The Forum | Western Civilization

In Memoriam: Abigail Thernstrom

May 4, 2020 by Michael B. Poliakoff

Last month, the nation lost a hero of intellectual freedom and a paradigm of moral courage. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni also lost a dear friend.

Abigail Thernstrom, political scientist and leading scholar on race relations, passed away on April 10 at the age of 83. Born in 1936 and raised on a collective farm in Westchester County, New York, Dr. Thernstrom went on to receive her Ph.D. from the Department of Government at Harvard University in 1975 and became one of the leading public intellectuals of the late 20th century.

Over the course of her distinguished career, Dr. Thernstrom served as an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a member of the Massachusetts Board of Education, and vice chair on the United States Commission on Civil Rights. She received many honors throughout her career, including the 2007 Fordham Prize for Distinguished Scholarship, the 2004 Peter Shaw Memorial Award from the National Association of Scholars, and the 2007 Bradley Foundation Prize for Outstanding Intellectual Achievement, along with her husband Stephan. Dr. Abigail Thernstrom and Dr. Stephan Thernstrom co-authored numerous books together, including America in Black and White: One Nation, Indivisible and No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning.

Those who knew Abigail remember a style that blended vision and warmth with an indefatigable will to pursue and share the truth, even knowing how fast the howls would come from the smug guardians of political orthodoxy. She never wavered, and we treasure her memory. Rest in peace after a life well-lived that will continue to inspire us all.


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