Leon Litwack ’51, M.A. ’52, Ph.D. ’58

As a former history professor at Berkeley, Litwack did more than recite facts and figures. He dramatically brought his subjects to life with quotations, photos, and popular music as he guided more than 30,000 students through American history during a 43-year career. Litwack drew from the experiences of his Russian-born parents and immigrant neighbors to develop his own fascination with African American history, particularly the consequences of slavery. Even as a teen he confronted what he called “distortions and racial biases” in the textbooks. He was later active in the civil rights and free speech movements and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1980 for his book Been in the Storm So Long. Despite his prestige, he insisted on teaching introductory courses and challenged his students “to stand in the shoes of those who came before us, to flesh out and give human meaning to abstractions about democracy, freedom, liberty, and opportunity.” When he received the student-driven Golden Apple Award for Outstanding Teaching in 2007, one student wrote in his nomination, “I can hardly find a moment to blink for fear I’ll miss something interesting.

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