Jack Foner

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Thu Dec 16 10:55:46 MST 1999

[Jack Foner died yesterday. This is a storied CP family, which includes his
brothers Moe Foner, the retired executive secretary of Local 1199 of the
hospital and health care workers' union, Henry Foner, retired president of
the Fur, Leather and Machine Workers, and Phil Foner, the CPUSA historian
who wrote prolifically about labor and black history. Jack's son is Marxist
historian Eric Foner, a specialist on the Civil War, who teaches here at
Columbia University. The obit mentions that when the Foners were
blacklisted, they organized a dance band that played at Catskill Mountains
hotels where I grew up. At one time, this was a thriving resort area for
working-class Jews, many of whom toiled in the garment industry. Not only
was there general leftwing sentiment, a number of the hotels and bungalow
colonies openly represented themselves as catering to Communists and
friends of the party. During WWII, the Avon Lodge was one such hotel. Sid
Caesar worked as a waiter there and was also a player in the hotel's
cabaret troupe, which regularly mounted productions of Odets plays. I
studied piano briefly with the sister of the hotel's owner, who was an open
party member in 1956. She kept copies of Soviet Life on prominent display
in her living room. She was an exception. Most of the borscht belt CP'ers
had learned to hide their political beliefs. In nearby Glen Wild, there was
a network of CP families, who had fled the witch-hunt and become poultry
farmers. One of these was the Young family, whose son Allen went on to
found the Liberation News Service and then became a leading gay rights
theorist in the 1970s. Although these families kept their CP affiliations
to themselves, they were willing to defy other taboos, most of all by
providing the backbone for the local NAACP. When I was in junior high
school, everybody used to gossip about the reds in Glen Wild, who had
parties at their home where Negroes danced with whites, an act worse than
satan worship in most people's eyes those days. As Malcolm X once said,
everything south of Canada was the South.]

The New York Times, December 16, 1999, Thursday, Late Edition - Final

Jack D. Foner, 88, Historian And Pioneer in Black Studies


Jack D. Foner, a professor of American history who established one of the
country's first programs in black studies and later became a victim of
political blacklisting, died on Friday at the Jewish Home and Hospital in
Manhattan. He was 88 and lived in Manhattan.

Dr. Foner was caught up in an early, pre-McCarthy Red scare through a chain
of events that began in 1935 when he started teaching history at the
downtown branch of the City College of New York, now called Baruch College.
It was there that he became involved in causes like support for the
anti-fascist forces in Spain, the trade union movement and the campaign for
civil rights for African-Americans.

Because of these associations, Dr. Foner was called in 1941 before the
Joint Legislative Committee to Investigate the Educational System of the
State of New York, named the Rapp-Coudert Committee after its two sponsors.
Failing to answer the committee's questions, he was branded a Communist.

It is not clear whether he actually joined the Communist Party.

"If he was a member of the Communist Party, he wasn't trying to overthrow
the United States Government," said Ellen Schrecker, a professor of history
at Yeshiva University, who knew Dr. Foner. She described him as a sincere

Another complaint against Dr. Foner was that he devoted excessive attention
to the role of blacks in American history.

He was among 60 faculty and staff members at City College who were
dismissed for their unwillingness to testify before the committee. He was
then unable to find a teaching job for almost three decades.

In 1981 the New York City Board of Higher Education apologized to Dr. Foner
and his fellow victims, terming the events of 1941 an "egregious violation
of academic freedom."

Dr. Foner served in the United States Army from 1942 to 1945 and was
assigned mainly to menial chores like caring for horses at a barracks in
the Midwest.

After the war Dr. Foner supported himself and his family as a freelance
lecturer on current events. He also joined his three brothers, all of whom
were blacklisted, to form the Foner Orchestra, which played swing music at
Catskill resorts. Dr. Foner played the drums.

In 1969 he was hired by Colby College in Waterville, Me., where he
established a black studies program. Dr. Foner retired from Colby in 1976
and was awarded an honorary doctorate by the college in 1982.

Jack Donald Foner was born in Brooklyn on Dec. 14, 1910. He attended
Eastern District High School and graduated from City College in 1929. He
then earned a master's degree in 1933 and a doctorate in 1967 in American
history, both from Columbia University. His best-known book is "Blacks in
the Military in American History" (1974).

He is survived by his wife, Liza; a son, Eric, a professor of history at
Columbia University, of Manhattan; two brothers, Moe, of Manhattan, and
Henry, of Brooklyn; and a grandaughter.

Louis Proyect

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