Leonard Jeffries

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Leonard Jeffries
Jeffries BLST101.jpg
Jefferies holding up a Gall–Peters projection map.
Born (1937-01-19) January 19, 1937 (age 83)
Spouse(s)Rosalind Jeffries
RelativesHakeem Jeffries (nephew)
Academic background
Alma mater
ThesisSub-national politics in the Ivory Coast Republic (1972)
Academic work

Leonard Jeffries Jr. (born January 19, 1937) is a former professor of Black Studies at the City College of New York, part of the City University of New York. He was born and raised in Newark, New Jersey.

Known for his Pan-African Afrocentrist views that the role of African people in history and the accomplishments of African Americans are far more important than commonly held, Jeffries has urged that public school syllabi be made less Euro-centric.[2][3]

His claims that Jewish businessmen financed the Atlantic slave trade and used the movie industry to hurt black people, and that whites are "ice people" while Africans are "sun people," received national publicity in the early 1990s. Jeffries was discharged from his position as chairman of the Black Studies Department at CUNY, leading to a lengthy legal battle[4][5][6] ending in the courts supporting the college's right to remove him from the position due to his incendiary remarks.[7]

Jeffries' nephew, Hakeem Jeffries, has served in the US House of Representatives from the state of New York.

Academic career[edit]

Jeffries attended Lafayette College for his undergraduate work. While in Lafayette, Jeffries pledged, and was accepted into, Pi Lambda Phi, a fraternity with a large number of Jewish members.[1][verification needed] In his senior year, Jeffries was elected president of the fraternity. After graduating with honors in 1959, Jeffries won a Rotary International fellowship to the University of Lausanne in Switzerland and then returned in 1961 to study at Columbia University's School of International Affairs from which he received a master's degree in 1965.[1][4]

At the same time, Jeffries worked for Operation Crossroads Africa, allowing him to spend time in Guinea, Mali, Senegal, and the Ivory Coast. He became the program coordinator for West Africa in 1965. Jeffries became a political science instructor at CCNY in 1969 and received his doctorate from Columbia University in 1971 with a dissertation on politics in the Ivory Coast. He became the founding Chairman of Black Studies at San Jose State College in California. A year later, he became a tenured professor at CCNY and became the chairman of the new Black Studies Department.[1][4]

He held the position of Chairman of CCNY's Black Studies Department for over two decades, recruiting like-minded scholars and attempting to expand the number of faculty and students within or associated with the department. In 1972, he was recruited by City College of New York to organize its Black Studies Department. During his tenure, the department sponsored/hosted/organized 25 major national and international conferences and seminars. Besides administration and teaching, he often travelled to Africa and served in the African Heritage Studies Association, a group seeking to define and develop the Black Studies discipline.[citation needed]

Jeffries was a speaker at college campuses and in public. He is known for his Pan-African Afrocentrist views—that the role of African people in history and his opinion that the accomplishments of African Americans are far more important than commonly held.[1]

Jeffries had also advanced a theory that whites are "ice people" who are violent and cruel, while blacks are "sun people" who are compassionate and peaceful.[8] He is a proponent of melanin theory and claims that melanin levels affect the psyche of people, and that melanin allows black people to "negotiate the vibrations of the universe and to deal with the ultraviolet rays of the sun."[9]

1991 speech[edit]

On July 20, 1991, Jeffries gave a controversial speech at the Empire State Black Arts and Cultural Festival, in Albany, New York. During the two-hour speech,[10] he said that "rich Jews" financed the slave trade and control the film industry together with Italian mafia, using it to paint a brutal stereotype of blacks.

Removal as chairman and legal battles (1990s)[edit]

In 1992, Jeffries first got his term shortened from three years to one, and was then removed as chairman from the department of African-American studies, but was allowed to stay as a professor. Jeffries sued the school and in August 1993 a federal jury found that his First Amendment rights had been violated. However, Jeffries had been unanimously reappointed as chairman. He was restored as chairman and awarded $400,000 in damages (later reduced to $360,000).[11][12][13]

The school appealed, but the federal appeals court upheld the verdict while removing the damages. The CUNY Institute for Research on the Diaspora in the Americas and Caribbean was created to do black research independent of Jeffries' department. It was headed by Edmund W. Gordon, who had led the Black Studies Department before Jeffries was reinstated.

