*Just the mention of slavery evokes a sense of anxiety, unlike many other topics. However, the fact is this ugly institution is woven into the fabric of American History, and to deny its truths and continue to cover up its past would be like making shoes without soles.
This is exactly what has been happening in the incomplete history of America for centuries. And now, it has become the forefront of discussion and protest at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The presentation of The 1619 Project is a great example of the part of the story that had not been examined or researched in its entirety until Pulitzer Prize for Commentary winner Nikole Hannah-Jones came along. Her life’s work has been dedicated to researching how slavery is a part of American history and its driving tenets to create the America we live in today.
Hannah-Jones was awarded the Pulitzer in 2020 for her essay about the topic and it has since faced enormous scrutiny from historians, and conservative politicians alike due to its perceived controversy.
Nikole Hannah-Jones is set to begin her new position as a professor with the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill on July 1, 2021, and yet unlike others who have served in the position at the University, she has not been granted tenure.
The Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media is a highly sought-after position. Previous chairs have been granted tenure upon being offered the position. So what makes this tenure offer so controversial?
Her status as a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist makes her more than qualified. However, the scrutiny that came with her particular selection was fueled by the journalism school’s namesake and top donor, Walter Hussman Jr., who expressed concerns about Hannah-Jones and The 1619 Project.
He initially told reporters that he was not trying to pressure anyone not to hire her or give her tenure nor would that affect his financial commitments to UNC-CH. Yet, after that concern was voiced, here we are, no offer of tenure. Nor have they called for any meetings to discuss the issue for resolve.
The bigger question is why are white people so opposed to hearing a different, more accurate account of history?
Why does that make conservative politicians block funding to school systems if they include the research of an essay?
After all that we have experienced in the last year with racial unrest, protest, and the talk of change, are we still going to cover up lies and perpetuate falsehoods and half-truths? Or has this further proven what many young civil rights leaders have repeated, that nothing changes without action and peaceful but loud demonstration?
It just seems that if white conservatives suppress research that lends itself to proof of what has been taking place in this country, perhaps that makes them feel that it did not take place at all? The 1619 Project is one document that proposes via research that a different theory on American history and origins of racism must be considered. Another example of covering up history was the Murder of Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma that took place in 1921.
Until it became so publicized recently, many African Americans were not aware of this race massacre. Through opening that wound, we see the horrors that closed-minded racists would resort to, to make sure they kill a culture of people asking nothing of them, yet thriving for themselves. It’s the great cover-up that keeps revealing how past ignorances continue to expose a race of people hell-bent on control.
The tenure issue is another example of control. When a donor has that much power, he becomes an overlord. Sussman’s name is on the building, therefore the Board of Governors may feel a sense of obligation to listen to his concerns for fear of losing future funding.
The Board of Governors is composed of 13 people; four people were appointed by the state’s Republican-majority General Assembly, eight people were elected by the Board of Governors, and the president of student government. Ten of them are white men.
This is another instance that alludes to the appearance of a “good old boys network” that refuses to allow anyone that does not look like them, or threatens their old way of life, to have any say in decisions concerning staffing or policy. All this was done with money at the forefront of reason.
As a result of the University of North Carolina’s actions, another prominent and highly sought-after educator has withdrawn from consideration for a faculty position at the school.
Lisa Jones, a bioanalytical chemist pulled out due to the school’s failure to offer Hannah-Jones tenure. The chemistry department had spent two years recruiting Jones from the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy. She sent a letter to school administrators expressing concern about UNC’s refusal to hire Hannah-Jones with tenure status.
She also expressed her concern that the school would be conducive to the achievement of academic aspirations, which includes promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion. She stated that she stands in solidarity with Hannah-Jones. The real power here is that neither of these women knows each other, nor have they ever met.
More importantly, this represents a broader issue, that of whether faculty members of color will continue to face issues regarding tenure and permanent status. It is incumbent upon educators of color to weigh their options when being recruited or selecting positions at colleges and universities. One must determine whether they are being sought because it fulfills some quota of diversity without being offered the full tenure all other races receive.
I hope that UNC-CH will do the right thing by this scholar. She deserves all the rights and respect given to other members of past status, sitting in that same position. This could also lead to many other faculty members seeking positions elsewhere if they do not feel their accomplishments or contributions will be honored respectfully.