Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

"The Most Dangerous Communist in the United States": A Biography of Herbert Aptheker

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

"The Most Dangerous Communist in the United States": A Biography of Herbert Aptheker

Article excerpt

"The Most Dangerous Communist in the United States": A Biography of Herbert Aptheker. By Gary Murrell. (Amherst and Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2015. Pp. xx, 444. Paper, $29.95, ISBN 978-1-62534-154-9; cloth, $95.00, ISBN 978-1-62534-153-2.)

Two clouds hang over the life and legacy of the late historian Herbert Aptheker. The first--his communist sympathies--cast a shadow on Aptheker throughout his lifetime. The .second--his daughter's accusation of sexual molestation--follows him in death. Gary Murrell has the former matter serve as a pivot in his account of Aptheker's life, while treating the latter issue in heavy bookends: the preface and an afterword by Aptheker's daughter, Bettina Aptheker.

Drawing on interviews he conducted with Herbert Aptheker and on Aptheker's unpublished autobiography, Murrell recounts the anticommunism Aptheker faced from the government and from academia. Born in 1915 in New York City to Ukrainian Jewish immigrants, Aptheker joined the Communist Party of the United States in 1939 and remained a loyal member for over fifty years. Aptheker's Ph.D. in history from Columbia University did not land him a professorship at a prestigious university. In fact, no institution of higher learning ever offered Aptheker a permanent position during his long career. As Murrell explains, the academic establishment in effect blacklisted Aptheker because he was a Communist. The biography chronicles episode after episode in which an institution refused to associate with Aptheker through denying him a job. declining to publish his work, or banning him from speaking on campus, Murrell devotes a chapter to a sordid battle at Yale University in the mid-1970s that saw eminent historian C. Vann Woodward, along with other faculty members, block Aptheker from teaching a seminar. The author also documents Aptheker's various encounters with the federal government, which included testifying before congressional hearings on communism, denial of his passport under the McCarran Act, and decades of FBI surveillance. Indeed, Murrell borrows the book's tide from FBI director J, Edgar Hoover who, in referring to Aptheker, wrote "that the Bureau considers him the most dangerous Communist in the United States" (p, 167). …

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