- Anger that has been brewing for months over Vanderbilt
University's deletion of the word ''Confederate'' from Confederate Memorial
Hall has boiled over in recent weeks in the wake of a professor's comments
about slavery and racism in the South.
- Outraged Southern heritage groups have launched Web sites,
posted counter-opinions on the Internet, flooded their organizations' offices
with more than 1,000 phone calls and e-mails and demanded that professor
Jonathan Farley be fired in the weeks since Farley's essay appeared in
- In the Nov. 20 opinion column, titled ''Remnants of the
Confederacy glorifying a time of tyranny,'' Farley said he believed all
of the Confederate soldiers and leaders should have been executed at the
end of the Civil War for torturing and murdering black slaves.
- Farley also called the Confederates ''cowards masquerading
as civilized men'' and said modern-day Southerners who deny the Civil War
was about slavery are ''the new Holocaust revisionists.''
- The statements sparked heated exchanges, punctuated with
insults, between Farley and members of Southern heritage groups who viewed
the essay as an attack on their ancestors and a misstatement of history.
- ''Confederate groups deserve the same tolerance as any
other group, and it shouldn't automatically be assumed we are demons with
fangs out to harm African-Americans,'' said Terry Compton of Virginia,
who has written rebuttals to Farley's essay for Southern heritage Internet
sites. ''Jonathan Farley is a big advocate for slavery reparations, and
I think he is just looking for a scapegoat.''
- E-mail exchanges that both Farley and his detractors
describe as insulting and threatening were posted on the Internet. Farley
said he had received several death threats and more than 100 phone and
e-mail messages ó some supporting his position. Farley said he intended
to notify the police of all threatening messages ó samples of which
he provided to The Tennessean ó but had not done so as of yesterday.
- The math professor ó a graduate of Harvard and
Oxford universities ó said in an interview yesterday that people
were upset because they were not used to an African-American man ''looking
them directly in the eye.''
- ''If I had written this essay in 1952, I'd be dead right
now,'' Farley said, adding that he did not abide by Martin Luther King
Jr.'s doctrine of passive resistance.
- ''I am not the Reverend Doctor Farley. I am not going
to respond to the Confederates' vicious, hostile actions by embracing them.''
- The controversy begins
- Southern heritage groups' clash with Vanderbilt began
in February when university officials decided to remove the word ''Confederate''
from a Peabody College campus residence hall after years of controversy
surrounding the name. The measure angered Confederate heritage groups that
viewed the university as rewriting history and rejecting Southern culture.
- In October, the United Daughters of the Confederacy filed
suit against the university, saying the name change violated contracts
between the UDC and the former George Peabody College of Teachers, now
a part of Vanderbilt. In 1935, the UDC raised $50,000 to help Peabody build
the residence hall, and Vanderbilt did not consult members of the UDC before
making the name change.
- To some members of the community, the actions of both
Vanderbilt University and the Southern heritage groups are misguided.
- Longtime Nashville resident, author and historian John
Egerton said he believed university officials would have better served
students by explaining history rather than by trying to erase it. And,
he said, some members of Southern heritage groups were using the preservation
of Confederate history as a veil for white supremacist beliefs.
- He said Farley's assertion that Confederate soldiers
should have been executed was absurd because in the Civil War ó
as in all wars ó soldiers did the ''dirty work'' of their leaders.
- ''All of this just shows we haven't fixed anything,''
Egerton said of the controversy. ''One of the reasons we still have racism
is we tend to keep a sullen silence or sweet-talk one another instead of
having a candid conversation about why we're in this mess.''
- The word spreads
- Farley's essay was quickly disseminated to readers throughout
the country via Internet on such Web sites as Southern Heritage News and
Views and the Southern Independence Party of Tennessee ó a group
reporting about 3,000 members who support formation of a separate Southern
- While Farley said he expected a negative response, he
said he was surprised by how rapidly the heritage group members organized
- ''The Confederates have a national network, and within
four hours of the paper coming out, Confederates all over the country decided
my career had to be destroyed,'' Farley said. ''They wrote the chancellor,
they found out where I worked, and they wrote the chair of my department.''
- One correspondent, D.S. Davis of Eureka, Calif., said
he got into a heated e-mail exchange with Farley after he read Farley's
essay online. Davis said he got an insulting and ''childish'' response
from Farley; Farley would neither confirm nor deny e-mail messages attributed
- ''In my opinion, he is mentally unstable and very likely
capable of doing students and the university some substantial physical
damage,'' Davis wrote in an e-mail message to a Tennessean reporter. ''I
think he needs to undergo psychiatric treatment and forced hospitalization
- University officials are standing behind Farley's right
to express his opinions publicly. ''Our faculty have, by virtue of their
academic freedom, the ability and authority to say anything they want,''
said Michael Schoenfeld, Vanderbilt's vice chancellor for public affairs.
''We also encourage civility and respect, and we want our faculty to be
responsible with this right.''
- Heritage groups respond
- Some who disagree with Farley's views say he should be
fired because of his ability to influence young people at the university.
- ''You can just feel the hate inundating from that essay,
and frankly I think he should be terminated because of his racial views,''
said Jack Leard of South Carolina, a member of Sons of Confederate Veterans.
''I think contact with people like him is like a poison that spreads.''
- Madison Cook, chairman of the Southern Independence Party
of Tennessee, said he received more than 1,300 calls and e-mails from members
who were shocked and outraged by Farley's column.
- While many said they thought the professor should lose
his job, Cook said he believed Farley's supervisors should simply explain
to him why his essay demonstrated ''bad judgment.''
- ''I'm all for free speech, but calling for executions
and slavery reparations is absurd. It's out-and-out nonsense,'' Cook said
from his headquarters in Granville. ''I think Farley's bosses need to sit
down and chat with him about what's appropriate and what isn't.''
- As did others, Cook said he believed Farley's essay was
a continuation of the university's effort to rewrite history. ''Changing
the name of a dorm is politically correct crap,'' he said. ''These people
are the historical revisionists.''
- Some support Farley
- Although Farley said most of the phone calls and e-mails
he had received were from those who disagreed with him, he said he also
received several letters and e-mails of support after his opinion piece
- Hector Rosario, a doctoral student at Columbia University,
said he supported Farley's right to speak his mind, regardless of whether
he agreed with all of Farley's opinions. He said he had written letters
of support for Farley and asked his friends to do the same.
- For Rosario, the most troubling aspect of the story has
been the death threats Farley has described and the attacks on his career.
''That lack of tolerance is extremely corrosive,'' he said.
- Rosario added that most people cannot understand what
it's like to be an African-American man ó particularly a well-educated
African-American man ó living in the South. ''You are always on
the defensive and always trying to prove you have a right to exist, because
you are looked at as something less than other human beings,'' he said.
- But some members of Confederate heritage groups say it
is they who are forced to be on the defensive by those who cast all of
them as racists.
- ''The Confederate flag is seen as a racist symbol, but
to me it's a symbol of people willing to fight and die for freedom,'' Leard
said. ''It represents a group of men willing to fight against overwhelming
odds to defend a country they loved.''
- Despite the rift between the two sides, the controversy
sparked by the dorm name change and Farley's essay may at least get people
on both sides talking, Egerton said.
- ''What Jonathan Farley did was push all this stuff on
top of the table where people from each extreme can shoot at each other,''
he said. ''Maybe a more rational approach will emerge from it.''