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Ida B. Wells Society internships mired by funding issues, says Nikole Hannah-Jones

Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones is a co-founder of The Ida B. Wells Society. She's pictured above in New York in December 2021.
Robert Bumsted
Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones is a co-founder of The Ida B. Wells Society. She's pictured above in New York in December 2021.

Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, best known for founding The 1619 Project, said in an interview with a not-for-profit news organization that administrative delays have made it impossible to carry on with several academic projects intended to foster the careers of young Black investigative journalists.

As she told NC Newsline, the projects included a summer internship and a journalism program for high school students at North Carolina Central University. Both were to be funded by the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting, an organization founded by four Black journalists, Hannah-Jones among them, in the spring of 2015.

The Ida B. Wells Society was named for a crusading Black journalist active in the late 1800s and early 20th century. It moved its headquarters from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2019. Three years later, the school appointed Hannah-Jones to a named chair of Journalism at UNC's Hussman School of Journalism and Media. But only a month after the announcement in April 2021, she was denied tenure, in spite of a resume that included both a MacArthur "genius" grant and a Pulitzer Prize. The reason? Her award-winning work, most famously The 1619 Project, focused on the history of American racism. Right-wing activists described her appointment as "a degradation of journalist standards" and passionately campaigned against her.

In the wake of the national controversy, Hannah-Jones, herself a UNC-Chapel Hill alum, announced she would instead join the faculty of Howard University. There she helped launch the Center for Journalism and Democracy at the prestigious, historically Black school. Meanwhile, the Ida B. Wells Society moved to another HCBU, Morehouse College, in Atlanta, Ga. But the funding was slow to follow, according to NC Newsline.

Over the years, the Ida B. Wells Society has received approximately $3.8 million in funding from philanthropies, including the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Only about half of that amount has been transferred to Morehouse so far.

"We have completed the transfer of nearly $2.1M in funds to date," wrote the UNC-Chapel communications office in a statement to NPR. "We are working with Morehouse College and the relevant funding agencies on the process for the remaining fund transfers."

No one from the Ida B. Wells Society responded to multiple requests for comment from NPR. According to sources in the NC Newsline article, people involved in the Society believe the process has been unusually slow. When it moved from its original home at the City University of New York to Harvard University, transferring funds took a little more than a month. However, gift arrangements have evolved over time, and the process for establishing and executing the documentation is complex.

In the meantime, the Ida B. Wells Society told NC Newsline it is unable to draw on the operating funding it needs to launch the careers of a cohort of young journalists of color. There is no mention of this on the Ida B. Wells Society webpage, which does not appear to have been updated for nearly a year. And although its Twitter and Facebook accounts remain active, none of its recent posts refer to the organization's cancelations of programs.

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Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.