Bigotry Abuses Academic Freedom

By Richard Cohen Copyright Washington Post Writers Group | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), February 16, 1994 | Go to article overview

Bigotry Abuses Academic Freedom


Richard Cohen Copyright Washington Post Writers Group, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


If freedom of speech, as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes observed, "would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater," then academic freedom should not protect the right of a professor to teach garbage.

That purported right, though, seems to be enshrined at Wellesley College. There, a tenured member of the faculty has adopted as a text a book published by the Nation of Islam. He would be on surer scholarly footing if he taught astrology.

The teacher in question is Tony Martin, a professor in the African studies department, and the book is "The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews." It seems to be Louis Farrakhan's favorite reading, since he refers to it often.

The "facts" in the book are credited to various scholars, many if not all of them Jewish. As a scholarly work, though, it is fatally blemished. Its intent is to manipulate facts (some of them in dispute) to suggest that Jews played a dominant role in the enslavement of black Africans. In reality, according to Harold Brackman, one of the scholars cited by Farrakhan, Jews owned "a fraction of 1 percent" of the total slave population.

Historical truth is important, of course, but even if Farrakhan had his facts right, it's hard to see their relevance. After all, the ancestors of about 99 percent of American Jews were still in Europe at the time of the Civil War - and even those who were singing "Dixie" are long dead. The relevance, if such a word can be used, is this: The "Secret Relationship" is an anti-Semitic tract, employing the standard lexicon of paranoia: "secret," "hidden," "facts known to only a few."

So why use "The Secret Relationship" in a college course? The answer Martin has given is that "the book is substantially accurate and represents a serious attempt at historical scholarship."

As for the former, that's hardly the case. As for the latter, nothing could be further from the truth. Martin may well have provided his real reason when he wrote about the Wellesley controversy in a self-published book, "The Jewish Onslaught: Dispatches from the Wellesley Battlefront." In it, he wrote about "the on-going Jewish onslaught against black progress."

Two issues have to be separated. The first is Martin's right to write his book without fear of losing his job. …

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