evil, but it is a project trying to teach children the truth about what our country was based upon. And it’s only in really confronting that truth. Slavery was foundational to the United States.”
When Hannah-Jones made an April 6, 2022 appearance on the CNN+ show “Who’s Talking,” host Chris Wallace asked her: “What’s your response when people say that you’re saying the country’s racist and that this is a central part and making us feel, making them, kids, feel bad about it. Are you saying parents are wrong?” Hannah-Jones replied:
“Yes, I think that I don’t know how one can argue we were not founded as a racist country. I believe that we were. I believe that the record is clear. If you’re founded as a country where black people, because they are black, don’t have rights, don’t have freedom if you have a Supreme Court that’s dominated by enslavers, 10 of the first 12 presidents dominated by enslavers, our founding fathers dominated by enslavers. If you have these things, the Father of the Constitution wasn’t enslaver. The drafters of the Declaration was an enslaver of the Bill of Rights. So to argue that people who were explicitly white supremacist in their writings, I mean, the notes on the state of Virginia says black people are inferior as a race. That is a racist foundation. This is just a factual rendering to me.”
Notwithstanding the 1619 Project’s blatant historical errors and misrepresentation, Hannah-Jones has won much fame and recognition for the project, including: a Pulitzer Prize for Commentary (2020), a Society of American Historians Fellowship (2020), a Beacon of Justice Award (2020), an Alan V. and Amy Lowenstein Social Justice Award (2020), a George Polk Award (2020), a Columbia University Teachers College Medal for Distinguished Service (2020), a National Magazine Award for Public Interest (2020), a Society of Professional Journalists’ Fellow of the Society Award (2020), Community Change’s Disruptor Change Champion Award (2021), a Roosevelt Institute Four Freedoms Award (2021), a spot on Time Magazine’s list of 100 Most Influential People (2021), and an NAACP Social Justice Impact Award (2022).
In November 2022, Hannah-Jones launched the Center for Journalism and Democracy at Howard University, where she served as a tenured communications professor and the first-ever Knight Chair in Race and Journalism. The Center was formed, in large part, on the strength of some $20 million in donations that Hannah-Jones secured mostly from the Ford Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the Knight Foundation.
In an August 28, 2023 appearance on CNN’s The Lead, Hannah-Jones characterized three high-profile conservatives as racists. The relevant portion of her commentary came after anchor Jake Tapper said: “The wedge issues are discussed differently today. In 1963, we were three years away from Lester Maddox, a proud, racist segregationist in Georgia becoming the governor of Georgia. Lester Maddox could not exist today. But Lester Maddox would not talk the way he did then today were he running, right? It’s different. What are the wedge issues today that you hear?”
In response, Hannah-Jones said: “Yes, absolutely. So since 1968, it is no longer legal in this country to explicitly discriminate against black Americans. So of course, we’ve learned over the last 60 years that you have to use different language, that you have to use language that appears to be race neutral but sends the same dogwhistle. We can look at [Florida’s Republican governor] Ron DeSantis running [for president] on this platform against what he’s calling wokeism, but where those of us who study history, who understand the societies we live in, understand that’s often coded as language against black Americans, as language against other marginalized groups. How do we know that? He also banned the teaching of African-American advanced placement studies in the state.”
Hannah-Jones added: “Yes, we do see a more coded language. It’s also a language that’s not often that coded. Donald Trump came to office on a pretty openly white nationalist campaign. We see people like [former Fox News Channel host] Tucker Carlson who are allowed to have a major platform on the most watched cable news television in the country and who openly talked white nationalist talking points. We kind of have this wink-and-a-nod racism. It’s barely concealed. All of us can hear it.”
On January 2, 2024, Harvard’s first black president, Claudine Gay, announced her resignation after having served just six months in that position. The chain of events that led to her resignation began with her failure to condemn Hamas’ deadly October 7, 2023 terrorist attacks that killed more than 1,200 innocent people in Israel. Gay initially said nothing after student groups on campus released an open letter stating that Israel’s historic and ongoing transgressions were “entirely responsible” for the carnage. A few days after that, Gay issued a letter to the Harvard community expressing “feelings of fear, sadness, anger and more” – language that many critics derided for its tepidness.
Then, at a December 5, 2023 congressional hearing on anti-Semitism, Republican U.S. House Representative Elise Stefanik asked Gay: “At Harvard, does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Harvard’s rules of bullying and harassment? Yes or no?” Gay’s reply was noncommittal: “It can be, depending on the context” – a response that drew sharp rebuke from the public.
And then, reports began to emerge that Gay had been guilty of plagiarism in many of her past writings, including her 1997 doctoral dissertation. By January 1, 2024, various sources had cited more than 40 instances of plagiarism by Gay. In response to those allegations, the same congressional committee that had held the aforementioned December 5 hearing said it would examine Gay’s writings in greater depth.
In a letter announcing her decision to resign, Gay said that “it has become clear that it is in the best interests of Harvard for me to resign so that our community can navigate this moment of extraordinary challenge with a focus on the institution rather than any individual.” She also accused her critics of being motivated by racism: “Amidst all of this, it has been distressing to have doubt cast on my commitments to confronting hate and to upholding scholarly rigor — two bedrock values that are fundamental to who I am — and frightening to be subjected to personal attacks and threats fueled by racial animus.”
In mid-December 2023, as the plagiarism reports began to gain momentum along with speculation that Gay was not qualified to serve as Harvard’s president, Hannah-Jones said:
Angered further by the fact that Gay felt compelled to resign in January 2024, Hannah-Jones wrote a January 6 Instagram post that said: “I deeply empathize with Claudine Gay who has had her stellar reputation sullied by political actors who don’t think Black women should sit at the citadels of power. It’s time for institutions to show the courage that is severely lacking when it comes to defending themselves, their staff and their commitments to equity from these targeted right wing propaganda attacks. We are seeing too much weakness and the success of these propagandists only invites more of the same.”
As of July 2021, Hannah-Jones resided in Brooklyn, New York, and had an estimated net worth of approximately $3 million.