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LAST MONDAY, the Board of Trustees of the City University of New York voted to reappoint Dr. Leonard Jeffries as chair of City College's African-American Department for a limited eight-month. Next June, he will be re-evaluated.
According to Newsday, Professor Jeffries has concluded that this decision is a racist plot, an example of "white supremacy." And now, Jeffries claims I am also a part of this plot to destroy his academic career, Suddenly, my name has been splashed across newspapers across the nation.
Jeffries has been the center of controversy since a speech he made this June in Albany, New York, at a Black arts festival. As numerous news organizations have reported again and again, the speech included anti-Semitic, racist and anti-gay remarks.
Recently, I went to New York to interview Dr. Jeffries for the Crimson's weekly magazine, What Is To Be Done?. My interest was that of a journalist who, in the past, has let controversial figures such as Camille Paglia, Noam Chomsky and Meir Kahane tell their stories candidly. As a result of this interview and of my interactions with him, Jeffries has now concluded that I am part of "a media lynching" directed against him.
When I first contacted Jeffries in early October, I explained to him that I have conducted interviews with controversial people for The Crimson and that if he would allow me to interview him I would quote him at length and paraphrase him as little as possible.
Jeffries agreed to my proposal and we set the interview date for Thursday, October 17th. Although I arrived at his office on our scheduled date, because of his time constraints it would be almost 24 hours later that the actual interview would take place.
During our phone conversation, Jeffries said, "If all you're going to do is come down here and label me an anti-Semite, don't bother." I assured him that I would let him tell his won story and that I had no angle to my story yet, that an angle would only be added after the interview.
When we arrived at the faculty dining hall where the interview took place, I told Jeffries that I wanted to tape the interview. "That's fine with me," he said.
One of the first questions I asked him was whether he thought that his work would damage the Black-Jewish coalition. He responded, "That's a myth. There never was a Black-Jewish coalition. What we have we've had to take."
Later, I asked him what he thought about Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., chair of Harvard's Afro-American Studies Department. At this point, Jeffries's remarks turned vicious.
"Who's he?" Jeffries said. Not realizing that this was a rhetorical question, I began to answer. Then he said, "Skip Gates. He's a faggot. A faggot and a punk."
Shocked, I looked at the tape recorder on the table. "Dr. Jeffries," I asked again, "what do you think of Professor Henry Louis Gates?"
He leaned closer to the tape recorder. "I'll say it again." And he did, adding, "How can [someone such as gates] have the interest of African-Americans at heart when you sleep with white people?"
"Skip as well as that fellow in California, Shelby Steele," Jeffries said, refering to a Black professor of English at San Jose State University best known for his opposition to affirmative action. "Steele's mother is a white woman and he married a white woman. He has to talk about inclusion because he has to go home and face his white wife and children."
Seconds later, the interview turned even uglier.
"If I see this again, I'll kill you," he said. His face was stoic. As he continued to make inflammatory statements about people based on their race, religion and sexual activities, I realized I was meeting a very different Leonard Jeffries from the one he wanted characterized in print.
"Do you realize that People fear you?" I asked, in part hoping that his answer would provide me solace. He responded, "They should."
EVENTUALLY, Jeffries wanted to know the racial makeup of The Crimson. Not wanting to misrepresent the organization, I told him that I was one of few Blacks on the paper.
He asked for the names of the people who "run" the Crimson. I told him the name of the president, Rebecca Walkowitz, and of my direct editor, Steve Newman. After learning these names, Jeffries demanded the interview tapes.
Jeffries said: "This interview is over. I'm gonna have to take this tape." I tried to interrupt him when he started talking, but he ignored me.
The tape was still going and "Brother Larry." one of Jeffries' large bodyguards, asked for it. I gave it to him.
"The one in your pocket, too," Brother Larry added. I tried to appeal to Jeffries, but Brother Larry got up and came toward me. I reached out to hand him the tape and he said,"Put it in [the tape recorder] and play it." Jeffries looked at him and Brother Larry said,"I just want to make sure that it's the same tape."
Jeffries nodded and said to me, "you don't understand the powers you are dealing with."
Now, Jeffries claims that there was no interview and that I even embraced him when what he has now termed a "conversation" was over. This is false.
THESE, IN SUMMARY, are the facts of my interview with Jeffries. Contrary to what others have said, my tuition has not been paid for by the CIA. This incident is not an ingenious concoction from the mind of Alan Dershowitz. I do not work for U.S. military intelligence.
Nor am I part of a media conspiracy to discredit Leonard Jeffries. My intentions were to report what he said on October 18, no more. I have.
Jonathan Eliot Morgan '92 is an editor of The Harvard Crimson.
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