Aptheker, Herbert 1915-2003

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APTHEKER, Herbert 1915-2003

OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for CA sketch: Born July 31, 1915, in New York, NY; died of complications of pneumonia March 17, 2003, in Mountain View, CA. Historian, educator, and author. Aptheker was a Marxist historian who wrote extensively on the history of African Americans and edited the works of his friend and mentor, W. E. B. DuBois. A graduate of Columbia University, Aptheker earned his Ph.D. there in 1943. He was assigned to artillery duty during World War II, saw action in Europe, and rose to the rank of major. When he returned from the war he tried to get a job as a university instructor but was rejected by academia because he had joined the Communist Party in 1939. Aptheker's reasons for becoming a Communist were that he saw the Party as a means of attaining equal rights for all races, an issue he had been concerned about since visiting the South during the Great Depression. Because of these rejections, he entered the editing field, becoming associate editor forMasses and Mainstream in 1948 and editor of Political Affairs in 1953. In 1964 he founded and became director of the American Institute for Marxist Studies in New York City. Aptheker's experience and knowledge of African-American history eventually led to his appointment in an academic post. He joined the history department at Bryn Mawr College in 1969, a time when students were beginning to demand more classes in multicultural studies. During the 1970s he was a professor at Hostos Community College of the City University of New York, and from 1971 to 1972 he was also DuBois lecturer at the University of Massachusetts. He later held various visiting professor jobs, including a long stint, from 1978 to 1991, at the University of California at Berkeley Law School. Aptheker was a prolific author and editor, publishing over three dozen works during his lifetime. His most significant works are generally judged to be his seven-volume A Documentary History of the Negro People in the United States (1951-75) and his editing of some forty volumes of letters, essays, a bibliography, and other writings by African-American intellectual leader DuBois. Although a number of people protested that Aptheker, who was not African American, should not be charged with the task of editing DuBois's work, the end results were highly praised by reviewers. Aptheker was also active politically, but his leftist leanings often led to trouble with the U.S. government. In 1951, for example, he was called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, and during the Vietnam War he almost had his passport revoked by the State Department for visiting Vietnam on a diplomatic mission with Yale professor Staughton Lynd and Students for a Democratic Society leader Tom Hayden. The controversy eventually led the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that it unconstitutional for the federal government to revoke passports because of political affiliation.



Chicago Tribune, March 21, 2003, section 3, p. 12.

Los Angeles Times, March 21, 2003, p. B13.

New York Times, March 20, 2003, p. C13.

Washington Post, March 22, 2003, p. B6.