Aug 22, 2012
In Memoriam: Historian Alexander Saxton
Alexander Saxton, an emeritus professor of history and one of the founding fathers of the Asian American Studies Center at UCLA, died Aug. 20 in Lone Pine at the age of 94. The history department will host a memorial service Nov. 16 at 3 p.m. at the Faculty Center.
Saxton, who served as acting director of the center and longtime chair of its Faculty Advisory Committee, provided key leadership to the center and mentoring to many students, said David Yoo, professor of Asian American studies and center director. "The UCLA Asian American Studies Center is invariably richer for having known and worked with Professor Alexander Saxton whose intelligence and generous spirit brought so much to so many. He will certainly be missed, but not forgotten," Yoo wrote in an email to center supporters.
Saxton was a labor organizer and gifted proletarian novelist before he joined the Department of History at UCLA in 1968. Two of his novels have been republished in recent years.
Among his many publications was "Indispensible Enemy: Labor and the Anti-Chinese Movement in California* (1975), one of the founding texts in Asian American history/studies. "Alex's path-breaking book ... changed how historians thought about early Asian immigration and labor organizing," said
Professor Valerie Matsumoto. "He was a brilliant, rigorous scholar, a generous colleague, and an inspiring teacher who mentored an enormous number of graduate students."
His other published works included "The Rise and Fall of the White Republic: Class Politics and Mass Culture in Nineteenth Century America" (2003). Saxton also created new courses in American history, including the first course on Filipino-American history and another on film and history. Both attracted many students.
The last of his three major history books, "Religion and the Human Prospect," was published in 2006 in his 88th year.
"Unwavering in his commitment to a more truly democratic society, he continued to write witty and sage essays for the Inyo Register, the main paper of the Owens Valley, until the very end," wrote his colleague, Emeritus Professor of History Gary Nash.
Bob Rydell, a former student who became Saxton's close friend, wrote an essay about Saxton's life and career, "Grand Crossings: The Life and Work of Alexander Saxton" for the Pacific Historical Review in 2004. It's available here
In a special issue of Amerasia Journal (2000), Professor Saxton reflected upon his life and career in an essay: "The Indispensable Enemy and Ideological Construction: Reminiscences of an Octogenarian Radical."