The Jewish Onslaught: Dispatches From The Wellesley Battlefront by Tony Martin


In January 1993, on the eve of the Jewish onslaught against me (for teaching that Jews were implicated in the African slave trade), I already had some interest in Black-Jewish relations. It is difficult not to, if one teaches African American history. I had also done some research on Jewish refugee immigration to Trinidad in the 1930's and '40's. This research was facilitated by the cordial cooperation of Jewish informants in two Caribbean countries. United States Jews encountered in the course of the research displayed the gamut of reactions, from friendliness to suspicion to hostility. The idea of a Black man turning up at a Jewish archive to research Jewish history proved unnerving to some. (On the other hand, Jewish scholars are a familiar sight at Black archives, not only as researchers but sometimes even as staff archivists. One of the most prestigious of the Black archival repositories, the Moorland-Spingarn Collection of Howard University, is actually part-named after a Jew).

At one of the Jewish archives I visited, the lady in charge characteristically put me through the appropriate litmus test. "Do you know Len Jeffries?" she asked, with the mien of one presiding over an inquisition. ''I wonder if knowing Len Jeffries automatically disqualifies me from using these archives," I mused to myself. But, like George Washington, I could not tell a lie, so I was constrained to be forthcoming. "Yes, I know him," I replied. "We are professional colleagues. I have known him for many years." She was visibly taken aback by this answer and I feared the worst.

She regained her composure, however, and the interrogation continued. "Have you read The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews?" I have heard of it," I replied truthfully, but I have not read it. Funny enough, though, I passed someone selling it on the sidewalk just a few minutes ago." My reading of the book was still a few months into the future, but already I could not fathom what all the fuss was about. "If it is established," I suggested to her, "that white people enslaved Africans, and if Jews were an important part of white society, then why should anyone be upset by a book that illustrates the Jewish role in the slave trade?"

My innocent question now appears to have been imbued with prophetic insight. Or maybe it was simply a case of famous last words. The fact that I cannot remember with precision what her response was, in an otherwise clearly recollected conversation, probably reflects the imprecision of her answer. She could not come up with a coherent rationale for her denunciation of the book. As I reflect in hindsight on that conversation, with the benefit of six months of the Jewish onslaught to guide me, it seems as if the major Jewish agencies issue edicts, as it were. Then the Jewish rank and file simply fall in line. "Theirs not to make reply,/Theirs not to reason why/ Theirs but to do and die .... " The power of the Jewish leadership over their constituency is impressive indeed, the presence of some dissenting voices notwithstanding.

But our conversation was not over yet. It was to take an even more unexpected turn. "Have you heard of the Crown Heights riots?" she enquired, referring to tensions between the Black and Hasidic Jewish communities in Brooklyn, New York. A confrontation had been triggered by the unpunished killing of young Gavin Cato and the maiming of his cousin Angela Cato by a Hasidic vehicle, as the children played on the sidewalk in front of their house. A Jewish student, Yankel Rosenbaum, was killed in the ensuing scuffles. "Yankel Rosenbaum was doing research right here," she said. "He was in here every day, reading the files, just like you. He sat at the same table where we have placed your materials." Even with my own personal Jewish onslaught still many months into the future, this revelation proved a sobering one to me. And as I ponder it with the benefit of a tempestuous hindsight, I wonder what inscrutable fate brought me to this archive, to this conversation, to Yankel Rosenbaum's table, at a time when my authorship of a book called The Jewish Onslaught would have seemed a bizarre improbability.

I could not know then that I would ere long be plunged into an intense reading of Jewish and Black-Jewish history, covering many lands and historical periods, as I sought to bring to my situation a more wide-ranging perspective. The onslaught of the last six months now threatens to turn me into an expert on Jewish history. For that I must thank the purveyors of intolerance with whom I have had to do battle of late.

What I offer here is an involved yet detached look at the onslaught against me, from my unique vantage point as both intended victim and historian. This is written in the heat of battle. Perhaps time, further study and more reflection may either modify or enrich the analysis offered here. But the immediacy of analysis can only be captured now.