In November 1994, the Supreme Court told the appeals court to reconsider after a related Supreme Court decision.[14] The appeals court reversed its decision in April 1995,[15] and in June the same year Prof. Moyibi Amodo was elected to succeed Jeffries as department chairman.[citation needed]

Academic freedom debate[edit]

The Jeffries case led to debate about tenure, academic freedom and free speech.[11][16][17] He was sometimes compared to Michael Levin, a CUNY professor who outside of the classroom claimed that black people are inferior, and had recently won against the school in court.[5][18]

One interpretation of the Jeffries case is that while a university cannot fire a professor for opinions and speech, they have more flexibility with a position like department chair. Another is that it allows public institutions to discipline employees in general for disruptive speech.[4]


  1. ^ a b c d e Contemporary Black Biography. The Gale Group. 2006.
  2. ^ Stanley, Alessandra (7 August 1991). "City College Professor Assailed for Remarks on Jews". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 June 2017.
  3. ^ Morrow, Lance (24 June 2001). "Controversies: The Provocative Professor". Time. Retrieved 29 June 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d Foerstel, Herbert N. (1997). "Jefferies, Leonard". Free expression and censorship in America: an encyclopedia. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 101–102, 132. ISBN 978-0-313-29231-6. LCCN 96042157. OCLC 35317918. Retrieved May 15, 2009.
  5. ^ a b Abel, Richard L. (1999). Speaking Respect, Respecting Speech. University of Chicago Press. pp. 101–102. ISBN 0-226-00057-5. Retrieved 2009-05-13.
  6. ^ David Singer, Ruth R. Seldin, ed. (1996). American Jewish Year Book 1996. New York: The American Jewish Committee. pp. 120–121. ISBN 0-87495-110-0. Retrieved 2009-05-13.
  7. ^ Richard Perez-Pena, In Reversal, Court Backs City College In Jeffries Lawsuit. New York Times April 5, 1995
  8. ^ "A Deafening Silence". National Review. September 9, 1991. Archived from the original on 2004. Retrieved 2008-06-24.
  9. ^ Calabresi, Massimo (February 14, 1994). "Dispatches Skin Deep 101". TIME. 143 (7). Retrieved May 15, 2009.
  10. ^ ""Our Sacred Mission", speech at the Empire State Black Arts and Cultural Festival in Albany, New York, July 20, 1991". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27.
  11. ^ a b "Academic Freedom". West's Encyclopedia of American Law. The Gale Group. 1998. Retrieved May 15, 2009.
  12. ^ Newman, Maria (May 12, 1993). "CUNY Violated Speech Rights Of Department Chief, Jury Says". New York Times. pp. A1. Retrieved 2009-05-15.
  13. ^ Bernstein, Richard (August 5, 1993). "Judge Reinstates Jeffries as Head Of Black Studies for City College". New York Times. pp. A1. Retrieved 2009-05-15.
  14. ^ Waters v. Churchill (114 S.Ct. 1878 [1994]), 511 U.S. 661 (1994)
  15. ^ Jeffries v. Harleston, 52 F.3d 9 [2nd Cir. 1995]
  16. ^ Finkin, Matthew W. (1996). The case for tenure. Cornell University Press. pp. 190–191. ISBN 0-8014-3316-9. Retrieved 2009-05-15.
  17. ^ Spitzer, Robert J. (1994). "Tenure, Speech, and the Jeffries Case: A Functional Analysis". Pace Law Review. 15 (111). Retrieved 2009-05-15.
  18. ^ Morrow, Lance (June 24, 2001). "Controversies: The Provocative Professor". TIME. Retrieved 2009-05-14.

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