Profile: Nikole Hannah-Jones (1976-)

Nikole Hannah-Jones is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American investigative journalist known for her coverage of civil rights in the United States. 


Hannah-Jones was born in Waterloo, Iowa, to father Milton Hannah, who is African-American, and mother Cheryl A. Novotny, who is of Czech and English descent. Hannah-Jones is the second of three sisters. In 1947, when her father was two years old, his family moved north to Iowa from Greenwood, Mississippi, in the Mississippi Delta region, as did many other African-American families.


Hannah-Jones and her sister attended almost all-white schools as part of a voluntary program of desegregation busing. She attended Waterloo West High School, where she wrote for the high school newspaper and graduated in 1994.

Hannah-Jones has a bachelor’s degree in History and African-American Studies from the University of Notre Dame, which she received in 1998. She graduated from the University of North Carolina Hussman School of Journalism and Media with a master’s degree in 2003, where she was a Roy H. Park Fellow


n 2003, Hannah-Jones began her writing career covering the education beat, which included the predominantly African AmericanDurham Public Schools, for the Raleigh News & Observer, a position she held for three years.

In 2006, Hannah-Jones moved to Portland, Oregon, where she wrote for The Oregonian for six years. During this time she covered an enterprise assignment that included feature work, then the demographics beat, and then the government & census beats.

In 2007, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the 1965 Watts Riots, Hannah-Jones wrote about its impact on the community for the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, also known as the Kerner Commission.

From 2008 to 2009, Hannah-Jones received a fellowship from the Institute for Advanced Journalism Studies which enabled her to travel to Cuba to study universal healthcare and Cuba’s educational system under Raul Castro.

In 2011, she joined the nonprofit news organization ProPublica, which is based in New York City, where she covered civil rights and continued research she started in Oregon on redlining and in-depth investigative reporting on the lack of enforcement of the Fair Housing Act for minorities. Hannah-Jones also spent time in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where the decision in Brown v. Board of Education had little effect.

Hannah-Jones with attendees after giving a talk in Rochester, New York

In 2015, she became a staff reporter for The New York Times. Hannah-Jones wrote the first essay published in the 1619 Project, “an ongoing initiative from The New York Times Magazine that began in August 2019 . . . [which] aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.

Hannah-Jones is recognized as an authority on topics such as racial segregation, desegregation and resegregation in American schools and housing discrimination, and has spoken about these issues on national public radio broadcasts.

She writes to discover and expose the systemic and institutional racism perpetuated by official laws and acts.

Her stories have been quoted in numerous other publications as being particularly important regarding race relations.  Hannah-Jones reported on the school district where teenager Michael Brown had been shot, one of the “most segregated, impoverished districts in the entire state” of Missouri.  Reviewer Laura Moser of Slate magazine praised her report on school resegregation, which showed how educational inequality may have been a factor in the unfortunate death of Brown.

Hannah-Jones is a 2017 Emerson Fellow at the New America Foundation,  where she is working on a book on school segregation. The book, The Problem We All Live With, is due out in June 2020 from Chris Jackson’s One World imprint at Random House.

Hannah-Jones is a 2017 award winner of the MacArthur Foundation “Genius Award.”

In 2020, she won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary for her work on The 1619 Project

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