Long-time Dissent contributor and editorial board member Martin Kilson died on April 24 at the age of eighty-eight.
Kilson, the first African-American tenured professor at Harvard, first contributed to Dissent in 1969 with an article on “The New Black Intellectuals.” The essay was characteristic of Kilson’s work: erudite, uncompromising, and committed to radical critique. He went on to write over twenty articles for Dissent over the following decades, and edited a special section in 1989—“Black America: Views from Within”—and (with Mitchell Cohen) a special issue in 1992, “Africa Today: Crisis and Change.”
In his final essay for Dissent in 1999, Kilson assessed the aims of his scholarship and activism within the university system: “in that formative phase, progressive black faculty at white institutions did two crucial things. First, we impressed upon activist black students the need to infuse one’s commitment to blackness with a spirit of cosmopolitan humanism, so that one is able to guard against chauvinistic and mean-spirited forms of ethnic activism. Second, we emphasized that African-American students had an obligation toward a kind of dual fidelity: fidelity to modernist achievement and rigorous academic behavior, on the one hand, and to black folks’ honor—to the best traditions of black culture—on the other.”