Jack D. Foner

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Jack Donald Foner (December 14, 1910 - December 10, 1999) was an American historian best known for writing histories of the labor movement and the struggle for civil rights. He was born in Brooklyn, New York. A professor of American history, he established one of the first programs in black studies in the United States. He was a victim of political blacklisting because of his support for labor, civil rights of African Americans and opposition to fascism in Spain in the late 1930s.[1]


Jack Foner attended Eastern District High School and graduated from City College of New York in 1929. He earned a master's degree in 1933 and a doctorate in 1967 in American history, both from Columbia University. He and his wife, Liza, were married for 57 years. They had two children, Eric Foner, now a professor of history at Columbia University, and Thomas Foner, who died in 1999, the same year as his father.

Jack Foner taught history in 1935 at Baruch College (then called the downtown branch of the City College of New York), and actively supported the Spanish Republic against fascism, and stood for the rights of African Americans. In 1941 Jack Foner was forced out of his teaching job, along with 60 other faculty members in the wake of an investigation of alleged communist influences in higher education by the New York state legislature's anti-communist Rapp-Coudert Committee, which was officially known as the "Joint Legislative Committee to Investigate the Educational System of the State of New York.

One of the complaints against Jack Foner was that his teaching devoted excessive attention to the role of African Americans in history. He declined to testify before the commission and was blacklisted, which meant he was unable to obtain academic employment for almost three decades. In 1979, the New York State Board of Higher Education apologized to the Rapp-Coudert victims, deeming the events of 1941 "an egregious violation of academic freedom."[2]

In 1993 Foner told Colby magazine he considered the episode an "honorable experience" and said, "there was really no evidence to support it."[3]

During the period of blacklisting, Foner supported his family as an entertainer. A drummer and comedian, Foner worked with Paul Robeson and Harry Belafonte, and maintained a friendship with W. E. B. Du Bois, all of whom also suffered from that era's blacklisting. Although Foner did some freelance lecturing, he was barred from academia until Colby College hired him in the spring of 1969 to teach history.[3]

Foner taught at Colby from 1969 to 1976 and returned as a visiting scholar in 1983 and 1985.[3]

Philip Foner, a labor historian and political activist, Henry Foner and Moe Foner, both labor union organizers, were his brothers.

His best-known book is Blacks and the Military in American History (1974).


  1. ^ Honan, William H. "Jack D. Foner, 88, Historian and Pioneer in Black Studies." The New York Times. 16 December 1999. Retrieved 7 April 2009. http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/50s/foner-obit.html
  2. ^ American Historical Association
  3. ^ a b c Colby College Magazine

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