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Home | EducationMakers | Martin Kilson
Color: Blue
Food: Okra
Quote: Hard work and discipline produce good results.
Season: Spring and Fall
Vacation Destination: None
East Rutherford, New Jersey United States
Interview Description:

Biography |

Interview Date: 10/22/2016

Political science professor Martin Kilson was born on February 14, 1931 in East Rutherford, New Jersey to Reverend Martin Kilson and Louisa Kilson. His family moved to Ambler, Pennsylvania, where Kilson’s father was pastor to an African American Methodist parish. Kilson went on to graduate from Ambler High School in 1948. He attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, where he studied under Dr. Horace Mann Bond, then the university’s president, and graduated in 1953 as the class valedictorian with his B.S. degree in political science. Kilson received a John Hay Whitney Fellowship to pursue his Ph.D. at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He completed a thesis focused on the United Nations trusteeship system in African colonies, and was awarded his Ph.D. degree from Harvard University in 1959.

After finishing his doctorate, Kilson spent eighteen months conducting field research in West Africa under a Ford Foundation Fellowship. He then returned to Harvard as a Research Associate in the Center for International Affairs, and was appointed Lecturer in Harvard’s Department of Government in 1962. During the 1960s, while Kilson was one of only two black junior faculty members at Harvard, he served as the faculty advisor for the newly founded Harvard-Radcliffe Afro-American Students Association. In 1966, he published his first book, Political Change in a West African State: A Study of the Modernization Process in Sierra Leone, based on his field research in Sierra Leone. In 1969, Kilson became Professor of Government, the first African American tenured in Harvard College.

Kilson was the editor of multiple collections of essays, including The African Diaspora: Interpretive Essays in 1976, which was the first published work to use the term “African diaspora.” Harvard appointed Kilson Frank G. Thomson Professor of Government in 1988, and he continued in that post until 1999, when he retired from Harvard University after forty-two years of teaching. He returned to Harvard to deliver the annual W.E.B. DuBois lectures in 2010, and published his book The Transformation of the African American Intelligentsia, 1880-2012 in 2014.

Kilson and his wife, Marion Dusser de Barenne Kilson, live in Lexington, Massachusetts. The couple has three children: Jennifer, Peter, and Hannah.

Martin Kilson was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on October 22, 2016.

Speaker Bureau Notes: