The Greek-American author and filmmaker Dan Georgakas, who also worked as a professor, editor, and film scholar, passed away on Tuesday at the age of 83.
Born in Detroit, he served as the Director of the Greek American Studies Project at the Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies at Queens College and was also the editor of the Journal of Contemporary Hellenic Issues.
He may be best known for his autobiography, titled “My Detroit: Growing Up Greek and American in Motor City,” which chronicled his difficult early years growing up in the industrial city.
Georgakas, who was born March 1, 1938 to Xenophon and Sophia Georgakas, portrayed the people he knew from his childhood in such a vibrant way that it became a seminal work in Greek-American socio-cultural history.
A documentary film on his life, called “Dan Georgakas: A Diaspora Rebel,” by Kostas Vakkas, was shown at the 17th annual Thessaloniki Documentary Festival in 2015.
Georgakas told The National Herald at the time that “my rebellious perspective is linked to growing up in a working class district of Detroit and being born Greek and American. Life had greatly improved for all of us as a result of the leftist reforms begun in the 1930’s. I wanted to accelerate that kind of change.
“As a child of immigrants, I was not programmed to consider all things American as normal and positive. This made it easier to go against convention.”
However, he noted that “In a similar fashion, as an American, I was not programmed for traditional Greek culture either. Much of my subsequent writing and activism has been directed at melting the mind-forged manacles that prevent us from understanding a new economic order based on mutual aid would be far superior to our present competitive system.”
His book titled “I Do Mind Dying,” which he wrote in 1975, covered the actions and motivations of African-American radical groups in his home city during the 1960s and 1970s.
Georgakas was often seen commentating on film and in the media, making appearances on the History Channel, the Canadian Broadcasting System, the Voice of America, and Greek National Television.
He also had worked as a professor at New York University, Columbia University, the University of Oklahoma, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and Queens College. Many of his works have been translated into French, Italian, Spanish, and Greek.
Most of his papers were left to the Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs at Indiana’s Wayne State University. Georgakis’ writings on cinema will be housed at the Tamiment Library of New York University.
Lou Katsos, an Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate as well as AHEPA Chapter President and EMBCA founder, said of Georgakas’ passing:
“He will be missed by many in the academic community, the hundreds of students who were honored to attend his classes and lectures, and our Hellenic community worldwide. His mother and aunt were among the children that were rescued by the Japanese ship the Tokei Maru (something he discovered decades later) during the Burning of Smyrna in 1922. May his memory be eternal.”
Three years ago, the New York Greek Film Festival honored Georgakas in a ceremony held at the French Institute Alliance Française in Manhattan.