Tribute for Fay and Herbert Aptheker

NEW YORK – Hundreds of New York area family, friends, comrades and colleagues of Herbert and Fay Aptheker came together at St. Peter’s Church Oct. 16 to pay tribute to two “outstanding fighters for humanity,” as one speaker put it. Dr. Herbert Aptheker, who died this past spring, and Fay, who died in 1999, were longtime residents of Brooklyn.

The evening celebrated these two remarkable people with speeches, music and poetry, and was hosted by actors of stage and screen, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, and by Dr. Mary Louise Patterson.

Davis began the event, reading a moving passage from one of Aptheker’s writings on slavery. Columbia University historian Dr. Eric Foner gave the opening tribute, citing the unique and pioneering contribution Dr. Aptheker made in the field of African American history. He pointed out how Aptheker’s work, American Negro Slave Revolts, broke new ground, in that it explored the leading role played by the slaves themselves in the defeat of slavery, including as soldiers in the Union Army.

The program was full of wonderful personal remembrances. Sharing the platform were Dr. Johnnetta Cole, president of Bennett College; historian and Hostos Community College professor Gerald Meyer; Robin Kelly, Columbia University professor of American Studies (who also brought greetings from TV personality Gil Noble); Charlene Mitchell, co-chair of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism; Alva Buxenbaum; Barry Cohen; and Jarvis Tyner, executive vice-chair of the Communist Party USA.

All of the speakers described the Apthekers’ commitment and contributions to the struggle for equality and against racism, made through Herbert’s scholarship, in which Fay was a close participant, and in their political activism. For many years Herbert Aptheker was a member of the national committee of the Communist Party USA.

The program included the New York City Labor Chorus, a dramatic poem by Sonia Sanchez, and an audience sing-a-long and poetry reading by David Laibman and Ruby Dee. A soulful rendition of “Amazing Grace” by union activist/singer Saundra Galloway was followed by the saying of the Kaddish, the traditional Jewish mourner’s prayer, by Rabbi Bruce Mark Cohen.

Bettina Aptheker concluded the program with a beautiful tribute. She traced her parents’ histories, and described in moving and humorous detail her experiences growing up in their political household.

A large memorial was also held on the West Coast last spring for Dr. Herbert Aptheker, who died on March 17, 2003, at the age of 87.