Controversial professor to speak at high school

March 09, 1994|By James Bock | James Bock,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Gary Gately contributed to this article.

Despite objections from Jewish citizens, the Baltimore school board said last night that a controversial black professor would be allowed to speak at Walbrook High School Saturday night on the topic of "Battling the Jewish Onslaught."

Leaders of an ad hoc Jewish citizens group, People Against Hate, said they would mount a protest outside the school to ensure that "Baltimoreans do not sit silently by."

After consulting with its attorney for half an hour in closed session, the school board said in a statement that barring Tony Martin, the Wellesley College professor, would violate his First Amendment right to free speech.

Dr. Martin, a 52-year-old professor of Africana studies, has been at the center of controversy since he used a Nation of Islam book that claims Jews dominated the slave trade as a text in one of his classes last year. He then wrote "The Jewish Onslaught," a book about the controversy.

The board's statement said a public entity "cannot deny the use of its facilities by private groups whose ideas are opposed by some members of the community."

Walbrook High School is not sponsoring or endorsing the event.

Principal Marilyn E. Rondeau rented the school auditorium for $209 to Kemetic Pathway, which brings speakers on Afrocentric themes to Baltimore. The group is selling tickets to the event for $10.

The permit granted for the talk to James Rashid Karter, president of Kemetic Pathway, identified the event only as a lecture on "African history and psychology."

Nat Harrington, a school spokesman, said Ms. Rondeau did not know Dr. Martin's topic, but that First Amendment considerations would have obliged her to rent the space anyway.

Mr. Karter could not be reached yesterday, but a statement submitted by Kemetic Pathway and three other sponsors to the school system said Dr. Martin "has never been known to make any offensive or derogatory slurs and remarks against any ethnic or religious group or organization."

The Martin talk will mark the third time in just over a month that a black speaker with an anti-Jewish message has appeared in Baltimore. The Nation of Islam's Khallid Abdul Muhammad, who has called Jews "bloodsuckers of the black nation," spoke here twice last month.

Newton-Thoth, Inc., a sponsor of the Martin talk, also brought Mr. Muhammad to Baltimore. The company is run by Dr. Patricia Newton, a Baltimore psychiatrist.

Superintendent Walter G. Amprey said he was "concerned about potential problems, disruptions, violence, injuries. I'm concerned about how much hate there is being spewed in this context. But I'm not going to say 'no' just because people might protest."

Dr. Amprey said his office had heard from dozens of callers irate about the scheduled speech.

Larry Cohen, a leader of People Against Hate, said the group would be "in touch with every synagogue in Baltimore to make sure there's representation against this."

Jay Bernstein, another leader, said the group would not disrupt the Martin speech.

"The question is to have our voice heard and our presence felt so people will know these things can't occur without a response from the Jewish community in Baltimore," he said.

Dr. Martin, a professor at the prestigious women's college since 1973, has been embroiled in controversy since early last year. His book, "The Jewish Onslaught," has become a best-seller in bookstores that specialize in Afrocentric literature since it was published last August. In it, he charges that Jews have tried to keep blacks at the bottom of the U.S. social and economic ladder.

The chairman of Dr. Martin's Wellesley department, who is also African-American, has called the author a practitioner of " 'gangsta' history, meant to demean rather than enlighten."

City Council President Mary Pat Clarke asked the school board to revoke the permit for Dr. Martin's talk. She said she was concerned about the title of Dr. Martin's speech and "its connection with a public school where we are trying to overcome violence and bring people together."

Dr. Arthur Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, sent the school board a letter expressing concern that allowing Dr. Martin to speak at a school "will be interpreted as a de facto endorsement of a message of hatred and intolerance by public officials."

But the letter stopped short of demanding that the board ban the speech.

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