College president denounces black professor's book assailing Jews

February 01, 1994|By New York Times News Service

WELLESLEY, Mass. -- The president of Wellesley College has sent a letter to 40,000 parents and alumni denouncing a book by a black Wellesley professor in which he accuses the college of mounting a campaign to stifle his assertion that Jews were disproportionately responsible for the slave trade.

"We believe in his academic freedom and we will not censor him in any way," the president, Diana Chapman Walsh, said yesterday, referring to Professor Anthony Martin, "But we will censure him."

In her letter of Dec. 15, Ms. Walsh wrote, "Professor Martin's book crosses the line from simply unpopular or controversial argument to unnecessarily disrespectful and deeply divisive speech that must be countered, however strong the temptation not to dignify it with a response."

Asked yesterday about the letter, Mr. Martin, an instructor in black history, said: "It's just part of the onslaught, that's what it is. She totally ignores that incredible campaign against me and accuses me of being uncivil."

Last year, his immediate response to the letter was to release a statement in the form of a newsletter called "Blacks & Jews at Wellesley News."

"Even after being attacked primarily by the Hillel Foundation, American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Congress, Jewish Community Relations Council and every Jewish newspaper and spokesperson for miles around, I am supposed to maintain the fiction that the onslaught against me is ethnically and religiously indeterminate," he wrote.

The controversy began last spring when Mr. Martin assigned his students "The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews," a book published by the Nation of Islam but which has no listed author.

Its main theme, that Jews played a dominant role in the slave trade, is disputed by black studies scholars.

Mr. Martin wrote about the subsequent turmoil on the campus in "The Jewish Onslaught: Despatches from the Wellesley Battlefront," which was published two months ago by his own Majority Press.

"The Jewish Onslaught" is filled with accusations of a conspiracy against blacks. He writes, for example, "Jews, now the richest group in the United States, with one-third of the country's billionaires as of 1992 (and less than three percent of the population), have made a conscious decision to defend their privileged white status in what they might perceive of as the time-honored way, namely by scapegoating black folk."

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