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Kilson, Martin L., Jr. (1931- )

Image Courtesy of Willard R. Johnson
Harvard University’s Frank G. Thomson Professor of Government Emeritus, Dr. Martin L. Kilson, Jr. bears his professional prominence very easily, descending from three generations of clergy with skills of persuasion, presentation and organization. Before the Civil War, his great-great-grandfather, The Reverend Isaac Lee, founded the first A.M.E. church among free Negroes in Kent County, Maryland.  Dr. Kilson’s maternal great-grandfather was also among the founders of a church.

Kilson was the valedictorian of his 1953 graduating class at Lincoln University. Winning several prominent scholarships and fellowships, he earned a Masters and a Doctoral degree in Political Science at Harvard University where he wrote a dissertation titled “United Nations Visiting Missions to Trust Territories.” Winning additional fellowships to undertake field research in Africa, he published Political Change in a West African State, a study of the origins, character and challenges of the emergent political class in Sierra Leone.

Dr. Kilson rose through the ranks to become the first African American scholar to achieve a Full Professorship in Harvard College, where he taught for forty-two years before retiring in 1999.  In his several books, and many professional papers and chapters, Kilson addresses issues of class and power, and the socio-economic foundations and intellectual requisites of effective political leadership, whether in emerging nations of Africa or the rising middle class throughout the history of African Americans. Placing himself within the intellectual perspective of W.E.B. DuBois, he investigates the rights and interests of the black masses and in particular the profound challenges now confronting the African American underclass.

A frequent commentator in newspapers and magazines on campus, local (Boston area) and international events, Dr. Kilson has also facilitated the development of African American Studies both as an academic discipline and as a Department at Harvard University.  Although retired, Dr. Kilson continues to research and write.  His next two tomes are The Making of Black Intellectuals scheduled for publication in 2007, and The Transformation of Black American Intellectuals which will be released in 2008.  Dr. Kilson currently resides with his family in the Boston area.  

Martin Kilson, “Probing the Black Elite’s Role for the 21st Century,” The Black Commentator, Issue 133 (April 7, 2005)
Martin Kilson, “From the Birth to a Mature Afro-American Studies at Harvard, 1969-2002,” in Lewis Gordon/Jane Gordon, Editors, A Companion to African American Studies (Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing, 2006).


Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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