Mark D. Naison
Brooklyn, New York
|Occupation||Professor, political activist|
Mark D. Naison was born in 1946 in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, New York. As the only child of Jewish intellectuals (both schoolteachers), Mark D. Naison had an easy childhood. Although he was happy as a child, Naison felt different from the other kids because he was ostracized from his peers because his parents put such an importance on intelligence. Naison rebelled and turned to sports as an outlet and to help him fit in better with the neighbor kids.
Early Days at Columbia University
Mark entered Columbia University in the fall of 1962. By the end of his freshman year, Mark began to feel like he had to oppose racial segregation more actively. By the fall of 1963, he joined the Columbia chapter of CORE. CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) was a civil rights organization that was pivotal in the United States, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s. CORE was started in 1942 and was open to “anyone who believes that 'all people are created equal' and is willing to work towards the ultimate goal of true equality throughout the world."  CORE quickly became one of the university’s biggest political-action groups. Naison signed up to tutor and help organize tenants in East Harlem. He earned his BA in American History at Columbia in 1966. and his MA in American History in 1967. Naison went on to earn his Ph.D. in American History in January 1976.
Students for a Democratic Society
By 1967, Naison was participating in anti-war activities sponsored by SDS (Students for a Democratic Society). Although Naison was against the Vietnam War, he had objections to SDS's political style. He felt that they were too wrapped up in Marxist thinking and not concerned enough with the human aspect of the war. In the spring of 1967, SDS held a demonstration against the Reserve Officers Training Corps, or ROTC, on the Columbia campus. Naison participated in the demonstration, but to distinguish himself from SDS members, he wore his athletic jacket and carried a sign saying “jocks for peace”. In February 1968 Naison was arrested for civil disobedience at a protest on the Columbia campus at the proposed Harlem site for the new gym. In April of that same year Naison’s father and Martin Luther King died within two weeks of each other. Both of these deaths had profound impacts on Naison. At this point in his life he decided that he needed to be more involved in radical politics. Two weeks after King’s death there was another protest against the gym and again Naison participated. This time it was organized by the Columbia chapter of SDS and SAS (Student African-American Society). Mark Rudd, SDS’s leader, urged the group (of almost 500) to seize buildings to make sure their voices were heard. They soon overtook Hamilton Hall, giving them leverage that no other demonstration had ever held. During the building occupation, Naison spoke briefly about the historical context of the march. During his speech he said that “the forces opposing university expansion have the upper hand. Let’s not leave this building until we get some serious concessions.” During the protest, Naison realized that while he did not necessarily agree with SDS’s contempt for white protesters, he also felt that their tactics in the gym protest were far more effective, a realization that led him to join SDS after the strike. After he joined, Naison was asked by Rudd to use his knowledge of African-American and labor movement history to argue that the nationalist impulse was a progressive force in African-American life in SDS's leadership's fight against the Progressive Labor Movement. The PLM (generally referred to as PL) included members of SDS who were arguing the black nationalism was reactionary and that no revolution could be built with separate black and white wings. By that fall, Naison had taken on an even greater role in SDS, both in the regional offices and nationally. He participated in many protests and attended the SDS national convention in Chicago in 1969.
When the group calling itself Weatherman was instituted at the SDS national convention in Chicago, Naison was there. Naison even joined another member of the group to sign a lease on a house in South Brooklyn. Naison participated in discussions for the Days of Rage to be held in Chicago in the fall of 1969. On a Saturday in October in 1969 all that changed. Naison was in a park with a group of friends, and while there they met a group of teenagers. They started talking and soon learned that a café across the way would not serve them because they looked like hippies. Furious, Naison and the others marched into the café and demanded that they be served. The police were called and a fight ensued resulting in eleven arrests. After a couple of days in jail, Naison was released on bail (by his comrades) with the assumption that he would contact a gym teacher at a local school to get the word out about the Days of Rage. Naison did not want to put his life on the line and be back in jail within the week. After tangling with members of the Weatherman, Naison ceased associating with the group.
Naison was briefly investigated by the FBI. According to his memoir, the FBI bugged his house electronically and tried to question his neighbors, who, however, refused to say anything about him. After three days, the FBI was satisfied that he was no longer in the Weatherman and they left him alone. Naison lost one of his dearest friends, Ted Gold, during the accidental explosion of a Greenwich Village townhouse by an amateur SDS bomb-making group. Kathy Boudin, in the house at the time, had been one of his favorite contacts in the New York Collective, and she survived the blast. In his grief over the loss of Gold, Naison wrote a poem, published in Radical America, as a tribute to his fallen friend.
"I remember Ted Gold best...
"He is dead...
Of a bomb meant for better targets..."
Asked about his arrest during the Columbia incident, Naison replied, "Getting arrested to protest Columbia's attempt to build a gym in a Harlem Park was something I was proud of at the time—and am still proud of now.” Naison claims that his only regret in life has been not leaving Weatherman when they started talking about getting rid of monogamy.
Naison has been on the faculty of Fordham University in New York City since 1970, where he is Professor of African American Studies and History, Director of the Bronx African American History Project, and has served as Director of Urban Studies. His most popular course at Fordham, From Rock & Roll to Hip Hop: Urban Youth Cultures in Post War America, was the subject of an interview with him on National Public Radio.
He has written over a hundred articles and published three books on urban history, African-American History, and the history of sports. Naison has also appeared on The O'Reilly Factor, Chappelle's Show, and The Discovery Channel's Greatest American Competition. He has also been an outspoken critic of Teach for America.
- "Mark Naison". Fordham University. Retrieved 31 January 2013.
- Naison p.1
- Naison p.1-32
- Naison p.38
- Naison p.42
- Pekar p.59
- Naison p. 69
- Naison p.70
- "New York Times", Feb 29, 1968 pg. 44
- Naison p 88-95
- Naison p.88-95
- Naison p.106-128
- Naison p.142-143
- Naison, Mark. "Mark Naison LA Progressive Author". LA Progressive. Sharon Kyle. Retrieved 31 October 2012.
- "Why Teach For America Is Not Welcome in My Classroom". LA Progressive.
- Mark D. Naison, "White Boy, A Memoir," (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002)
- Harvey Pekar, "Students for a Democratic Society, A Graphic History," (New York: Hill and Wang, 2008)
- "New York Times" February 29, 1968, p. 44
- Mark Naison's blog
- Mark Naison's Fordham University faculty page