The revelation by The Assembly, a North Carolina publication, that Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Publisher Walter Hussman had discouraged the University of North Carolina from hiring Nikole Hannah-Jones, creator of the 1619 Project, as a journalism faculty member, set off quite a reaction in the social media/journalism world.

The journalism school is named for Hussman, in return for a $25 million gift. Material unearthed by an open records request show Hussman talked with an administrator, a Board of Trustees member and another major donor to discourage Hannah-Jones’ hiring. He cited some historians’ criticism of her work about four centuries of slavery and racial discrimination in the U.S. The project was commentary and many other historians have supported her views. History interpretation has always been subject to such debates, but her project touched a nerve in certain segments, particularly white Republican men and spawned legislation to cancel it in many states, including Arkansas. (See the New York Times’ response to a historian critic Hussman cited here.)


Here’s a direct link to the article in The Assembly, a new digital magazine devoted to in-depth reporting about North Carolina.

The Hussman-inspired controversy has a lot to recommend as a news story, whatever your view of the players. A big donor tried to influence a public university of which he was a significant benefactor. His effort to do so privately (and his seeming unhappiness that it became public) came even as his own newspaper was using the Freedom of Information Act to dislodge similar letters written to the University of Arkansas about the protest of campus honors for former Sen. J. William Fulbright. The Assembly article gave fuel to the ongoing debate about “objective” journalism. White privilege became an issue over Hussman’s comment that white people had won Pulitzers and sacrificed in the name of civil rights, too.


Here are just a few of the Twitter responses to the Assembly’s reporting.

From Nikole Hannah-Jones herself:


She also commented on Hussman’s lament for underappreciated white people.

The following is from a former Arkansas Democrat reporter, himself a Pulitzer Prize winner for his book about the re-enslavement of Black people. Read Douglas Blackmon’s full thread:



From other former reporters in  Little Rock and the Hussman-owned newspaper in Chattanooga:


A seeming contradiction between Hussman’s declarations about objective journalism and his actions was noted by many.

This was a particularly hard-hitting thread by a journalist with a half-million followers on Twitter:

This struck me as a fitting epitaph:

Recent reporting indicates that UNC may reconsider its decision to allow Hannah-Jones to be employed but without tenure normally given distinguished faculty members. Hannah-Jones, who, like Hussman, is a graduate of UNC, also is considering suing. This is a pretty good summary by the Raleigh newspaper of the ins and outs of this chapter in the 1619 story.