A difficult child
Allan Henry Spear was born on June 24, 1937 in Michigan City, Indiana. Raised in a Jewish family, Spear’s father was a traveling salesman and his mother a housewife. From a young age, Spear knew that he was different from the other young boys his age:
I didn’t like the things that small boys in midcentury America were supposed to like. When my mother sent me out to play, I sat instead on my little red wagon and read books. When I went to the Saturday afternoon movies, I refused to go to the Westerns and wanted to see historical romances. . When we went out to dinner, I wanted the duck a l’orange, not the macaroni and cheese. My mother just didn’t know what to make of me.
Education & activism
Despite his peculiarities, Spear went on to be a high-achieving student, graduating high school at the age of 17 and enrolling in Oberlin College soon after. At Oberlin, Spear majored in history and became interested in the civil rights movement, joining the campus NAACP and spending a semester during his junior year at Fisk University, a predominantly black school in Nashville. Spear began to relate his civil rights activism to his growing awareness of his own homosexuality, and the fact that it was not a pathology, but a minority status.
"Oberlin was a very strange place..."
Upon earning his Ph.D. at Yale University, Spear accepted a teaching position in the history department at the University of Minnesota in 1964. He would later become a pivotal figure in establishing the Department of African American & African Studies. While immersing himself in left-wing politics, Spear became a volunteer with the Democratic -Farmer-Labor Party and staged the first antiwar "teach-in" at the University of Minnesota.