Nathan Hare dies at 91; sociologist created first Black studies program in US at San Francisco State

Nathan Hare, a sociologist who helped lead a five-month strike by faculty and students at what is now San Francisco State University, resulting in an agreement in 1969 to create the country’s first program in Black studies, with him as its director, died at a hospital in San Francisco on June 10. He was 91.

His death was confirmed by the poet and playwright Marvin X, a close friend of Hare’s.

Dr. Nathan Hare, seen here at a talk at the University of Colorado in 1969, has died. He was a leading figure in bringing the ideas of Black power into academic circles, first at Howard University and then at San Francisco State College (now University). (Denver Post Archives)

A son of Oklahoma sharecroppers who was educated in the state’s segregated schools and later at the University of Chicago, Hare was a leading figure in bringing the ideas of Black power into academic circles, first at Howard University and then at San Francisco State College (now University), and later as a co-founder of The Black Scholar, a leading interdisciplinary journal.

He considered himself a Black nationalist, and in all three roles he clashed with both the establishment administrations and other factions on the political left, particularly Marxists.

Hare was forced out of his job at Howard in 1967 after a public fight with its president, who wanted to accept more white students. The next year, he arrived at San Francisco State, which already had courses in “minority studies,” and immediately began pushing for an interdisciplinary program dedicated to studying the Black experience.

He also bristled at the term “minority studies” and pushed back at its use by coining the term “ethnic studies.”

The administration resisted, leading to a five-month strike in 1968 and ’69 by faculty and students — who, Hare frequently pointed out, were mostly white, though their ranks also included future Black figures like the actor Danny Glover and the politician Ron Dellums.

Two presidents were forced to resign over the strife. A third, interim president, S.I. Hayakawa, cracked down on the protests by allowing police to arrest hundreds of them. But in early 1969 he and the protest leaders reached an agreement that included the creation of a Black studies program, to be led by Hare. (Hayakawa was later made permanent president and served as a U.S. senator from 1977 to 1983.)

The peace did not last long. After Hare insisted that the department was not a traditional academic unit but a revolutionary tool, Hayakawa fired him.

Hare returned to campus that fall, asserting that he was the rightful department head; he even tried to hold his own classes. But the university eventually forced him out, and he left academia for good.

“Nathan was the agent who symbolized this great battlefront with the mainstream,” Abdul Alkalimat, a professor emeritus of African American studies and library science at the University of Illinois, said by phone. “And like the Marines, you take a hit, and you create the possibility of those who come after you.”

Later in 1969, Hare joined the poet Robert Chrisman and Allan Ross, a printer, to found The Black Scholar in Oakland (today it is published by Boston University). In interviews, he described it as a forum for connecting artists, activists and intellectuals with the emerging “ebony tower” of Black studies, feeding it ideas and arguments.

The journal quickly became one of the leading Black intellectual publications, with essays by thinkers like Amiri Baraka and Angela Davis. Alkalimat served on its board.

“The Black Scholar was the leading magazine of Black intellectual thought,” the poet and novelist Ishmael Reed, a frequent contributor, said in an interview. Part of its success, he said, was that “it didn’t come off like an academic journal.”

Hare resigned in 1975, citing a turn toward Marxism by the rest of the journal’s leadership, at the expense of Black nationalism. “That majority is now Black Marxist, and I soon found my contribution sabotaged and almost liquidated,” he told The New York Times at the time.

Nathaniel Hare was born April 9, 1933, in Slick, Oklahoma, southwest of Tulsa, to Seddie and Tishia (Lee) Hare.

His parents separated when Nathan was young. During World War II, his mother moved him and his siblings to San Diego, where she worked as a janitor on a naval base and where Nathan developed an interest in boxing. When he expressed interest in going professional, his mother moved them back to Oklahoma.

Despite his continued interest in the pugilistic arts, he excelled in school and was accepted into Langston University, the only historically Black college in Oklahoma. He worked full time as a janitor to pay his way and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1955.

Hare married a fellow Langston student, Julia Reed, in 1956. She died in 2019. He had no immediate survivors.

He went on to study sociology at the University of Chicago, receiving a master’s degree in 1957 and his doctorate in 1962.

He joined the faculty at Howard, in Washington, in 1961. The city was a center of civil rights activism, while many of his students, including the organizer Stokely Carmichael and the writer Claude Brown, were preparing to push the struggle in a radical, separatist direction.

Hare agreed with them, and soon found himself at odds with the university, which had prided itself as an engine of growth for the Black bourgeoisie. His first book, “Black Anglo-Saxons” (1965), was a searing critique of the Black middle class.

Things came to a boil in 1967, when Howard’s president, James Nabrit Jr., told The Washington Post that he aspired to boost the school’s white enrollment to well over half the student body.

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Hare wrote a cutting response that not only took Nabrit to task but also called for a new approach to Black higher education, one directed by Black faculty and students. He also invited the boxer Muhammad Ali to speak on campus, a move opposed by Nabrit because of Ali’s antiwar stance.

Nabrit forced Hare to resign in 1967, after which San Francisco State offered him a position.

Following his departure from San Francisco State and The Black Scholar, Hare took up a career in clinical psychology, receiving a second doctorate from the California School of Professional Psychology in 1975.

Along with running a private psychology practice, Hare and his wife founded a research institution, the Black Think Tank, which published a series of books on Black life in America, several of which he wrote himself, including “The Endangered Black Family” (1984).

In 2019, Hare received a lifetime achievement honor from the American Book Awards, which cited “Black Anglo-Saxons” and “The Endangered Black Family” as keystone texts in the canon of Black studies.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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