A speech by Alex Haley, the author of "Roots", was canceled at the University of Maryland after a black campus group called for a boycott and threatened to disrupt the event.
The Black Student Union, which mounted the protest, complained about the $2 admission charge for Haley's speech and said the campus-wide group that was sponsoring it had not allowed black students to take part in its activities.
Leaders of the student activities group which is financed mostly by a compulsory student fee, strongly denied the charges. They added that even if Haley's speech had been sold out it would have lost $1,700. The author was supposed to receive $3,500 for about a 90 minute appearance.
Haley could not be reached to comment on the dispute.
"Alex is not going to get involved in this, no way," his administrative assistant Arthur Simms told a reporter on the telephone yesterday while Haley signed autographs in the linen department at the Hecht Co. department at the Hecht Co. department store at Landover Mall.
"It's best that it was canceled," Simms said. "There could have been problems out there, there could have been some disorder. We don't need any trouble."
Simms said it was the first time that a speech by Haley had been canceled because of a dispute between black and white students.
Over the past few years the author has appeared at hundreds of campuses, including more than 40 during the past two months, since "Roots" appeared on television and attracted record audiences.
The speech at College Park has been scheduled for Wednesday night. It was canceled on Tuesday.
Luis Luna, president of the student government, saidhe decided to call it off after he failed to persuade the black students to call off their boycott, even though he offered to drop the admission charge.
"There has been some pretty inflammatory statements by the Black Student Union," Luna said, "and ticket sales were lagging . . . Rather than let the thing go on and become a circus, I decided to stop it. I want Alex Haley to come, but I don't want him to be used as a pawn by a few individuals to make a point.
Pamela Davis, vice president of the Black Student Union, who had promised to use "any means necessary" to stop Haley's speech, said the call for a boycott "mad nothing to do with Mr. Haley."
"I love Haley," she said, "I would love to have him come, but we will boycott (campus) programs until they allow black students more input."
She added: "There are a lot of students, period, who can't afford $2, especially black students."
She said black students should be allowed to bring in speakers and shows on their own instead of having to work through the student government's entertainment group, which is called Student Entertainment Enterprises.
The College Park campus has about 1,900 blacks, about 7 per cent of its 28,000 undergraduates.
Yesterday, Ofield Dukes, a public relations man who is assisting Haley, said the author's speeches around the country had "brought together whites and blacks, young and old. It's unfortunate that didn't happen at Maryland."
He said Haley will try to come to University of Maryland in the fall if his speech is cosponsored by the Black Student Union and another group "as a nice family affair."