[sixties-l] Herbert Aptheker Dies at 87; Notable Voice in Black History (fwd)

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Date: Thu Mar 27 2003 - 02:09:45 EST

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    Date: Sat, 22 Mar 2003 11:48:19 -0800
    From: radtimes <resist@best.com>
    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
    leading university.
    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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