[News] Remembering Alexander Hoffmann

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Nov 6 10:20:06 EST 2009

Remembering Alexander Hoffmann

By Elijah Wald and Lincoln Bergman
Thursday November 05, 2009
Alexander Hoffmann (at left), with Mario Savio

Alexander Hoffmann (at left), with Mario Savio
Alexander P. Hoffmann, a well-known Bay Area radical attorney and 
activist, died Thursday evening at Piedmont Gardens in Oakland at the 
age of 81, after a long illness.

A brilliant behind-the-scenes legal strategist, Hoffmann played a key 
role in numerous high-profile local cases, helping to defend Lenny 
Bruce, Cesar Chavez and many key figures in the Black Panther Party 
for Self-Defense, including Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, and Eldridge Cleaver.

Hoffmann, who was called Sascha by his family and friends, was born 
in 1928 in Vienna, Austria, where both of his parents were 
physicians. In 1938, after the Nazi takeover, his family immigrated 
to the United States, settling first in Brookline, Massachusetts, and 
then in Cambridge.

He received his B.A. in economics from UC Berkeley in 1950, but after 
pursuing two years in the university's economics M.A. program 
transferred to Yale Law School, where he was elected to the editorial 
board of the Law Journal, and from which he received his law degree 
in 1955. Though he did not practice after the 1960s, he remained a 
member of the California bar for over 50 years.

Hoffmann was active in left-wing youth movements during his college 
and law-school days, through his membership in groups such as the 
Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee; the Labor Youth League, for 
which he traveled as a U.S. representative to the World Youth 
Congress in Prague in 1950; and the National Lawyer's Guild.

Hoffmann returned to the Bay Area in 1955 as a teaching fellow at 
Stanford University Law School, and by 1959 he had moved to Berkeley, 
where he worked as a research lawyer for the Center for Study of Law 
and Society at UC and edited the publication Continuing Education of the Bar.

He had a prodigious memory, an awesome range of knowledge in many 
fields, a strong critical faculty, a tender sense of compassion and a 
powerful love of justice. He was amazingly articulate, with a wry and 
original sense of humor in the vein of Lenny Bruce, who became one of 
his close friends.

In the 1960s, Hoffmann joined Charles Garry's legal team, working 
closely with the United Farm Workers and the Black Panther Party. His 
legal career reads like a chronology of the 1960s in the Bay Area, 
from opposition to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) 
to his involvement with the Farm Workers in Delano, the mass arrests 
at Sheraton-Palace Hotel, and the UC Berkeley Free Speech Movement 
(FSM), during which he developed a lasting friendship with Mario Savio.

Another particularly close friend was Huey Newton. When Newton was in 
prison, Hoffman was his link to the outside world, bringing him news 
of what the Panthers were doing and carrying messages out to the rest 
of the leadership, and when Newton was released he stayed for several 
months with Hoffmann and Elsa Knight Thompson in their apartment on 
Walnut Street in Berkeley. At times, the living room became the scene 
of top-level leadership meetings of the Black Panther Party.

Hoffmann shared many years of companionship and commitment with 
Thompson, a legendary journalist who was the Public Affairs Director 
of Berkeley's KPFA radio station. They first met on a picket line at 
San Quentin prison, protesting capital punishment during the case of 
Caryl Chessman.

Along with politics, Hoffman had a deep love and interest in music: 
first, with the classical styles of his birthplace, and then with 
jazz and rock. He worked as an extra in opera companies during his 
youth and extended his interests after moving to the West Coast, 
often in company with his college friend Ralph Gleason, who had 
become California's most prominent jazz and rock critic.

Hoffmann is survived by his sister, Ruth Hubbard Wald, and his niece 
and nephew, Deborah and Elijah Wald. There will be no funeral, but a 
memorial event is planned in December or January.

For further information, contact Elijah Wald (elijah at elijahwald.com) 
or, for contacts from Hoffmann's political work in the Bay Area, 
Lincoln Bergman (lbergman at berkeley.edu).

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

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