On June 5, at its annual dinner, the Harvard Gay & Lesbian Caucus presented its Founding Father Award to historian Martin Duberman, who was introduced by his former student Tim McCarthy, now a history lecturer at Harvard. What follows is a transcript of this introduction and Martin Duberman’s remarks, which he offered without notes.
Good evening. It is my pleasure now to honor tonight’s award recipient. It is rare indeed to know someone who has both written and made history. Martin Duberman is such a person. Professor Duberman has devoted so much of his remarkable career as an award-winning historian, teacher, playwright, and activist to the lives of outsiders: gays and lesbians, the poor and working class, African Americans, and other minorities who have led the fight for freedom and equality in this nation. A fiercely eloquent voice for social justice, he’s one of the nation’s most distinguished writers and public intellectuals.
Educated at Yale and Harvard, Professor Duberman is the Distinguished Professor of History Emeritus at Lehman College and the graduate school of the City University of New York. He was the founder and director from 1986 to 1996 of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at the CUNY graduate school, the nation’s first such research center. For his passionate devotion to making visible the lives of queer people who have been hidden from history, he is regarded by so many as the founding father of GLBT studies. An elegant and prolific writer, Professor Duberman is the author and editor of more than twenty books. They include Haymarket, a novel; Cures: A Gay Man’s Odyssey; a brilliant biography of Paul Robeson; and a book that has inspired me, The Antislavery Vanguard: New Essays on the Abolitionists. I was fortunate that he wrote the afterword to my most recent book, which was inspired by that book.
Two of his plays, Mother Earth, which is a play about Emma Goldman, and Visions of Kerouac, have recently been staged in New York and Chicago. His most recent book, a brilliant book, The Worlds of Lincoln Kirstein, was one of two finalists for last year’s Pulitzer Prize in biography. I should say as a fellow historian that he is a master of the archives. There is no one in the history profession that understands and accesses and does with archives what Martin Duberman does. Altogether his career spans half a century and his opus canvasses over two centuries, from the battles over slavery in 19th-century America to the black freedom, feminist, and gay liberation struggles of our own time. In addition to his scholarly work, his essays have appeared in The Nation, The Gay & Lesbian Review, Liberation, The New Republic, and The Village Voice. The New Press will publish a collection of his political plays called Radical Acts later this year, and then his long-awaited memoir will be published the year after that.
Marty, your work has made visible so many pasts: the queer past, the black past, the radical past; and your life inspires us all to be more visible in our own lives, to demand a place at the table even and especially when we are denied that place. You have been an inspiration to so many of us in this room, and so many of us outside of this room, not least of all to a young PhD student more than a decade ago desperately searching for himself and yearning to be free. That is why it’s such a great honor for me to honor you tonight with the HGLC Founding Father Award, the citation on which—it’s a west African proverb that I’m sure you’ll enjoy and I know you’ve heard—reads as follows: “Only when lions have historians will hunters stop being heroes. HGLC Founding Father Award to Martin Duberman, PhD, class of 1957. Path-breaking scholar, prophetic writer, passionate activist, as the founding father of GLBT studies, you have fought to cure America’s historic prejudices by making their hidden past visible.”