After 50 Years at the ‘Voice’, FIRE Salutes Nat Hentoff

By on January 8, 2009

This week brought news that world-renowned scholar, critic, civil libertarian, and member of FIRE’s Board of Advisors Nat Hentoff has penned his final column for The Village Voice, ending a spectacular run of over fifty years at the influential weekly. Writing with impeccable moral clarity through the past five decades, Nat’s extraordinary tenure at the Voice established him as one of our nation’s most prominent and principled defenders of the First Amendment. Nat has been an unrelenting advocate on behalf of the censored, the blacklisted, and the ignored. As a stubborn thorn in the side of very many would-be repressors, Nat’s weekly salvo from the pages of the Voice will be sorely missed.

I should note here that Nat has long been a personal hero of mine. I know this is not a unique sentiment among First Amendment advocates like myself, but since Nat is a very active member of FIRE’s Board of Advisors, I have had a unique and cherished opportunity to witness Nat’s tireless efforts on behalf of liberty up close. Nearly all FIRE’s staffers have had the enjoyable experience of receiving a call from Nat, asking for more information about our ongoing cases and marveling at the breathtaking injustices we fight against every day. We’ve been blessed to have Nat’s trained journalistic instincts put to use on behalf of FIRE’s work. For just one recent example, check out Nat writing with his trademark passion about FIRE’s ongoing case at Brandeis University, where Professor Donald Hindley has faced persecution for critiquing the use of the word "wetbacks" in his Latin American politics class. Nat wrote:

If Justice Brandeis were still here, I am sure he would call [Brandeis President Jehuda] Reinharz instantly and would get a response. How I would like to hear that conversation! Said Justice Brandeis: "It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears." And from undereducated college administrators?

This is just one small example out of many, and I’m extremely grateful for Nat’s continuing work for FIRE. I should emphasize that word: "continuing." Although Nat’s time at the Voice is now complete, he is as prolific a writer as ever. As he notes in his final Voice column:

I’m still writing. In 2009, the University Press of California will publish my At the Jazz Band Ball: 60 Years on the Jazz Scene, and, later in the year, a sequel to The War on the Bill of Rights and the Gathering Resistance will be out on Seven Stories Press with the title Is This America? And I’ll be breaking categories elsewhere, including in my weekly syndicated United Media column, which reaches 250 papers, and my jazz and country music pieces in The Wall Street Journal.

Speaking for myself personally and all of us here at FIRE, we salute Nat Hentoff for the incredible years of courageous columns in the Voiceand, even more importantly, we very much look forward to reading what comes next.