John Armstrong Crow
Professor of Spanish, Emeritus
A courtly southern gentleman, John Armstrong Crow was born in Wilmington NC, at the beginning of the last century. He was tall and distinguished, with white hair and a slight stoop in later life that only accentuated his dignified presence. Although he had made his home in Los Angeles since 1937, he always retained a trace of genteel southern accent, lost only when he spoke an equally courtly Castilian Spanish. His death marks the end of an era.
Professor Crow began his graduate education with a master’s degree at Columbia University in the late 1920s. This was the period when the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca visited New York and wrote his surrealistic collection Poeta en Nueva York. Lorca was staying in a student dormitory at Columbia, a few doors down the hall from Crow, who was the only other Spanish speaker nearby. Crow became Lorca’s unofficial guide to New York. They coincided again in Madrid, in the Residencia de Estudiantes. Crow’s book on Lorca, titled simply Federico García Lorca (1945), contains autobiographical reminiscences penned by the poet and passed on to Crow by one of his friends, as well as Crow’s own recollections of Lorca in New York. Crow continued his graduate work in Spain, earning his doctorate at the University of Madrid in 1933. Living and studying in Madrid during the second republic, on the eve of the Spanish civil war, being integrated by Lorca into the intellectual ferment of the Residencia de Estudiantes was an invaluable experience.
In 1937 he came to UCLA, where he remained until his retirement in 1974. His career was distinguished. He was twice chair of his department. On one occasion he drew on his student experience in republican Spain, when he was called upon to provide a detailed letter explaining that the appointment of a Spanish Socialist fleeing a repressive dictatorship did not pose a security threat to the United States.
Although his academic formation was marked by the Eurocentrism typical of his time, John Crow made his professional mark as a Latin Americanist. He is one of a few pioneers who elevated the study of Latin American literature and culture to the status of an academic discipline in the “good neighbor” era that began during World War II. He formed part of a distinguished group of scholars who established UCLA as a center of interest in Latin America and laid the foundation for our current eminence in the field.
His landmark Epic of Latin America (Doubleday 1946), itself of epic sweep and grandeur, was one of very first works by a scholar to organize the immense variety—geographical, historical, cultural—of the vast and then generally unknown world south of the United States. It is one of the founding texts of the discipline of Latin American studies. The book oriented several generations of students at UCLA, where it was required for the undergraduate course on Latin American civilization. Crow had a gift for making scholarly writing intelligible and entertaining, with the result that his books have been published by commercial houses and have reached a wide audience outside the academy. Both The Epic of Latin America and the somewhat less fortunate Spain: the Root and the Flower (Harper and Row, 1963) continue to be commercially viable in 2002.
As a teacher, Crow was always active and engaged. He developed and taught a lively undergraduate elective in Hispanic folk music, using a songbook he had prepared featuring folk songs he had gathered from throughout the Spanish-speaking world, including California, where in the nineteenth century they used to sing: “Los yanquis dicen ‘kiss me’, y ellas dicen ‘yes’.” He continued to direct doctoral students well after his retirement.
Claude L. Hulet
Carroll B. Johnson
A. Carlos Quicoli