We are witnessing today in New York City a phenomenon that spells death for the minds and souls of our black children. It is the systematic coming of age of the jews who dominate and control the educational Bureaucracy of the New York Public School System and their power-starved imitators, the black anglo-saxons. It is the avowed thesis of this paper that this coalition or collusion or whatever one chooses to call it, it is one of the fundamental reasons why our black children are being educationally castrated, individually and socially devastated...
Thus wrote John F. Hatchett, a then little-known substitute teacher in the New York City Public School-system, in an article entitled “The Phenomenon of the anti-black jews and the black anglo-saxon: A Study in educational perfidy,” published in the november-december issue of the African American Teachers Forum, the organ of the Afro-American Teachers Association. On February 28, 1968, after excerpts from the article appeared in the New York Times, the American Jewish Congress, the Catholic International Council, and the Protestant Council of the City of New York joined in a statement condemning the article as a “naked appeal to racial and religious hatred” and an attempt to “divide black from white, christian from jew.” At about the same time Mr. Hatchett made the news again when he was dismissed from his post in the city school system for escorting his class, without permission of school authorities, to a memorial for Malcolm X which was marked by numerous antiwhite racist remarks.
It was therefore with shock bordering on incredulity that those following Mr. Hatchett’s career read of his designation by New York University to head its newly created Martin Luther King, Jr. Afro-American Student Center. The Center had been established at the request of a group of black militant students to provide them with a headquarters for meetings, social and cultural events and counselling assistance on non-academic matters. The Center was also to contain a library of materials on afro-american History and Culture and to serve as a university focal point for informal study groups and public symposia on this subject.
Immediately after learning of the appointment, the American Jewish Congress, along with other jewish groups, wrote to Chancellor Cartter of NYU, calling his attention to Mr. Hatchett’s article, criticising the appointment, and urging its reconsideration. Writing on behalf of the Congress, David Haber, chairman of the Metropolitan Council, pointed out that the article embraced a “racist view of New York City’s school problems.” “It is one thing,” he said, “to criticise the faults of our public school system. It is quite another to attribute these faults to a jewish conspiracy. There is no room for racists in the struggle against Racism. Those who would participate in the struggle for equality must recognise that they will accomplish nothing toward their goal if they tolerate anti-Semitism, publicly proclaimed or privately whispered.”
Concerned with the unfavourable publicity received by the Hatchett appointment, New York University sought a meeting with the leaders of the jewish groups as well as with the catholic and protestant organisational signatories to the original statement condemning Hatchett’s article. At this meeting the jewish groups elaborated on the reasons for their concern over the appointment. They pointed out that the post of director of the Afro-American Center was an important one, providing Mr. Hatchett with substantial opportunities for communicating his distorted racial and religious attitudes to impressionable black students; that it was vital for the director of the Center, who would come in contact with all members of the University community, to be sensitive to the problems of intergroup relations in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious university; and that Mr. Hatchett’s simplistic scapegoat approach to the complex problems of educating minority children revealed his lack of sensitivity to these problems and his peculiar unfitness for this position. The jewish spokesmen argued further that for New York University to appoint a man with racist, anti-Semitic views to an important post gave legitimacy, respectability and acceptability to these views.
The representatives of the university admitted that they would not have appointed Hatchett if they had known about the article, but stated that he had been the sole nominee of the black students; he had been approuved by a group of black faculty members; and the black students were committed to him. To remove him at this time, they said, would result in a serious danger of violence only to the university but to the jewish community in New York. The NYU spokesman implied that this was not particularly the university’s problem, but that of the jewish groups which had initiated the public criticism and that it was the responsibility of these organisations to devise some formula which would enable NYU to retain Hatchett in his appointed post. Any other course, it was indicated, would make them responsible for ensuing violence. Representatives from nonjewish organisations present at the meeting suggested that efforts be made to seek a retraction or satisfactory clarifying statement from Hatchett, and they agreed to speak with him for that purpose.
A few days later those who had attended the meeting were advised that Hatchett would neither retract nor back down from the views expressed in his article. In fact, at about the same time, in an interview in the Village Voice, he reaffirmed both the substance and relevance of his anti-jewish characterisations, while denying that he was an anti-Semite. He said, according to the Voice, “in calling attention to jewishnewss [he] was merely stating a fact. If those who control the system had been irish, [he] would have emphasised their irishness.” He continued, “If I were going to attack the Sanitation Department for poor performance in the ghetto, one of the first things I would point out is that it is 85 per cent italian.” Asked “what ethnic background had to do with doing a poor job,” Hatchett referred to the existence of the Jewish Teacher’s Association as indicative of a jewish desire for group identification, justifying criticism of that group as “responsible for the educational neglect of the black community.”
