Luis Kemnitzer

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Luis Stowell[1] Kemnitzer (November 13, 1928 in Pasadena, California[2]– February 17, 2006) was an American anthropologist known for his social and political activism.

From 1967 to 1994,[3] Kemnitzer was a professor at San Francisco State University, where in 1969 he taught that institution's first course in American Indian Studies.[4][5] In this role, Kemnitzer visited Alcatraz Island during its occupation—which had been partially planned in his classroom,[6] and among whose participants were some of his students[2] (including Richard Oakes)[6] — to provide logistical advice on how to set up educational programs for Native American children on the island.[7]

Kemnitzer began his academic career in the 1940s, studying public health at the University of California, Berkeley, but withdrew to become a brakeman on the Southern Pacific Railroad.[2] His experiences in the labor force led him to join the Communist Party USA.[2] In the 1960s, he earned his doctorate in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania,[4] after writing a dissertation based on his experiences living among the Oglala Lakota on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.[2] He subsequently became director of the Lakota Language and Culture Center.[8] His published research included: studies of syncretism among the Lakota;[9] analysis of railroad workers' time perception,[10] and an examination of needle exchange programmes.[11]

As an activist, Kemnitzer helped establish the first needle exchange programme in San Francisco's Tenderloin district;[4] he also attempted to distribute condoms to Bohemian Grove attendees.[12] In 2005, Kemnitzer and his partner Moher Downing posed naked for the 2006 "Hotties of Harm Reduction" calendar; the 2007 calendar was dedicated to his memory.[13]

In 1997, Kemnitzer, who had for many years been an avid record collector,[14] helped create the liner notes for the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings reissue of Anthology of American Folk Music[15] (originally compiled by Harry Everett Smith, with whom Kemnitzer had been friends);[16] Kemnitzer subsequently shared in the 1998 Grammy Award for Best Album Notes.[2]


  1. ^ University of California Register, 1954-1955, with Announcements for 1955-1956, IN TWO VOLUMES: volume II, page 69; retrieved December 11, 2016
  2. ^ a b c d e f Luis Kemnitzer -- professor and social activist, by Marianne Costantinou, at the San Francisco Chronicle; published February 22, 2006; retrieved April 30, 2014
  3. ^ Campus Memo, volume 53, number 23 (item 4 - In memoriam: Luis Kemnitzer), at San Francisco State University; published February 27, 2006; retrieved May 2, 2014
  4. ^ a b c Grammy winning SF State professor dies: Lung cancer takes former anthropology professor Dr. Luis Kemnitzer, by Paulette Bleam, at San Francisco State University; published February 22, 2006; retrieved April 30, 2014
  5. ^ From Activism to Academics: The Evolution of American Indian Studies at San Francisco State 1968-2001, by Joely De La Torre; Indigenous Nations Studies Journal, Vol. 2, No. 1, Spring 2001; p 11-21
  6. ^ a b The Occupation of Alcatraz Island: Indian Self-determination and the Rise of Indian Activism, by Troy R. Johnson; published 1996 by University of Illinois Press (via Google Books); page 51
  7. ^ "Indians ask school on Alcatraz", in the Arizona Republic, page 87; December 4, 1969
  8. ^ Luis Kemnitzer, at the Lakota Language and Culture Center; published 2006; retrieved May 2, 2014
  9. ^ The cultural provenience of objects used in Yuwipi: A modern Teton Dakota healing ritual, by Luis S. Kemnitzer; in Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology; Vol. 35, Issue 1-4, 1970; page 40-75; DOI: 10.1080/00141844.1970.9981023
  10. ^ Another View of Time and the Railroader, by Luis S. Kemnitzer; in Anthropological Quarterly, Vol. 50, No. 1, Golden Anniversary Special Issue on Industrial Ethnology (Jan., 1977), pp. 25-29, via JSTOR
  11. ^ Needle Exchange: East vs West, by Luis S. Kemnitzer and Moher Downing; in Anthropology News; Volume 35, Issue 3, page 4, March 1994; doi: 10.1111/an.1994.
  12. ^ The State, at the Los Angeles Times; published July 13, 1987; retrieved April 30, 2014
  13. ^ About the Hotties Calendar Project, at Hotties of Harm Reduction (via; published 2007; archived November 20, 2008; retrieved December 27, 2016
  14. ^ Harry Smith: The Avant-garde in the American Vernacular, by Andrew Perchuk and Rani Singh; published 2010 by Getty Publications; page 249; "Luis Kemnitzer, like Smith an inveterate record collector"
  15. ^ Smithsonian Folkways - Anthology of American Folk Music, at Smithsonian Folkways; retrieved April 30, 2014
  16. ^ Collecting, Collage, and Alchemy: The Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music as Art and Cultural Intervention, by Kevin M. Moist; in American Studies; Vol. 48, No. 4 (Winter 2007), pp. 111-127; via JSTOR