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Date: Sat, 22 Mar 2003 11:48:19 -0800
From: radtimes <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Herbert Aptheker Dies at 87; Notable Voice in Black History
Herbert Aptheker Dies at 87; Notable Voice in Black History
By Richard Pearson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 22, 2003; Page B06
Herbert Aptheker, 87, a prominent and prolific Marxist historian who wrote
pioneering works on black history, died March 17 in Mountain Home, Calif.,
after a stroke. He lived in San Jose.
Dr. Aptheker, who held a history doctorate from Columbia University and
served as an Army field artillery major in Europe in World War II, was a
member of the American Communist Party from 1939 to 1991, later explaining
that he joined the party because he saw it as a leading anti-fascist voice
and a champion of civil rights.
A magazine editor and political activist, he will probably be best
remembered for his groundbreaking research in black history and for his
efforts as editor of the works of his mentor, W.E.B. Du Bois, the legendary
black historian, sociologist and activist.
Dr. Aptheker's own work included the multi-volume "Documentary History of
the Negro People in the United States" and other works of history in which
he made an eloquent Marxist case.
When Dr. Aptheker began writing in the 1950s, many of the dominant
historians of black slavery emphasized what they saw as the benefits to
blacks of a rather benign slavery. They wrote of a largely contented slave
population that was exposed to Christianity while seeing its health and
nutrition improve from African days.
Dr. Aptheker wrote of a slave population that was prevented from learning
to read, that saw its families torn apart, while living a less than happy
life in bondage. His proof was the bread-and-butter of the historians'
craft, careful examination of numerous primary sources.
He showed that slaves were not happy by examining southern newspapers of
the slave era, relentlessly reporting the numerous slave rebellions that
peppered the South and the bloody repression of slaves that resulted.
Despite his admitted expertise in black history, Dr. Aptheker's assumption
of Du Bois's papers brought a largely negative response from many African
Americans. They faulted his choice because, first, he was white, and they
questioned how a white could really understand Du Bois's life, and,
secondly, he was a communist. They said Dr. Aptheker's Marxism might
pervade his work and would give ammunition to those saying that the civil
rights movement was somehow anti-American.
In any case, "The Correspondence of W.E.B. Du Bois" was published in the
1970s to rave reviews from many of the nation's leading mainstream journals.
Dr. Aptheker, who was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., received bachelor's, master's
and doctoral degrees at Columbia. He made an academic splash with the 1943
publication of his doctoral dissertation, "Black Slave Revolts." His later
books included the multi-volume "History of the American People" and his
1992 book, "Anti-Racism in U.S. History."
After World War II, he was told by Columbia that his political beliefs and
actions precluded his chances of a teaching post there, and probably at any
In addition to his historical writing, Dr. Aptheker turned to radical
journalism, serving as an associate editor of the Masses, and then, from
1953 to 1963, as editor of Political Affairs magazine.
In 1969, he joined the faculty of Bryn Mawr College, where he taught black
history. Over the years, he also was a visiting professor at such
institutions as Yale University, the City University of New York and the
law school of the University of California at Berkeley.
Dr. Aptheker, who founded the American Institute of Marxist Studies in New
York in 1964, remained an intellectual activist late into his life. In
1966, he, Yale Professor Staughton Lynd and Tom Hayden (a founder of the
Students for a Democratic Society who went on to become a California state
legislator), made a controversial "fact-finding" trip to Hanoi and Beijing.
The three said they were sounding out North Vietnam and China about a
negotiated end to the war in Vietnam. The State Department was outraged at
the trip and sought to restrict their future travel. After torrents of
publicity, the State Department backed down.
Dr. Aptheker was a member of the American Historical Association, the
Organization of American Historians and the American Academy of Political
His wife, Fay Philippa Aptheker, whom he married in 1942, died in 1999.
Survivors include a daughter, Bettina Aptheker, a women's studies professor
at the University of California at Santa Cruz; and two grandchildren.
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