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FW: Remembering Herbert Aptheker
by Agustin Lao-Montes
30 March 2003 17:04 UTC
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>>>> Scholar Herbert Aptheker dies at 88

>>>> ===================================
>>>> Jack Fischer
>>>> San Jose Mercury News
>>>> 3/19/2003
>>>> Herbert Aptheker, a seminal scholar of African-American
>>>> history and a lifelong radical who counseled two
>>>> generations of American leftists, died at his home in
>>>> Mountain View on Monday of complications from
>>>> pneumonia. He was 88.
>>>> He and his wife, Fay, who died in 1999, had lived in
>>>> San Jose since the 1970s. Aptheker moved to Mountain
>>>> View shortly after falling ill.
>>>> His scholarship on African-American history preceded
>>>> the discipline's broad acceptance on American
>>>> university campuses and was a source of inspiration for
>>>> the current generation of scholars. They include Henry
>>>> Louis Gates at Harvard and Clayborne Carson, director
>>>> of the Martin Luther King papers project at Stanford,
>>>> among many friends in the field.
>>>> "Any young person who came along in the field of
>>>> African-American studies in the '70s '80s and '90s, as
>>>> I did, touched base with Herbert's work,'' Carson said
>>>> Tuesday. "He provided a foundation that inspired us.''
>>>> Aptheker was a protege of W.E.B. Dubois, who made the
>>>> younger man his literary executor. Aptheker and his
>>>> wife spent many years editing and publishing the
>>>> African-American leader's papers.
>>>> In his final months, Aptheker had been working with
>>>> Carson to put the finishing touches on a new edition of
>>>> Aptheker's "Documentary History of the Negro People,''
>>>> his multi-volume magnum opus of the writings of
>>>> African-Americans dating back 300 years. It would be
>>>> the last of more than 80 volumes of scholarly writing
>>>> he published.
>>>> But it was Aptheker's politics that garnered the most
>>>> headlines through the years.
>>>> He was for decades a leading theorist of the Communist
>>>> Party U.S.A. before resigning in 1991. He also was the
>>>> father of Bettina Aptheker, a former leader of the
>>>> Berkeley Free Speech Movement, and was a friend to
>>>> 1960s radical and Black Panther leader Angela Davis.
>>>> (Both women now teach at UC-Santa Cruz, where Aptheker
>>>> was the chair of Women's Studies.) And it was Herbert
>>>> Aptheker who, in Christmas 1965, led a delegation that
>>>> included former state Sen. Tom Hayden, then the leader
>>>> of Students for a Democratic Society, to Hanoi during
>>>> the Vietnam War.
>>>> Aptheker spoke widely on college campuses in the 1960s.
>>>> His rapport with students in 1965 prompted the FBI in
>>>> internal memos to dub him "the most dangerous communist
>> >> in the United States,'' an appellation that amused and
>> >> pleased him.
>> >>
>> >> Those meeting Aptheker for the first time and expecting
>> >> a frosty ideologue were surprised by his easy warmth
>>>> and often gently profane humor. Aptheker, as given to
>>>> funny Yiddishisms as to fiery rhetoric, seemed mostly
>>>> like the Brooklyn denizen he originally was, albeit a
>>>> particularly well-educated one.
>>>> Herbert Aptheker was born in Brooklyn on July 31, 1915,
>>>> the youngest of five children of a Russian immigrant
>>>> who came to be known as the "Underwear King'' for the
>>>> way he made his fortune.
>>>> Young Herbert was raised in part by an African-American
>>>> woman who worked in the family household. That,
>>>> combined with trips to the segregated South in the
>>>> 1930s, had exposed Aptheker to the abject poverty of
>>>> many blacks and helped fuse his scholarly interests
>>>> with the radicalism of the day.
>>>> In 1939, in a quest for social justice, he joined the
>>>> American Communist Party, then near its peak of
>>>> influence. He received his doctorate in history from
>> >> Columbia University in 1943.
>>>> With the arrival of World War II, Aptheker enlisted and
>>>> served as an artillery commander in Europe, rising to
>>>> the rank of major. After the war, he returned to a
>>>> changed world. The Cold War had begun. Unwilling to
>>>> give up his party membership and unable to get a
>> >> faculty appointment because of it, he won a Guggenheim
>>>> fellowship and began work on his ``Documentary
>>>> History.'' The first volume appeared in 1951.
>>>> For much of the 1950s, Aptheker fought the country's
>>>> anti-communist purges. He testified on behalf of
>>>> several leading Communist Party officials being
>>>> prosecuted for their membership. Inexplicably, Aptheker
>>>> never was prosecuted.
