NEW YORK – The Eastern Mediterranean Business Culture Alliance (EMBCA) presented The Life and Times of Dan Georgakas panel discussion online on April 10. Author, anarchist, activist, poet, historian, editor, professor, film scholar, and longtime contributor to The National Herald Georgakas passed away on November 23, 2021, leaving behind a unique legacy that the panelists explored in their presentations and personal recollections of the great man who was their beloved colleague and friend.
The event proved to be a heartfelt and moving tribute to Georgakas, reminding everyone of the impressive contributions not only to the Greek-American community but to the world. His works are still integral to various fields of study and his influence continues as he continues to inspire scholars, authors, and activists across the globe.
EMBCA President Lou Katsos gave the welcoming remarks, introduced the panelists and served as moderator for the event. The distinguished panel included Professor Alexander Kitroeff of Haverford College; author, historian and activist Herb Boyd, Professor of the Black Studies Program at the City College of New York, CUNY; author and poet Nicholas Alexiou, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Hellenic American Project at Queens College; Professor Marvin Surkin, a graduate of New York University and specialist in comparative urban politics and social change; The Miltiadis Marinakis Professor of Modern Greek Language and Culture at the Ohio State University Georgios Anagnostou, and historian, educator, and author Constantine Hatzidimitriou.
Katsos noted that Georgakas “specialized in oral history and the American labor movement” and was “best known to some for the publication Detroit: I Do Mind Dying: A Study in Urban Revolution (1975), which documents African-American radical groups in Detroit during the 1960s and 1970s.”
“In 1966, he and painter Ben Morea helped found the well-known Anarchist group Up Against the Wall MF affiliated with New York City’s Lower East Side,” Katsos continued, adding that “in the late 1980s, Dan began co-writing the Encyclopedia of the American Left (1990, 1998) with Mari Jo Buhle and husband Paul Buhle. Dan had long served on the editorial board of Cineaste magazine and specialized in Latin American cinema.”
“My Detroit: Growing Up Greek and American in Motor City, was a loving but critical memoir of Detroit in the 1950-60s when it had the highest standard of any American metropolis,” Katsos said. “My Detroit proceeds from the industrial east side to explore Detroit’s complex racial, artistic, economic, and political life- a subjective companion to his Detroit: I Do Mind Dying, a historical account of the city’s turbulent 1960s.”
Katsos noted that “on the 100th anniversary of the Burning of Smyrna, his mother and aunt were among the children that were rescued by the Japanese ship the Tokei Maru (something he discovered decades later) during the Burning of Smyrna in 1922.”
Professor Alexiou spoke about his friend and colleague and how Georgakas’ impressive archive of more than 500 items at HAP is being digitized and will be disseminated to continue the remarkable work on Greek-American studies that he promoted. Alexiou noted that it would take a week-long conference to cover all that Georgakas has done.
Professor Boyd spoke about working with Georgakas most recently on the updating of the Encyclopedia of the American Left, along with Paul and Mari Jo Buhle, which is almost complete. “I miss him as a companion, as a co-writer, as an editor, as a scholar, as a revolutionary,” Boyd said. “I miss him as a Detroiter who had a firm grip on Detroit’s history.”
“For me, Dan was an inspiration,” Boyd continued. “For me, he stands as a beacon, a sentinel, for understanding where we have come as a revolutionary movement, where we are, and certainly proposing where we should be headed, because in a great way, Dan was a visionary, a remarkable human being, they used to talk about people being a credit to their race, well, he was a credit to the human race, that’s where he stands with me, that’s where he’ll always stand and I’ll always want and welcome opportunities to talk about his life and legacy, we can’t do that enough.”
Professor Surkin noted that he and Georgakas were both born in 1938 and shared a similar immigrant family-working class background, he in Philadelphia and Georgakas in Detroit. He spoke about co-writing Detroit: I Do Mind Dying with Georgakas, describing him as honorable, loyal, radical. “He was committed and he was an intellectual who believed in action,” Surkin said. “He believed in people, he loved everything Greek… he love America and he deeply believed in radical change, in the people’s potential of really making change.”
Constantine Hatzidimitriou said that as he prepared for the event, he “went through his Dan Georgakas file,” and had tears in his eyes looking through it because for decades Georgakas was his “greatest supporter… behind the scenes in all aspects of Greek Studies.” He mentioned how Georgakas, Steve Frangos and himself were for many years not part of the establishment but through Dan’s efforts, Greek-American Studies made great progress.
Kitroeff noted the debate Georgakas had with sociologist Charles Moskos whose model of Greek-American “struggle and success” had “no room for the Left because the success meant that everyone had gone into the middle class which, of course, wasn’t the case and Dan was the person who interacted with Moskos and helped us understand the history and legacy of the Left in Greek America, but what was remarkable about the exchange that they had was that it was a sharp exchange but it was not polemical.”
Anagnostou read a letter he addressed to the late Georgakas, noting “how much the immigrant past meant to you,” highlighting Georgakas’ commitment to documentation and his determination “to speak historical truths even if those truths were taboo and made some in the community uncomfortable.”
Katsos thanked all those for participating and noted that EMBCA’s upcoming event on May 3 will be in person. More information is available online: https://embca.com.
Video of the event is available on YouTube: https://youtu.be/895WISF4pHA.
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