billboard image Two Iconic American Writers Join Howard University to Create the Center for Journalism and Democracy

Three major foundations among donors investing $20 million to support this work


Howard University today announced that MacArthur Fellows Nikole Hannah-Jones and Ta-Nehisi Coates will join the Howard University faculty. Hannah-Jones will be a tenured member of the faculty of the Cathy Hughes School of Communications, filling the newly-created Knight Chair in Race and Journalism. Coates, a Howard alumnus, journalist, and author, will be a faculty member in the flagship College of Arts and Sciences.

Hannah-Jones, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, will also found the Center for Journalism and Democracy, which will focus on training and supporting aspiring journalists in acquiring the investigative skills and historical and analytical expertise needed to cover the crisis our democracy is facing. The center hopes to work across multiple historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) that offer journalism degrees and concentrations. 

“It is vital that we understand the role of journalism in steering our national conversation and social progress.”

The appointments are supported by $20 million donated by the MacArthur, Knight, and Ford foundations, as well as by an anonymous donor, to support Howard’s continued education of and investment in Black journalists. 

“It is my pleasure to welcome to Howard two of today’s most respected and influential journalists,” said Wayne A. I. Frederick, MD, MBA, President of Howard University. “At such a critical time for race relations in our country, it is vital that we understand the role of journalism in steering our national conversation and social progress. Not only must our newsrooms reflect the communities where they are reporting, but we need to infuse the profession with diverse talent. We are thrilled that Hannah-Jones and Coates will bring their insights and research to what is already a world-class, highly accomplished team of professors.

“Further, we are grateful to the Knight, MacArthur, and Ford foundations, as well as to an anonymous donor, for their support in our continued efforts to train the next generation of journalists and to provide a diverse pipeline of talent to America’s newsrooms,” said President Frederick.

Hannah-Jones, the creator of the 1619 Project, will be the inaugural Knight Chair in Race and Journalism and will begin her faculty role this summer. Award-winning author Coates will hold the Sterling Brown Chair in the Department of English and will begin this position following completion of several current obligations.


Hannah-Jones and Coates Bring Talents to Howard

 “I am so incredibly honored to be joining one of the most important and storied educational institutions in our country and to work alongside the illustrious faculty of the Cathy Hughes School of Communications and the brilliant students it draws in,” Hannah-Jones said. “One of my few regrets is that I did not attend Howard as an undergraduate, and so coming here to teach fulfills a dream I have long carried. I hope that the decision that Ta-Nehisi and I made to bring our talents to an HBCU will lead others to make a similar choice.

“We are at a critical juncture in our democracy.”

“We are at a critical juncture in our democracy, and yet our press does not reflect the nation it serves and too often struggles to grasp the danger for our country as we see growing attacks on free speech and the fundamental right to vote,” Hannah-Jones continued. “In the storied tradition of the Black press, the Center for Journalism and Democracy will help produce journalists capable of accurately and urgently covering the challenges of our democracy with a clarity, skepticism, rigor, and historical dexterity that is too often missing from today’s journalism. I am so grateful to the Ford, Knight, and MacArthur foundations for the initial funding to launch the center and hope to very quickly meet the center’s $25 million fundraising goal.”

“I heard a wise man once say, ‘A man who hates home will never be happy.’ And it is in the pursuit of wisdom and happiness that I return to join the esteemed faculty of Howard University. This is the faculty that molded me. This is the faculty that strengthened me,” Coates said. “Personally, I know of no higher personal honor than this.”

For 50 years, the Howard University School of Communications has trained the nation’s top communicators and media professionals, from award-winning news anchors and journalists to filmmakers, public relations executives, and researchers. The school will celebrate its 50th anniversary during the 2021-22 academic year, highlighting its history of disseminating truth through communications and providing community service through storytelling. 

The College of Arts and Sciences (COAS) is at the heart of Howard University, recognized worldwide as a premier, comprehensive research university. COAS is often referred to as the University’s flagship because it is the oldest and the largest of the University’s 13 schools and colleges. Its predecessor was founded in the second year of the University’s existence, and today it enrolls more than 3,000 students – making it the most popular choice among Howard’s undergraduates.


MacArthur, Knight, and Ford Support

 Three foundations and an anonymous donor have contributed $20 million to support the University’s demonstrated academic and journalistic excellence.

  • MacArthur is providing a $5 million grant to support the Center for Journalism and Democracy. Up to $1.25 million of the funding will be dedicated to support the next phase of the 1619 Project. Hannah-Jones and Coates are both MacArthur Fellows, from the class of 2017 and 2015 respectively.
  • Knight is providing $5 million to establish an endowment at Howard University to support a Knight Chair in Race and Journalism and to develop symposia to support journalism students and faculty across the network of HBCUs, directed by the Knight Chair. Howard selected Hannah-Jones as the inaugural Knight Chair.
  • Ford will provide $5 million for general operating support for the creation of the center at Howard University spearheaded by Hannah-Jones. Ford’s funding is designed to support the infrastructure of the center and its programs to help increase the number of Black professionals entering journalism and enhance their career-readiness.
  • An anonymous donor contributed $5 million to fund the Sterling Brown Chair in English and Humanities and to establish the Ida B. Wells Endowed Fund to support the Knight Chair.
“This is a moment of inflection on the impact of race and racism in the U.S.”

“We are proud to support the visionary work and leadership of Nikole Hannah-Jones,” said John Palfrey, President of the MacArthur Foundation. “This is a moment of inflection on the impact of race and racism in the United States and around the world. Hannah-Jones’ twin passions of investing in the next generation of Black journalists and her tireless quest for the U.S. to confront and repair the enduring legacy of slavery through the 1619 Project will now have a home at Howard University. We are excited about the opportunity Howard offers for Hannah-Jones and Coates, two MacArthur Fellows, to build a legacy in the fight for racial justice.”

“We are pleased to support Howard University’s tradition of academic excellence and development of leaders in American society. Their decision to emphasize the training of the next generation of Black journalists was decisive in our choice to endow a Knight Chair in journalism at Howard,” said Alberto Ibargüen, President and CEO of Knight Foundation, which has now endowed 26 Knight chairs at 23 universities. “We congratulate Nikole Hannah-Jones, who will be the first holder of the Knight Chair at Howard. The University has chosen someone eminently qualified to train the next generation of journalists.”

“Journalism has a tangible effect on communities and cultural narratives, so we are thrilled to support the Pulitzer Prize-winner Nikole Hannah-Jones, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and this legendary institution in fostering the next generation of Black journalists,” said Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation. “As our news and information rapidly change, the media must do more to diversify the ranks of newsroom decision makers who determine the stories that are told. We believe the establishment of this center at Howard University will play a critical role in helping to advance this important public interest objective.”