Once again my home state of North Carolina is back in the news for its unfair and unjust treatment of black folks. We recently made international headlines for the murder of Mr. Andrew Brown Jr. by sheriff’s deputies in Elizabeth City and the now the Board of Governors at the beloved University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) has denied tenured to Nikole Hannah-Jones, the author of the critically acclaimed 1619 Project. Though North Carolina has its beacons of hope such as a large number of historically black colleges and universities and a rapidly growing technology centers, our conservative leanings always rear their heads. We have diverse landscapes that include the mountains, rolling hills of the Piedmont and a beautiful coastline. Despite the good, our state has historically disenfranchised and blatantly targeted black people for centuries. From racially motivated voting laws overturned by The Supreme Court to the Wilmington Race Riots, North Carolina’s powers to be continually displays their disdain for us even as we climb mountains others can simply walk around.
Hannah-Jones developed the 1619 Project, in conjunction with the New York Times (NYT), launching in 2019 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved people’s arrival in the then colony of Virginia. The project’s goal was to include the narrative of enslaved Africans and the contributions of Black Americans at the forefront of American history. Hannah-Jones was even awarded the 2020 Pulitzer for Commentary for her introductory essay. Of course any work that openly acknowledges the numerous contributions that African Americans made in American history caused an utter uproar. Many people found fault in Hannah-Jones and the NYT’s work including the highest members of government who threatened to withhold funding to school systems that sought to include the 1619 Project into their curriculum.
What is unsettling about Hannah-Jones not receiving tenure at UNC-CH is that when have you ever known any professor that has won Pulitzer during their time actively teaching at a university not at least offered it? What the board of UNC-CH is essentially saying is that we will take your sons and daughters to play on and coach our athletics’ teams, attend our school, and maybe allow a couple of you to teach, but we do not believe that history should be framed to include you in the fabric of American society outside of slavery. The largest university in the state, one that has largely been known to be liberal has shown their cards. Most collegiate Board of Governors are politically inclined and control the direction of education so to have the most influential one say that they do not believe in the work of someone they hired is oddly telling.
Even the newly inducted federal holiday of Juneteenth is just a small bone thrown to appease a ferocious dog. The feds know that people of color are looking for substantial legislation to regulate policing in our communities and prison reform yet they’ve dodged it for decades even as the bill to protect Asian Americans was swiftly passed without barely any dissent. Black American history is no secret and the ill treatment that citizens of color face still stands as one of the greatest atrocities this nation has ever perpetrated. From Jim Crow to the current disenfranchisement of voters, the government of the state does not hide the fact that it does not treat all of its residents equally. The probability that any professor that had created a world renowned project to commemorate the longstanding suffrage of any group of people would not be offered tenure at their respective institution is very low. However, black people always seem to be the one exception to the rules.