Oral History Center - UC Berkeley Library

Leon F. Litwack: Historian of the American People and the African American Experience, Professor at Berkeley, 1964-2007

Interviewee(s):
Litwack, Leon F.
Interviewer(s):
Lage, Ann
Title:
Leon F. Litwack: Historian of the American People and the African American Experience, Professor at Berkeley, 1964-2007
Abstract:
A celebrated teacher and scholar of the history of the American people and of the African American experience, Leon Litwack has been a Berkeley campus fixture and self-described “disturber of the peace” for most of the sixty-six years since he arrived as an undergraduate in 1948. His oral history documents and reflects on his personal background, education, teaching, and research and writing. It explores his lifelong quest to uncover and to teach the history of race relations in America and the experiences of people long absent from the historical narrative. He has authored four major books and countless articles, including North of Slavery: The Negro in the Free States, 1790-1860 (1961);Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery (1979);Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow (1998);and How Free is Free: the Long Death of Jim Crow (Nathan Huggins lectures, 2009). He has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for history (1980), the National Book Award for history (1981), and the Francis Parkman prize awarded by the Society of American Historians (1980). As his oral history reveals, Litwack’s focus on the lives of ordinary men and women and his sensitivity to race and racism grew out of his family roots and boyhood experiences. His parents were Jewish immigrants from Russia in the first decade of the twentieth century. They met each other in San Francisco, as members of an anarchist-socialist-Jewish-vegetarian-hiking club. Litwack describes them both as avid readers, lovers of nature, and philosophical radicals. Raised in a largely Mexican neighborhood of the seaside community of Santa Barbara in southern California, young Leon soon began to challenge the prevailing attitudes and historical interpretations about race and labor he encountered in high school. In these years he also developed his love of books and reading;he worked in the public library, read widely, and began to collect books in black literature and history, a collection which is now one of the finest private libraries of its kind.
Subject area(s):
Education and University of California
Interview date(s):
2001 2002
Project:
History Department, UC Berkeley
Oskicat record:
b23441710
Rights:
Litwack, Leon F. "Leon F. Litwack: Historian of the American People and the African American Experience, Professor at Berkeley, 1964-2007." Interview by Ann Lage in 2001 and 2002. Oral History Center, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 2014.