Leon Litwack (1929-2021), In Memoriam

August 12, 2021

Updated: August 12th, 2021

We'd like to highlight two extensive articles honoring the life of Leon Litwack: 

Leon Litwack, 91, Dies; Changed How Scholars Portray Black History, The New York Times

Leon Litwack, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, dies at 91Berkeley News

Leon Litwack, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian of slavery and Reconstruction at UC Berkeley, dies at 91, San Francisco Chronicle


Below, please find the community announcement from History Chair Cathryn Carson, originally published on August 6th.


Dear Friends,

I write with the sad news that Leon F. Litwack, a giant of American history and the Berkeley Department of History, passed away yesterday, August 5.

Leon, who was born in 1929, was a product of our department itself, earning his bachelor's degree in 1951. After taking his Ph.D. in 1958, he joined the faculty in 1964 and served the department for more than four decades, holding the Alexander F. and May T. Morrison Chair in American History.

Leon's pathbreaking work on African-American history, Southern history, and American social history opened up new terrain and energized generations of scholars. His honors were many, and his extensive body of scholarship included Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery, which was recognized by the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Leon served the profession in influential positions, both formal and informal, and was elected president of the Organization of American Historians.

Tens of thousands of Berkeley students experienced Leon's profound commitment to teaching, including our foundational American history survey course. Together with Winthrop Jordan he pioneered the first course offered in our department on African-American history, and he shaped our field through active recruiting and mentoring. Among the many tributes to Leon's teaching was Berkeley's highest honor in this domain, the Distinguished Teaching Award. In his classes as in his scholarship, he foregrounded the experiences of ordinary people, practicing social history "from the bottom up," as it was said, and brought history to bear on making the human realities of American life powerfully tangible, compelling us to come to terms with our past and our present.

The History Department will post a full obituary on our website and in our next newsletter.

Our thoughts are with Leon's wife Rhoda, his family, and his broad circle of friends and colleagues.


Sincerely, 
Cathryn Carson, Department Chair