Hannah-Jones (pictured) is editor of the controversial "1619 Project," which argues that the entire American experience since 1619 has been an attempt to protect slavery, making the country systemically racist. She gained notoriety by theorizing that the date of the founding of America wasn't 1776 but 1619 – when the first slave ships hit the American shore.
Last week, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill board of trustees finally agreed to her demand for tenure – but on Tuesday morning, she abruptly announced she'll be teaching at Howard University.
Emery McClendon is a member of the national advisory council for the Project 21 Black Leadership Network. He says Hannah-Jones took the easy way out.
"Nikole Hannah-Jones is taking the lane of least resistance," he tells One News Now. "She found herself in controversy even from the beginning of this tenured job at the University of North Carolina."
McClendon points out that Hannah-Jones – despite having no training or experience as a college professor – was offered a teaching position at UNC. She's an activist, he says – adding that activists like her are a far cry from real civil rights leaders.
"… Those who are on the other side of the civil rights movement … who are opposed to the Martin Luther King strategies and so forth, they want to force upon us a doctrine that says America was founded upon slavery and that it's an unforgivable sin," he describes.
And he contends that prior to Barack Obama's presidency, the U.S. was making great strides to bring black and white Americans together. He has a suggestion: "I think what we need to do today is drop all of this hostility between the races, because it does not exist in reality. It only exists in the figment of some people's minds."
Prior to being offered tenure at UNC, Hannah-Jones had accepted a five-year contract with a tenure review at the end of her agreement. She later reversed her acceptance of the offer and said she'd refuse to start her job until the board gave her tenure immediately.
Matt Lamb of The College Fix suggests that in dumping UNC, Hannah-Jones may have violated that contract.
"Soon as she signed the contract, she agreed to their terms," he tells One News Now. "You could fairly negotiate for things later, but once you sign the contract you're sort of [confirming that you're] good with these terms."
Hannah-Jones contends the UNC board was being racist by not immediately granting her tenure because of concerns about her controversial work.
"To be denied it [tenure] to only have that vote occur on the last possible day, at the last possible moment, after threat of legal action, after weeks of protest, after it became a national scandal – it's just not something that I want anymore," she said yesterday on CBS This Morning.
Lamb contends UNC set a bad precedent by caving to the journalist's demands.
"There's a question of the 'next person' – if they don't get exactly what they want, Nikole Hannah-Jones has now set the precedent that if you make a big enough of a deal and you threaten legal action and there's protests and you have all this media power, that the university will have to cave to you," Lamb explains.
Hannah-Jones will take the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at Howard, a historically black university in Washington, DC. That position at Howard was established on Tuesday. An identical Knight Chair at UNC-Chapel Hill is vacant.