Hannah-Jones’ powerful words reflect the grandeur and hardship of this moment in American history, a time when black institutions – religious, civic, political, educational, and cultural – evolve against the backdrop of a racial calculation for which they have helped to lay the foundation.
Howard University has endured since its founding in 1867, forming the archipelago of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) that dotted former Confederate and border states such as Maryland, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Howard University, with a medical and law school established in the 20th century, would in many ways become the intellectual mecca of black America, the testing ground for innovation and literary excellence, scientific, legal and cultural who produced Black Power icon Stokely Carmichael, Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison and Vice President Kamala Harris, among many others.
Hannah-Jones’ decision to take a position that would allow her to found a Center for Journalism and Democracy in an institution that has always recognized the value of black life is instructive. It is also part of a larger and growing national awareness of the importance of black history in shaping, for better or for worse, broader narratives of American democracy and understanding of America. a shared national identity.
This embrace of black history and the understanding of its centrality to the present is exhibited elsewhere in “Summer of Soul,” a bravery film (theatrically released and airing on Hulu now) about the 1969 Harlem Culture Festival which has attracted hundreds of thousands of participants to Mt. Morris Park and featured a panoramic mix of Black, Nuyorican and African musicians. This Questlove jawn captures the past and contemporary vitality of this story, reminding us that the enduring power of black institutions still resides in black people – the way they pray, walk, dance, sing, cook, organize and strategize. to defend themselves and towards an aspiring citizenship broad enough to include everyone.
I couldn’t help but think about the film’s handling of the story as I reflected on the significance of Hannah-Jones’ decision this week. Producing never-before-seen recordings of a groundbreaking cultural event hosted at (and defined by) a pivotal moment in American history, Questlove’s treatment of breathtaking musical sequences and poignant interviews with those in attendance leaves its viewers with deep understanding. that Black history is still alive in the present – a truth that Hannah-Jones has uniquely explored in her own work. And she is not alone in this case. At Howard, Hannah-Jones will be joined by Ta-Nehisi Coates, the bestselling author and Howard alumnus who will also serve as a professor. It should come as no surprise that Hannah-Jones and Coates have forged a professional reputation through journalistic explorations of racial slavery and its afterlife. In its insistence on finding the organic connections between black history and black lives today, their work has repeatedly touched the crude national nerve endings related to race and democracy.
So it’s fitting that Hannah-Jones and Coates chose Howard, and he chose them. The enduring power of black institutions lies in their ability to recognize and amplify black excellence, providing shelter in an era of political backlash and structural violence that has historically enveloped black communities.
These talented journalists, continuing the pioneering work of Frederick Douglass and Ida B. Wells, are uniquely positioned to continue a long tradition of challenging the limited conceptions of American citizenship, identity and democracy that both take advantage of the black genius and deny its existence. Perhaps Howard University’s new Center for the Study of Journalism and Democracy will inspire the University of North Carolina – and all other higher education institutions under Conservative fire for teaching history. des Noirs – to re-engage in study and critical debate. of uncomfortable truths. These truths – both the sacred and secular aspects of American history that threaten to divide the nation in our time – offer the key to a new national consensus defined by who we include in our national narrative, rather than who is. left aside.