>>>> Aptheker's stalwart defense of the Soviet Union for so
>>>> many years left him open to charges by critics that he
>>>> was an apologist for the regime's worst excesses. In
>>>> 1991, with the Soviet Union teetering on extinction, he
>>>> acknowledged the ``monstrous reality'' of its actions.
>>>> He quit the party, but never for a moment wavered in
>>>> his radicalism.
>>>> He is survived by his daughter, Bettina; a niece,
>>>> Claire Grotsky of Hillsborough; a nephew, David Artson
>>>> of San Francisco, and grandchildren Jenny Kurzweil of
>>>> Santa Cruz and Joshua Kurzweil of Tokyo.
>>>> The family asks that donations in Aptheker's memory be
>>>> made to the Middle East Children's Alliance, 905 Parker
>>>> St., Berkeley, Calif. 94710, or the Schomburg Center
>>>> for Research in Black Culture, 515 Malcolm X Blvd., New
>>>> York, N.Y. 10037-1801.
>>>> ----------------------------------------------
>>>> Contact Jack Fischer at jfischer@m... or (408) 920-5440.
>>>> http://www.bayarea.com/mld/mercurynews/news/local/5427380.htm
>>>> =================
>>>> Herbert Aptheker, 87, Prolific Marxist
>>>> Historian, Is Dead
>>>> New York Times
>>>> March 20, 2003
>>>> Herbert Aptheker, the prolific Marxist historian best
>>>> known for his three-volume "Documentary History of the
>>>> Negro People in the United States" and for editing the
>>>> correspondence and writing of his mentor, W. E. B.
>>>> DuBois, died on Monday in Mountain View, Calif. He was
>>>> 87.
>>>> Along with his work on black history and his outspoken
>>>> defense of civil rights, he was known as a dominant
>>>> voice on the American left in the 1950's and 60's and
>>>> as one of the first scholars to denounce American
>>>> military involvement in Vietnam. His political views,
>>>> and particularly a fact-finding trip to Hanoi and
>>>> Beijing in 1966, resulted in threats by Washington to
>>>> revoke his passport, a move that provoked a high-
>>>> profile debate about the legality of State Department
>>>> travel restrictions.
>>>> In another public feud, Mr. Aptheker took on the author
>>>> William Styron, after the publication of his best-
>>>> selling 1967 novel "The Confessions of Nat Turner," a
>>>> re-creation of the 1831 Virginia slave insurrection.
>>>> Mr. Aptheker, as well as some black writers and
>>>> historians, accused Mr. Styron of distorting the record
>>>> and promoting racial stereotypes. Mr. Styron, who
>>>> called his book a "meditation on history," hotly
>>>> rejected Mr. Aptheker's view, saying it was tainted by
>>>> politics.
>>>> Although he wrote, taught and lectured widely on his
>>>> political views, his only major attempt at elective
>>>> office was an unsuccessful campaign for the House of
>>>> Representatives from Brooklyn in 1966 on the Peace and
>>>> Freedom ticket.
>>>> Among his lasting contributions was the editing of the
>>>> DuBois letters. Writing in The New York Times Sunday
>>>> Book Review, the historian Eric Foner called "The
>>>> Correspondence of W. E. B. DuBois" (Massachusetts,
>>>> 1973-1978) "a landmark in Afro-American history."
>>>> Yet when DuBois appointed Mr. Aptheker (pronounced AP-
>>>> tek-er) his literary executor in 1946 and subsequently
>>>> turned over to him his vast correspondence shortly
>>>> before his death in 1963, the move was vocally
>>>> criticized in the black intellectual community. Some
>>>> felt that as a white man Mr. Aptheker could not truly
>> >> identify with the black American experience. Others
>>>> thought that for DuBois to have chosen an avowed
>>>> Marxist to edit his papers was to make him vulnerable
>>>> to the accusation, often voiced in the McCarthy era,
>>>> that he himself was opposed to the American way of
>>>> life.
>>>> Yet Mr. Aptheker's editing was greeted with wide
>> >> praise. Reviewers said that his own extensive writing
>>>> on African-American history had clearly prepared him
>>>> for the task. Jay Saunders Redding, the black author
>>>> and teacher, wrote in Phylon, a journal founded by
>>>> DuBois, that "what gives a special importance to the
>>>> letters it contains is the light they shed on the why
>>>> and how of this history and on the men and women who
>>>> made it."
