Around 50 people, including UNC faculty and students and Chapel Hill community members, gathered at 8:15 a.m. on Thursday to show their support for Nikole Hannah-Jones, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist and creator of the 1619 Project, ahead of the UNC Board of Trustees’ 9 a.m. meeting at The Carolina Inn.
The rally was organized by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP and the Carolina Black Caucus in response to the Board of Trustees' choice to not take action on approving Hannah-Jones’ tenure as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism for the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, which was first reported by NC Policy Watch.
People lined the entrance of the inn holding signs reading “Support Genius not Ignorance,” “I can give you 1619 reasons why Hannah-Jones should be tenured” and “Nikole Hannah-Jones is all of us #ProtectBlackFaculty.”
Chapel Hill buses, a cement truck, cars and other vehicles honked their horns in a show of support as they drove past.
Trish Harris, vice chairperson of the Carolina Black Caucus, said it was an opportunity to stand in solidarity, particularly for Black faculty and staff members, who are constantly pushed into the margins.
“I feel like it’s important that we take a stand and show people that we’re constantly, time after time, being silenced, right, and just to let them know that we won’t be silenced and that we won’t be silent,” Harris said. “And if we don’t stand up then who? If I don’t do it then who?”
Earlier that morning, UNC student leaders and advocates, some of whom were at the BOT meeting, wrote an open letter to Hannah-Jones that said they cannot ask her to come to UNC, where academics of color, especially Black women, receive minimal respect and a lot of criticism.
“We cannot stand by as our University routinely diminishes and undercuts marginalized and BIPOC voices in academia in an effort to bend toward partisan pressures rooted in a fear of America’s historical truths,” they wrote.
Hannah-Jones is set to begin a fixed, five-year term as a professor of the practice starting July 1, with the option for tenure at the end.