“Once the sperm and egg meet…you now have a human being…it’s not a kangaroo, it’s not a giraffe, it‘s a human being…therefore if you kill it…you are killing a developing human being.”
Nat Hentoff (1925-2017) was a prolific writer and civil libertarian who is best known as an outspoken defender of free speech as well as a preeminent American Jazz Critic. Born and raised in Boston and a graduate of Northeastern and Harvard Universities, Hentoff wrote many books and was a contributor to Downbeat Magazine, the New Yorker, the Washington Post, and the Jazz Times. He also wrote regular columns for the Village Voice and The Washington Times.
He came to his pro-life position when covering the Baby Doe case where the courts essentially ruled that some lives are not worth living. He wrote about the abusive experiences of prolife feminists at the 1992 Democratic National Convention and directly criticized Ken Burns for his exclusion of the anti-abortion position of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in his documentary, Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.
Hentoff was active in the Civil Rights Movement and protested the Vietnam War. In 1972, he called out the New York Times for referring to the North Vietnamese as “the enemy” saying, “It is much easier for Americans to distance themselves psychologically from the daily atrocities done in their name if they keep seeing their victims — including children — … as the enemy.”
As a Jewish atheist, Hentoff wrote articles about the Catholic Church and Islam and after the so called Peace Agreement in Darfur, challenged President Bush to form an international coalition to stop the on-going genocide of black Muslims in Darfur.
Despite his influence shaping the modern conversation about such important topics as free speech, Hentoff’s greatest joy was jazz music. He interviewed such jazz greats as Duke Ellington and Miles Davis and worked with Billie Holiday and Lester Young in The Sound of Jazz, a televised jazz program that turned out to be the last performance between Holiday and Young.
Nat Hentoff was the first non-musician to be named Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts. Hentoff granted an Honorary Doctorate of Law from Northeastern University and was involved with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. He was also the subject of the 2013 documentary, Pleasures of Being Out of Step.