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When controversial City University of New York (CUNY) professor Leonard Jeffries arrived at Harvard amid tight security Wednesday, he was met by a large audience and a sizable protest rally.
But Jeffries, whose critics accuse him of being a racist, an anti-Semite and a homophobe, was greeted by more than just those who turned out to see or protest him. His appearance drew the scorn and contempt of many of Harvard's top professors.
Throughout his lecture--a revisionist version of history that attributed virtually every success of modern society to the ancient Egyptian civilization of the Nile--Jeffries denied charges that he is a bigot, at one point citing his presidency of a Jewish fraternity while in college as evidence.
The CUNY professor meanwhile continued to allege that Jews were heavily involved in the slave trade even as he denied that Egyptians had used Jewish slave labor to build the ancient pyramids of Giza--a period of bondage that Jews commemorate with the holiday of Passover.
Later, in reference to the Holocaust, Jeffries said that "Adolf Hitler was a problem of Europeans. Adolf Hitler is not my problem."
Despite these remarks, the lecture was more benign in content than most critics expected, although it was enough to arouse Jeffries' critics and supporters to occasional shouting matches during the question and answer period.
On several occasions, the professor attempted to deflect questions either by avoiding them entirely or by accusing the audience of the very racism he is alleged to exhibit.
"Do they have serious questions, or do they come in here with the hysteria and passion and racism that has been bred into them?" Jeffries asked the moderator, Williston Professor of Law Roger Fisher '43.
Several Harvard faculty members said they did not attend the lecture because they think Jeffries is a racist, not the academic he calls himself.
"He is not a scholar. He has never published any scholarly work and I think it's scandalous that he has tenure at a university," said Winthrop Professor of History Stephan A. Thernstrom.
Thomson Professor of Government Harvey C. Mansfield said the content of Jeffries' words is less important than their societal context.
"What is important is not so much what Leonard Jeffries says as the fact that many Blacks listen to him," Mansfield said. "He's more important as a symptom than as a cause."
And Professor of Sociology Orlando Patterson, who attended the rally opposing Jeffries, said the CUNY professor is downright dangerous.
"We should learn from history," Patterson said. "Hitler came to power from his abuse of free speech. Sometimes we have to place limits [on freedom]."
Patterson added that those who support Jeffries threaten the advance of civil rights.
"I sometimes get the chilling feeling that some Black Americans have gone back to the view that separate but equal is good because it works," Patterson said. "Fortunately, they still belong to the fringe of leadership."
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