Nikole Hannah-Jones returns to Iowa on national book tour

Pulitzer Prize Winner Nikole Hannah-Jones visits her alma mater, Waterloo West High School on national book tour.

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Audrey Parrish

Nikole Hannah-Jones, Reverend Ray Dial and Akwi Nji converse on stage.

Audrey Parrish, News Co-Editor

Pulitzer Prize Winner Nikole Hannah-Jones was welcomed back to her alma mater, Waterloo West High School, on Tuesday, Nov. 23 to speak about her Pulitzer Prize-Winning 1619 Project. A crowd had gathered in the auditorium entranceway as early as 6:15 for the 7 o’clock program to line up and buy her book, titled “The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story”. Audience members headed into the auditorium at 6:30 to get seated. The evening was started off by Akwi Nji, who introduced Waterloo West Principal Andy Miehe. Miehe spoke about Hannah-Jones and the school, and then introduced the mayor of Waterloo, Mayor Quentin Hart.

Mayor Quentin Hart presents Nikole Hannah-Jones with the key to the city of Waterloo. (Audrey Parrish)

Mayor Hart then surprised both Hannah-Jones and the audience by calling her out on stage and presenting her with the key to the city of Waterloo. 

After this, Nji came back out on stage and introduced the conversation hour. Before the hour began, she spoke about the district hosting Hannah-Jones in Waterloo West, saying, “We are not a district that talks about having courageous conversations, we host them.” Then Hannah-Jones and Reverend Ray Dial joined Nji on the stage for the conversation hour. Reverend Dial is a former Waterloo West teacher and opened Hannah-Jones’ eyes to the world of African American history in high school. The tone of the over 700 member crowd during the event was joyful and engaged. The lights over the audience stayed half-lit so that the speakers could see and interact with the audience. In one such moment, Hannah-Jones said to the crowd, “Give a shout, those of you in the audience who had Mr. Dial.” People responded with whoops and cheers and Reverend Dial responded, “Those were the people who got an A or B.”

The program was mostly, however, Hannah-Jones talking about her new book and the 1619 Project as a whole. Explaining and defending her project from critiques she has heard she said, “One of the critiques is that this is revisionist history. That is what all history is, though.” This encapsulates the tone of the conversation that was had. The three speakers conversed on how the 1619 Project is important and necessary to the historical teachings of today. The speakers mentioned that modern-day history classes don’t teach about all sides of history. Hannah-Jones explained, “When you are a white American in this country, you don’t understand what it means to not be in the story.” 

At the end of the conversation hour, an afterschool program that Hannah-Jones is founding was mentioned. The 1619 Freedom School is a free and community-based after-school literacy program to help children better their literacy skills and develop a love for reading through instruction centered on Black American history. 

The evening was closed by a small choir from Waterloo West that sang “I Dream a World” by Damien Sneed and sang the Waterloo West Alma Mater.