'A line was crossed.' Lawmaker asks Black representative if race, athleticism got him into Harvard

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Thursday, May 18, 2023
NC lawmaker controversial question ends in apology on House floor
An exchange between two lawmakers broke out when one asked whether or not race and athleticism played a part in him getting accepted into Harvard.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- North Carolina has been making national headlines for the past month after a new abortion bill was introduced and passed within weeks. However, an unrelated exchange on the House floor on Wednesday is also making national headlines.

During the debate about a controversial education bill for school vouchers, Republican Representative Jeff McNeely who is White asked Representative Abe Jones who is Black and a Harvard graduate if his race and athleticism helped get accepted into the Ivy League school.

"I understand that you went into public school and into Harvard law and the question is... would you have been able to achieve this if you were not an athlete or a minority," said Jeff McNeely a Republican representative from Iredell County.

ABC11's Amber Rupinta caught with Rep. Jones a day after the exchange.

"Shocked," that's how N.C. State Representative Abe Jones, a Wake County Democrat says he initially felt. Jones was interrupted by Representative Jeff McNeely, an Iredell County Republican during a floor debate on the controversial education bill that would expand vouchers for private schools.

"He decided to talk about race and athleticism. As an athlete at Harvard, I ran track cross-country and in winter. But, that's not how I got there. I got there through academics," Jones said.

"A line was crossed. It shouldn't have been said and it was wrong and he knows that," Jones said.

"Mr. McNeely apologized, and I accepted it right there in front of everybody. He apologized on the floor, no hard feelings," Jones added.

Jones says he's now hoping this exchange making national headlines helps spark a broader conversation.

"I'm glad it is because I think we aren't as far ahead on race and gender issues as sometimes we take credit for. And I think when something like this occurs, we get to reflect with ourselves and among ourselves about the issue. And we still have a little work to do. That's what it tells me."

Rep. Jones said he's also concerned that incidents like this creates a narrow view of North Carolina politics.

"Unfortunately, I think it may be makes us look worse than we are. I think we we are doing well. However, there's sometimes can be a disconnect between elections and with a population. It's kind of bizarre, the disconnect between really what's going on out in the world and what goes on sometimes in the General Assembly. I think we're more progressive than we look in the legislature. That's that's the bottom line."

ABC reached out to Representative Jeff Mcneely for comment and haven't heard back.

Rep. Jones said he has spoken with Rep. McNeely both publicly and privately and he apologized both times and that he has no hard feelings toward McNeely.


Video of Rep. McNeely's comments to Rep. Jones during a House session yesterday.