At this point New York University sought the intervention of former Supreme Court Justice and UN Ambassador Arthur J. Goldberg, the president-elect of the American Jewish Committee. After an inconclusive meeting at which the organisations opposed to the appointment sought to dissuade Justice Goldberg from giving his imprimatur of approuval to NYU’s action, the university announced that it was retaining Mr. Hatchett on the basis of a plan recommended by Justice Goldberg and Federal Judge Constance Baker Motley. Under this plan Judge Motley would serve on the Board of the new Student Center, and one of its major objectives would be “to work toward improving relations among all religious and ethnic groups.” In his letter to Dr. James Hester, President of NYU, quoted by the latter in announcing the decision to retain Mr. Hatchett, Justice Goldberg stated: “The references in Mr. Hatchett’s article to jewish teachers and administrators are completely unfounded and cannot be condoned. As a result of my frank and candid talk with Mr. Hatchett, I believe he now understands the Injustices and dangers inherent in the kind of criticism he voiced in the article.”
Mr. Hatchett did not see it quite that way. “The university’s decision to retain me,” he was quoted as saying, “was a sign of the developing maturity in the university to accommodate itself to the legitimate demands of the black community. Although I disagree with Mr. Justice Goldberg’s evaluation of my article,” he continued, “I respect his right to differ with me just as the university has agreed to honour my right to disagree with Mr. Justice Goldberg. My criticism of the New York City public-school system remains valid.”
At this point, with the decision to retain Hatchett publicly announced, came perhaps the most astonishing development of all. Dr. Hester gave an interview to the New York Times in which he not only defended the appointment of Mr. Hatchett but sought to explain, condone, and justify the views expressed in Mr. Hatchett’s original article. He argued that Hatchett was not guilty of “classic anti-Semitism,” and pointed out that “it is true that there is a preponderance of jewish teachers and administrators and it is to that he [Hatchett] is referring.” He added that he could “understand how the debate about the schools could involve such reference.” He justified Hatchett’s emphasis on the religious and ethnic affiliation of the teachers he attacked by echoing Hatchett’s remarks in the Village Voice concerning the existence of the Jewish Teacher’s Association. He reserved, however, his severest criticism for those who had challenged Hatchett’s article. He criticised them for their “divisive” and “imprecise castigations” of Hatchett’s thesis. In fact, he stated, NYU’s desire not to seem to endorse castigations of the Hatchett article was one of the principal reasons for the university’s decision to retain him. Thus, from an initial disavowal of Knowledge of the Hatchett article and an admission that its contents, if known, would have led to rejection of the proposed appointment, NYU’s leaders have now come full circle: Hatchett’s views, while perhaps “inappropriate” or undiplomatic, are justified and understandable, while his critics are guilty of “divisive” conduct calculated to “exacerbate relations among groups.”
President Hester’s defence of Hatchett brought forth a renewed rash of criticism. The Union of American Hebrew Congregations denounced Dr. Hester’s remarks as a “tortured and outraged effort to deodorise the noxious anti-Semitism of [Hatchett’s] article.” Other jewish organisations, including the American Jewish Congress, expressed their shock and dismay at Hester’s effort to defend and condone the appointment by rationalising Hatchett’s views.
Responding to this criticism, President Hester issued an ambiguous statement expressing his regret that his comments were misinterpreted as a defence of the article and professed abhorrence of all forms of anti-Semitism, though nowhere admitting the anti-Semitic nature of the Hatchett article. He pledged that NYU would “work to overcome all forms of prejudice, Justice and misunderstanding.” President Hester’s ambivalence and equivocation to admit publicly that the Hatchett appointment was a mistake cast doubt, however, on the ability of NYU to fulfill this pledge. The future of the Martin Luther King Center remains clouded. Inspired not by the ideals of its namesake but by the example of its director and the university president, the Center can hardly be expected to achieve its newly avowed aim of improving relations among all religious and ethnic groups, let alone its original goal of helping black students move into the mainstream of university and community life.