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. A professor of American history, he established one of the first programs in black studies in the United States. He was blacklisted throughout the 1940s, 50s and 60s for his suspected former membership in the Communist Party, which he officially refused to either confirm or deny.[1]

Early life[edit]

Jack Foner was born in Brooklyn, New York. He was one of four brothers: his twin brother, Philip Foner, would later become a Marxist labor historian and political activist, while his younger brothers Henry Foner and Moe Foner would both become labor union organizers. 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.[1]

Early career[edit]

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 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.[citation needed] He declined to testify before the commission and was blacklisted, which meant that he was unable to obtain academic employment for almost three decades.[1]

In 1979, the New York State Board of Higher Education apologized to those investigated by Rapp-Coudert, 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]

From 1942 to 1945, during World War II, Foner served in the United States Army, but remained stationed in the United States, doing menial chores.[1]

After the war, Foner supported his family by doing freelance lecturing, as well as by playing drums in a swing music band with his three brothers, known as the "Foner Orchestra". The group played at resorts in the Catskills.[1] Foner also worked with Paul Robeson and Harry Belafonte, and maintained a friendship with W. E. B. Du Bois, all of whom similarly experienced blacklisting.

Subsequent academic career[edit]

Although Foner did some freelance lecturing, he did not re-join 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]

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

Personal life[edit]

Foner 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.


  1. ^ a b c d e 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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