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March 17: Herbert Aptheker

Lawrence Bush
March 16, 2017
Radical historian Herbert Aptheker, author of the seven-volume Documentary History of the Negro People in the United States and literary executor for W.E.B. DuBois, whose correspondence he published between 1973 and ’78, died at 87 on this date in 2003. Aptheker was a pioneering and prolific writer about black American history, including about slave revolts and resistance. He joined the Communist Party in 1939, shortly after defending his dissertation at Columbia University, and became the CP’s best-known intellectual and apologist, remaining in the Party for fifty-two years, long after most of his Jewish comrades had quit. With McCarthyism leaving him blacklisted from achieving tenure at any university, Aptheker served as managing editor of the Party’s magazine, Jewish Affairs (a rival, of sorts, to Jewish Currents after JC declared its independence from the Communist Party in the late 1950s), and was an associate editor at Masses and Mainstream from 1948 to 1953 and an editor at Political Affairs from 1953 to 1963. In 2006, his only child, UC Santa Cruz Professor Bettina Aptheker, charged that her father had molested her as an adolescent girl (click here for more on this) in her memoir, Intimate Politics: How I Grew up Red, Fought for Free Speech, and Became a Feminist Rebel. Much of his reputation was by then already in ruins thanks to his unrepentant defense of Stalinism’s atrocities. American leaders “have the morals of goats, the learning of gorillas and the ethics of . . . racist, war-inciting enemies of humanity, rotten to the core, parasitic, merciless and doomed.” --Herbert Aptheker

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.