Chicago Maroon was the nation's first campus newspaper
to run David Horowitz's controversial anti-slavery-reparations
ad. Why it took so long for U of C students to notice remains
second week in February ended rather uneventfully at the U
of C. Hardly news in itself, except that conservative writer
and activist David Horowitz debuted his full-page ad, "Ten
Reasons Why Reparations for Slavery Is a Bad Idea-and Racist
Too," in the February 9 Maroon. A month later
the same ad would incite a flurry of protests at many of the
14 other campuses where it appeared. Aside from a lone letter
by a dissenting graduate student, life at Chicago went on
without incident, even after the ad showed up again March
8 in the Chicago Weekly News.
when all hell broke loose after the ad ran March 13 in the
student-run Brown Daily Herald-with protesting students
destroying an entire print run and demanding that the ad revenue
be donated to charity-some Chicago students began to ask themselves
what was going on. By the time Horowitz made a May 7 pit stop
at Chicago on a tour of colleges, U of C students found themselves
divided over the same issue at debate elsewhere: the state
of free speech at colleges.
prompted the controversy? The ad, based on Horowitz's May
30, 2000, Salon.com article of the same title, dismisses
calls for federally funded reparations to descendants of slaves.
Horowitz further argued that reparations have already been
paid in the form of welfare benefits and racial preferences
and that African Americans actually owe a debt to white America
for ending the slave trade and giving them one of the highest
living standards in the world. A former leftist and author
of the recent The Art of Political War and Other Radical
Pursuits, Horowitz says he placed the ad to prove a larger
point: that conservative opinions are barred from U.S. institutions
of higher education.
didn't Chicago students react to such a provocative stance?
The editors of both the Maroon and CWN say there
was nothing to debate: ads are strictly business, and editors
do not have the power to accept or refuse them. Many students
later admitted they didn't bother to read the ad. Tribune
columnist Eric Zorn offered his take in the March 22 edition:
"It seems the young men and women in Hyde Park saw the
argument as one to be engaged, ignored, or embraced, but not
stifled." In an April 3 Maroon article, third-year
Laneka Thomas, political chair of the Organization of Black
Students (OBS), said it was a conscious decision for her and
other OBS students not to protest. "Our lack of response
came from not wanting to give him exposure.... The guy was
historically incorrect; it wasn't worth getting upset about."
April 12 the Maroon took the opportunity to probe the
reparations and free-speech issues more closely, running a
front-page telephone interview with Horowitz in which fourth-year
Madeleine Bair asked, "Do you think time has healed the
wounds of slavery?" and "What inspired you to run
your anti-reparations ad?"
inspired him, Horowitz told her, was a 46-to-1 vote last year
by the Chicago City Council in favor of reparations and a
"ridiculous" apology for slavery issued by Mayor
Richard M. Daley. When, nine months later, he saw an agenda
for a convention on reparations held in Chicago and offering
what he called "leftist" views, he decided to launch
his ad campaign here.
the time the College Republicans brought Horowitz to campus
in May, many Chicago students seemed fed up with all the press
Horowitz was getting. They were also bothered by the format
of the evening's talk, requiring students to submit written
questions from which Jason McCabe, president of the College
Republicans, would read selections. Some groups, including
OBS and local activists, planned to protest.
300 students came to the talk, which had to be broadcast in
the lobby of the Donnelly Biological Sciences Learning Center
to accommodate the overflow crowd. OBS reps handed out pamphlets
denouncing Horowitz's methods for the Q&A as partisan
and detrimental to free speech. Third-year Merci Oni read
a prepared statement for OBS: "By insisting that we write
down our questions...and not allowing a free and open dialogue...after
you have spoken, you are essentially committing an act of
an act of intellectual integrity," Horowitz shot back,
and the evening unraveled from there, with more than two hours
of shouting from both sides of the podium. Oni and several
students remained standing with their backs to Horowitz. When
first-year Tokoya Williams loudly refused to sit at the entreaties
of campus police and administrators, she was escorted from
the room. Horowitz charged the protesters with "racial
McCarthyism," saying the students' methods were "fascism"
and an example of "intimidation by use of the word racism"
to "shut people up." Most students, including those
supporting Horowitz's right to present his views, became bothered
that he spent much of the evening bickering with the protesters.
"You came here to speak," they shouted, "so
speak." When Horowitz finally did give his prepared talk,
he reiterated his tirade against the left, claiming that "blind"
support for issues like slavery reparations would spell the
end of democracy.
next week brought the requisite news stories, a Maroon
editorial, and two op-eds ("Horowitz is to social issues
as Vince McMahon is to wrestling"), after which the campus
again fell silent.
the lesson to be drawn from the events? It's not clear there
is one, says Maroon Editor Eugene Ford, except that
the issues were left unresolved. As a Maroon staff
editorial put it, "[C]onstructive dialogue about the
issue...was marred...by this on-going back-and-forth about
everyone's right to engage in...dialogue. Nowadays, students
are prone to spend more energy asserting that they have 'a
voice' than using it to say anything worthwhile."-S.A.S.