>>>> Herbert Aptheker was born on July 31, 1915, in
>>>> Brooklyn, the youngest of five children of Benjamin
>>>> Aptheker, a successful manufacturer of women's
>>>> underwear, and Rebecca Komar Aptheker. He graduated
>>>> from Columbia University in 1936, completed a master's
>>>> degree there in 1937 and a doctorate in history in
>>>> 1943. His dissertation was published under the title
>>>> "Black Slave Revolts" (Columbia, 1942).
>>>> In September 1939, just after he began working toward
>>>> his doctorate, he joined the Communist Party, because,
>>>> he said, he saw it as an anti-fascist force and a
>>>> progressive voice for race relations. He was a hostile
>>>> witness before the House Committee on Un-American
>>>> Activities in 1951, and throughout the 1950's he
>>>> remained on the defensive for his radical views,
>>>> experiencing violent threats and close federal
>>>> surveillance.
>>>> In 1942, he married Fay Philippa Aptheker, his first
>>>> cousin. She died in 1999. They had one child, a
>>>> daughter, Bettina, a leader of the Berkeley Free Speech
>>>> Movement who is a professor and the chairwoman of
>>>> Women's Studies at the University of California at
>>>> Santa Cruz. He is also survived by two grandchildren.
>>>>> From 1942 until 1946, Mr. Aptheker served in the Army,
>>>> seeing action as an artillery officer in Europe and
>>>> rising to the rank of major. His first published work
>>>> was a pamphlet, "The Negro in the Civil War" (1938),
>>>> later compiled with other pamphlets under the title "To
>>>> Be Free: Studies in American Negro History"
>>>> (International Publishers, 1948). After the publication
>>>> of his dissertation in 1942, he produced books almost
>>>> yearly. Among his more notable works, in addition to
>>>> his "Documentary History" (Citadel, 1951-1975) were his
>>>> multivolume "History of the American People"
>>>> (International, 1959-1976) and "Anti-Racism in U.S.
>>>> History" (Greenwood, 1992). In "Anti-Racism," he traced
>>>> the thread of opposition to black racism that he saw
>>>> running throughout American history.
>>>> After he returned to New York after World War II, he
>>>> applied for a teaching position at Columbia and was
>>>> advised that because of his politics he would never be
>>>> hired. In fact he was excluded from academic life until
>>>> 1969, when student demands for a course on black
>>>> history led to an invitation to teach at Bryn Mawr
>>>> College, where he remained until 1973. Yet throughout
>>>> his long career he lectured informally on black
>>>> history.
>>>> He was also DuBois lecturer at the University of
>>>> Massachusetts at Amherst from 1971 to 1972, as a
>>>> professor at Hostos Community College of the City
>>>> University of New York from 1971 to 1977 and as a
>>>> visiting lecturer at Yale, the University of California
>>>> at Berkeley Law School and Humboldt University in
>>>> Berlin. He was an associate editor at Masses and
>>>> Mainstream from 1948 to 1953 and an editor at Political
>>>> Affairs from 1953 to 1963. In 1964, he founded the
>>>> American Institute of Marxist Studies in New York.
>>>> Mr. Aptheker's trip to Hanoi and Beijing in January
>>>> 1966 stirred a whirlwind of debate over Washington's
>>>> travel restrictions to certain countries. Mr. Aptheker
>>>> made the trip with Staughton Lynd, then a history
>>>> professor at Yale, and Tom Hayden, a founder of
>>>> Students for a Democratic Society.
>>>> The widely publicized visit was billed as a mission to
>> >> sound out the government of North Vietnam about the
>>>> possibility of a negotiated end to the Vietnam War.
>>>> Federal law on the broadly drawn State Department rules
>>>> was unsettled. In one case that seemed to put Mr.
>>>> Aptheker in the clear, the Supreme Court had held
>>>> unconstitutionally broad a regulation that barred all
>> >> Communists from traveling in all countries where
>>>> passports are required. But when the three men
>>>> returned, the State Department, which viewed their trip
>>>> as meddlesome, took steps to restrict their travel,
>>>> though it eventually backed down.
>>>> To the end of his life, Mr. Aptheker saw his friendship
>>>> with DuBois as formative. He recalled how in the late
>>>> 40's they shared an office on 40th Street in Manhattan
>>>> when DuBois was director of publicity and research for
>>>> the National Association for the Advancement of Colored
>>>> People. One day, Mr. Aptheker recalled, DuBois "said to
>>>> me, `Herbert, any time you have a problem, don't
>>>> hesitate, just ask me." This meant, he said, having
>>>> access to one of America's most dynamic minds. "Imagine
>>>> what that meant to me. I had it right here, and I had
>>>> the New York Public Library across the street."
>>>> Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

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