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CAUT Bulletin Archives

April 1999

Black professor remains victim of racial discrimination despite appeals for amnesty

On Jan. 10 the widely broadcast TV program "60 minutes" devoted much of its time to the plight of Dr. Preston King, professor of political science and international relations at Lancaster University, England. Dr. King was a student at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee in the early 1950s while I was on its faculty. His story is really about U.S. racism of which he became -- and remains -- a victim.

In his student days, the U.S. military draft was in effect. He registered and was given the customary student deferment to allow him to advance his studies. The draft board, in granting an initial deferment, addressed him as Mr. King. However, when the board became aware that he was black, they refused a further postponement -- normally freely granted -- which would have allowed him to complete his graduate studies.

In denying him the deferment, they addressed him as Preston, no longer as Mr. King. He called this discourtesy to the board's attention. It refused to correct it and continued to deny him, as they were wont to deny all African-Americans, the simple courtesy of addressing him as "Mr."

Faced with this deliberate and invariable affront, he refused to report to the board, was arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to jail.

He refused to recognize the legitimacy of this attack and, as thousands of young Americans were soon to do in their resistance to the Vietnam war, fled abroad.

In England, he has completed his studies and achieved distinction in his field. He has founded a family; his daughter is now a member of the British Parliament.

But in the eyes of the U.S. authorities he remains a convicted criminal and so cannot return, even for a visit.

President Carter granted amnesty to those who fled the United States to express their resistance to the war in Vietnam. It was not a blanket amnesty covering those victimized by draft boards. The current president has the authority to decriminalize Professor King. A number of people have called upon him to do so. Letters, phone calls, e-mail to the White House could now help terminate this insulting injustice to Prof. King -- an injustice to all African-Americans.

E-mail appeals to amnesty Preston King and permit him free entry to the United States can be addressed: Letters to President Clinton can be mailed to The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20500.

Lee Lorch
Mathematics & Statistics, York University