Alumnus George Anastaplo, 88, taught for nearly six decades at Graham School

George Anastaplo, AB’48, JD’51, PhD’64, who sacrificed a promising legal career by defending his First Amendment rights before the McCarthy-era Illinois Bar and eventually the U.S. Supreme Court, died Feb. 14 after teaching nearly six decades in the University of Chicago Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies.

The son of Greek immigrants who operated a restaurant in Carterville, Ill., Anastaplo pursued his bachelor and law degrees from the University of Chicago after serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, navigating B-17 and B-29 bombers.

Anastaplo was denied admission to the Illinois Bar in 1950 after refusing on principle to answer whether he was a member of the Communist party—calling questions about political affiliation and religion irrelevant. The Committee on Character and Fitness, which routinely interviewed Bar applicants, also asked if Communist Party members should be allowed to practice law in Illinois.

“I should think so,” replied Anastaplo, who then went on in his characteristically polite yet pithy manner to defend the right of revolution, if justified, as established in the Declaration of Independence.

Anastaplo argued his own case before the Illinois and U.S. Supreme Court. He lost the federal case in 1961 by a 5-4 decision. Justice Hugo Black, comparing Anastaplo to Clarence Darrow and other brave lawyers, wrote a dissenting opinion famously asserting, “We must not be afraid to be free.”

With his unblemished record, Black wrote, “the very most that can fairly be said against Anastaplo’s position in this entire matter is that he took too much of the responsibility of preserving that freedom upon himself.”

As the case went through appeals, Anastaplo worked on his doctorate in the Committee on Social Thought at the University under the guidance of mentor Leo Strauss. In 1957, he joined the Basic Program of Liberal Education for Adults faculty and continued to teach through December 2013. He also taught at Dominican University (then Rosary College), and later at the Loyola University School of Law, frequently riding his bike from Hyde Park to Loyola until he was nearly 80. He also authored scores of books and hundreds of articles on topics ranging from political science to philosophy to religion to classic literature.

Anastaplo was the “heart and soul” of the Basic Program, said former chair Cynthia Rutz. “He inspired everyone around him—students and fellow faculty alike—to always continue learning and never be afraid to pose difficult questions,” she said. She noted that longtime Hyde Park alderman Leon Despres, PhB’27, JD’29, perfectly dubbed Anastaplo the “Socrates of Chicago” for his tireless role of good-natured gadfly, poking and prodding ideas, whether he was in a courtroom, classroom or elsewhere.  

Anastaplo’s unwavering commitment to free thought earned him many admirers. In 2005, he was the inaugural recipient of the Graham School’s Excellence in Teaching Award, and received the school’s Distinguished Service Award in 2012. But the Bar interview wasn’t the only time his devotion to the ideal rendered him an outsider.

Keith Cleveland, AB’64, AM’69, JD’79, also a former chair of the Basic Program who taught with Anastaplo for 45 years, recalled that Anastaplo was kicked out of Russia in 1960, while driving through Europe on vacation with his family after defending a group of fellow tourists handing out American literature. He also was expelled from Greece in 1968, for asking some embarrassing questions of the right-wing military junta in power. Recalling these events and Anastaplo’s case against the Illinois Bar, political scientist C. Herman Pritchett wrote: “As W. C. Fields might have said, any man who is kicked out of Russia, Greece and the Illinois Bar can’t be all bad.”

Although Anastaplo never became a lawyer, his legal training served him well in academia, Cleveland said. “George brought his extraordinary cross-examination skills to the classroom,” he said, “not in a hostile manner, but to open up and explore ideas and pursue them in an interesting and intelligent way.”

Larry Arnhart, AM’73, PhD’77, a former student of Anastaplo’s who teaches political science at Northern Illinois University, said he tries to live up to his mentor’s patient intellectual prodding at the podium. 

“Sometimes, you ask a provocative question and there’s silence,” Arnhart said. “George always said if students don’t respond, don’t just resume lecturing and let students get away with being so passive. Wait, and wait some more until someone shares their thoughts. Soon enough, students discover that a class organized around stimulating discussion is more interesting,” he said.

Michael Allocca, current chair of the Basic Program, said Anastaplo had a “hard-core” following of people who would sign up for every course he taught, and he was known for never having missed a session.

“During the last week of autumn semester in December, when he called to say he wouldn’t be well enough to make it in,” Allocca said, “he asked if we could set up a phone in the classroom so that he could lead the discussion from home via telephone.”

Miriam Redleaf, Anastaplo’s daughter and a professor of otolaryngology at the University of Illinois College of Medicine, said his family wasn’t surprised by his efforts to finish the semester despite prostate cancer that had spread to his bones.

“He was proud of teaching all the way till the end,” Redleaf said. “He never considered missing a class.”

Anastaplo is survived by his wife of more than 65 years, Sara Prince Anastaplo; his daughters, Helen Newlin, Miriam Redleaf and Theodora Anastaplo; his son, George Malcolm Davidson Anastaplo; and eight grandchildren. A memorial service will be held at Bond Chapel on the University of Chicago campus on Friday, June 6. More information about the memorial service will be published on this website when it becomes available.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to The George Anastaplo Basic Program Lecturer Fund, Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies, the University of Chicago, 1427 E. 60th St., Chicago, IL. 60637.

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George Anastaplo

George Anastaplo poses at a party on the occasion of his 55th anniversary of teaching in the Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies.

Courtesy of The Basic Program of Liberal Education for Adults

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