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ETAN activist Luis Kemnitzer, Dead at 77

ETAN activist Luis Kemnitzer dies at 77

Luis Kemnitzer, radical activist and longtime ETAN activist died Friday, February 17, at Kaiser Hospital in San Francisco of complications from lung cancer. A fifth-generation Californian, Luis was 77.

A founding member of the Bay Area chapter of the East Timor Action Network, Luis helped to connect Timorese visitors and ETAN with other indigenous peoples' organizations also working for justice and sovereignty. He and his wife Moher, who survives him, were always enormously generous with their house, a frequent spot for dinners and fundraisers benefiting ETAN and other groups. Luis was a stalwart of the Bay Area anarchist and peace-activist communities, with a long history of participation in non-violent protests and civil disobedience. Like our other recently departed ETANer Nate Osborn, Luis had no hesitation about doing the routine grunt work that keeps activist projects going. He was always there for mailings and other working meetings, even when he had many other things going on in his life, which he always did.

Luis Kemnitzer with East Timorese lawyer Aderito de Jesus Soares.  
Luis Kemnitzer with East Timorese human rights lawyer and former member of ETAN's executive committee Aderito de Jesus Soares. ETAN/SF  

Over decades of such activism, he managed to maintain an enthusiasm for living and appreciation for people, and a down to earth but often surreal sense of humor.

A lifelong record collector, Luis was famous for giving away compilations of music from his massive collection of folk, country, blues, jazz and "world" music. In 1998 he was awarded a Grammy award along with other authors of the liner notes for the "Anthology of American Folk Music," which also won the Grammy that year for Best Historic Album. The album was a re-issue of a 1952 Folkways album originally compiled by Luis's friend Harry Smith.

Luis was the first teacher of American Indian Studies at San Francisco State University, where he was a staunch ally of the American Indian Movement. He supported the historic 1969-1971 occupation of Alcatraz Island, and was Director Emeritus of the Lakota Language and Culture Center in Ignacio, California, and Kyle, South Dakota.

With Moher, Luis helped organize the first needle exchange program, which started in the San Francisco Tenderloin and became a model for similar programs around the world. This radical approach to HIV prevention, illegal at the time of its inception, continues to save thousands of lives.

Luis earned his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania. His field work focused on Lakota culture in Pine Ridge South Dakota, where he spent many summers over the years. He also studied health care in Palau, and supported the movement for nuclear-free Pacific Islands.

Luis will be greatly missed by his surviving family members and by his many friends in the Bay Area and throughout the world.

see also

Golden Gate Express Online: Grammy winning SF State professor dies
San Francisco Chronicle: Luis Kemnitzer -- professor and social activist




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