He is known for radical Afrocentrist views and that the role of African people in history and the accomplishments of African Americans is far more important than commonly held. He accused the public school syllabi for Eurocentrism and demanded revisions.
He achieved national prominence in the early 1990s when he claimed that Jews financed the slave trade, used the movie industry to hurt black people, and that whites are "ice people" while Africans are "sun people". Jeffries was discharged from his position as chairman of the black studies department at CUNY, leading to a lengthy legal battle.
Jeffries attended Lafayette College for his undergraduate work. While in Lafayette, Jeffries pledged, and was accepted into, Pi Lambda Phi, "the Jewish fraternity,". 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.
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 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.
He held the position of chairman of CCNY's Black Studies Department for over two decades, recruiting like-minded scholars and growing the department. In 1972, Dr. Leonard Jeffries was recruited by City College of New York to organize their Black Studies Department. Over the next three decades, Dr. Jeffries and his colleagues developed the most comprehensive Black Studies Department in the country. The program objectives were first and foremost academic excellence, community-orientation and overseas outreach to Africa, the Caribbean and Brazil. 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.
Jeffries became popular among his students and as 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 the accomplishments of African Americans is far more important than commonly held.
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. 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."
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, 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).
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.
The appeals court reversed its decision in April 1995, and in June the same year Prof. Moyibi Amodo was elected to succeed Jeffries as department chairman. Jeffries remains a professor at CCNY.
Academic freedom debateEdit
The Jeffries case led to debate about tenure, academic freedom and free speech. He was sometimes compared to Michael Levin, a Jewish CUNY professor who outside of the classroom claimed that black people are inferior, and had recently won against the school in court.
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.
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