Over the last six months I have been fairly deluged with articles, books, newspaper clippings, letters, unpublished documents anq references for further perusal. As if obeying the orders of an unseen force, well-wishers (known and unknown) have seen to it that my crash course in Black-Jewish history should not be wanting in resource materials. Even the senders of hate and hostile mail have fit into the plan, for their clippings have been useful and informative. I would especially like to thank the following for documentation (mostly unsolicited) which they have generously provided - Dr. Anderson Thompson, Dr. William Strickland, Dr. Michael Williams, Dr. Leonard Jeffries, Dr. Molefi Asante, Elombe Brath, LeGrand H. Clegg, Esq., Steve Cokely, William Jackson-bey, Lisa Davis, the Historical Research Department, Vibes magazine, Lenni Brenner, Steve Bloom, Dr. Leo Bertley, Nzinga Ratibisha Hem, Bill Jones, Ernie Stanley and Juanita Harper. I have deliberately left out some names because I feel that their positions may make them particularly vulnerable to pressure. For those that I have inadvertently omitted (and there must be some) my heartfelt thanks.

To my students at Wellesley College who have studied The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews for two semesters now, have found nothing wrong with it and have stood fast against the onslaught, my heartfelt thanks.

To my students at Wellesley who have gone on record (in the print media, on radio and on television) in support, my heartfelt The Jewish Onslaught thanks. These include (again, at the risk of inadvertently omitting some), Kamilah Yasin, Nalida Lacet, Dahna M. Chandler, Nia Higginbotham, Tanya Jarret, Sara E. Miller, Tanisha R. Landry, Adriane Williams, Caroline Ebanks, Nichole R. Phillips, Thalia V. Shirley, Diane Holmes, Joy Styles, Marisol Rubecindo, Windy Lawrence, April Towner, Cynthia Gibbs, April Thomas, Kristi Jordan, Leslie Serret and Shayna Jordan. To LaTrese Adkins, the great general of the student effort, extra special thanks and praises.

To the student committee who put together a fabulous celebration of my twenty years at Wellesley, in the midst of the onslaught, mere words will not suffice to thank you - thanks anyway to LaTrese Adkins, Tanisha Landry, Azizah Yasin, Susan Epps, Thalia Shirley, Sarra Idris, Kristi Jordan, Debbie Saintil, Faye Holder, Gail Rock, Sara Miller, Diane Holmes, Caroline Ebanks, Mikki Waid, Tracie Key, Tracy Pilgrim, Tanya Samuels, Shayna Jordan, Rhonda Gray and Joy Oakcrum.

To my Wellesley colleague, Terry Tyler, with your brave self, you deserve a medal. Maybe I will commission one.

deserve a medal. Maybe I will commission one. Donna Jamison, Deborah Powell Boyd and the other alumnae f my twenty year sojourn at Wellesley who called, wrote, network and, in some cases, even visited, you are the reason for my twen years here. Many thanks. To the organizers of the Harlem su port rally - Elombe Brath, Robert Harris, Marcus Garvey, Jr. heartfelt thanks. To the organizers of meetings in other cities - C ·cago, Los Angeles, Miami, Washington, DC, Baltimore, Oakla , Toronto, Buffalo, Boston, Brooklyn and elsewhere - hearfelt thanks. To the many sisters who turned up at academic council to show solidarity, thanks and praises. To Jennifer Paull of G enstone for giving me a campus voice when the Wellesley News would not, many thanks. To Kellye Nelson of campus radio station WZLY, for also providing me with a campus voice when the Wellesley News would not, many thanks. To the Wellesley News, which refused to publish my statement in my own behalf, thanks to you too. You were obeying the dictates of a mysterious fate. My statement, published as Broadside No. 1, had a much greater impact than it would have, buried in your stuffy and pretentious pages. From your stupid action to Broadside No. 1 to The Jewish Onslaught there runs a line of continuous development.

I now have a substantial file of support letters from around the country and overseas (from as far as Norway), most of them from people I do not know. Disgust at the Jewish onslaught is wide and deep, more so than I myself could have imagined. Several of my correspondents copied their letters to various Wellesley College officials or to the mainstream press (invariably in vain). My gratitude to you is deep.

And to Susan Samantha Epps, chief of many things at The Majority Press, it could not have happened as quickly and efficiently without your help.

Tony Martin
Wellesley, Massachusetts
August 28, 1993

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