Nikole Sheri Hannah-Jones, most famous for her role in the 1619 Project, is an investigative journalist, who was born on April 9, 1976, in Waterloo, Iowa. She is of mixed heritage, as her father, Milton Hannah, is African American, and her mother, Cheryl A. Novotny, is Czech and English. In her youth, she was part of a desegregation busing program to Waterloo West High School, an all-white school. Hannah wrote for the school newspaper and graduated in 1994. She attended the University of Notre Dame and earned her BA in history and African American studies in 1998. Hannah then received a Roy H. Park Fellowship from the University of North Carolina Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and graduated with her master’s in journalism in 2003.
Hannah remained in North Carolina where she worked for the Raleigh News & Observer newspaper for three years, before moving to Portland, Oregon, and taking a post with The Oregonian newspaper for six years. In 2007, she wrote on the 40th anniversary of the 1965 Watts Riots, and from 2008 to 2009, Hannah studied universal healthcare in Cuba, via her Fellowship from the Institute for Advanced Journalism Studies. The exact date of her wedding is unknown, but she married IT specialist Faraji Jones during the mid-2000s, and her husband took her last name as well, with the couple both using Hannah-Jones as their last name. They welcomed daughter Najya Hannah-Jones in 2011.
After the birth of her daughter, Hannah-Jones relocated to New York, and began working with ProPublica, a nonprofit news organization. She became a staff reporter for The New York Times in 2015 with a focus largely on the inequities faced by people of color. In 2016 she founded the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting. The society provides training and mentoring to investigative reporters of color. The following year (2017) she received a MacArthur Foundation fellowship. Soon afterward she began working on the 1619 Project, a series of essays, poems, and photos, written for the New York Times that explored the role of slavery and its long aftermath in U.S. history. Hannah-Jones received both national recognition and criticism for “The 1619 Project.” The lead essay for the project, “Our Democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to male them true” won her a Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2020. Hannah-Jones has since walked back many of the most controversial claims of the project.
The University of North Carolina (UNC) offered Hannah-Jones a faculty position in April 2021. Due to the controversy surrounding “the 1619 Project,” the Board of Trustees of UNC initially denied her tenure which usually comes with senior appointments like hers. By June, UNC reversed its decision but Hannah-Jones declined the position and accepted a tenured position at Howard University. She will be the inaugural Knight Chair in Race and Journalism, with $20 million dollars in foundation funds and donations to support her work at the University. Hannah-Jones has won over fifteen awards for her works in journalism and investigative reporting.