Dr. Black survived Stalin, forced labor under the Nazis, refugee status, and never suffered fools, the pompous, the bully, nor laziness or sloppy scholarship. She was fond of cats, dogs, children, and those needing a friend in a strange land.
Widowed with young children at 44, she went to college and finished her BA and MA in two years and her Ph.D. in another two years.
She studied at Northeastern University and Brandeis University in the Boston area before receiving her doctorate from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She joined the faculty of anthropology in 1973 at Providence College in Rhode Island. She moved to Alaska in 1984 as Professor, University of Alaska Fairbanks, whence she “retired” in 1998.
She continued her work in Kodiak, where she helped translate and catalogue Russian archives of St. Herman’s Seminary. The Orthodox Church in Alaska recognized her contribution by awarding her the Cross of St. Herman.
She wrote at least 66 more books and articles appearing in publications as diverse as Natural History, Arctic Anthropology and Studies in Soviet Thought and was a contributor to various exhibits and conferences on the Arctic, including the Library of Congress’ Meeting of the Frontiers, the New York Museum of Natural History’s Jesup Centenary Congress and the Smithsonian Institution’s Crossroads of the Continents.
One of her best-known books, “Aleut art — Unangam aguqaadangin” is a collection of beautifully photographed and carefully documented art made by Alaska Natives of the Aleutian Islands. Another, “Russians in Alaska, 1732 to 1867,” was published in 2004, the year Lydia turned 79.
In 2001, Russia awarded her the Order of Friendship, honoring her contribution to promoting cross-cultural understanding between Russia and America. She received the Alaska Anthropological Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000 and the Alaska Governor’s Lifetime Achievement Award for the Humanities in 2005.
Lydia was born in Kiev, where her grandmother came to live with the family. Her grandmother instituted an educational regimen for her which included two days per week of speaking Russian, two days per week of speaking French and two days per week of speaking German. On Sundays, the family could relax and speak Ukrainian. It was decreed that Lydia would study English in school. Lydia’s grandmother would take her to the ‘secret church’, hosted by three elderly women – the KGB eventually did arrive to arrest them.
Lydia’s father was executed when she was eight years old. At 16 (1941) her mother died of TB. Lydia was picked up into forced labor for Germany. At war’s end, Lydia was in Munich and got a job scrubbing toilets in American officers’ quarters. They realized Lydia could speak six languages (she had learned Polish during the war) so she became a translator at the UNRRA’s displaced children’s camp.
Lydia met and married Igor A. Black. They then emigrated to the U.S. in 1950. Igor became a thermodynamics engineer whose work on the Apollo Mission was officially commemorated by NASA. Lydia was a full-time wife and mother. Suddenly Igor died in 1969, leaving Lydia alone with three teen-aged daughters and a toddler. With her older daughters’ consent, Lydia returned to school as a full-time college student.
Dr Black died in Kodiak, AK, with family, friends, Orthodox services, and the feline sibling companions Masia and Vasia present.
Masia, faithful guardian during Lydia’s illness would wake Lydia in the middle of the night, to great complaint. However, Masia seemed to be sensing something physically awry in Lydia’s breathing while asleep and was waking her to “reset” her. Masia would reach over and: Slap-slap-slap, at which point Lydia would sputter and tell the cat to stop it. [Click on small picture to enlarge.]
Anthropologist Lydia Black Dead at 81
Casey Kelly, KMXT
KODIAK, AK (2007-03-13) Anthropologist Lydia Black, author of many books on Alaska Native culture and Alaska history, died Monday morning of liver failure at her home in Kodiak. She was 81. © Copyright 2007, apti
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