Finding Aids at Your Fingertips

Alan Berkman papers

Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library
Archives & Special Collections

701 W. 168th Street
New York, NY 10032
http://library-archives.cumc.columbia.edu/

Inclusive Date: 1960 - 2010

Bulk Date: 1985 - 2000

Berkman, Alan

4 cubic feet (10 boxes)

English

Correspondence, court documents, pamphlets, prison diaries, parole records, oral history transcripts, interview transcripts, memoir drafts, poems, speeches, articles, awards, certificates, diplomas, photographs, clippings and digital video document the life and death of physician and political activist Alan Berkman (1945-2009), a physician from Middletown, New York who became radicalized as a medical student while attending Columbia University’s college of Physicians and Surgeons (MD 1971). He was later involved in two robberies. The first attributed to members of the May 19th Communist Organization and Black Liberation Army. His papers also contain records relating to the reinstatement of his medical license and career after his release from prison. He was Assistant Professor of Clinical Epidemiology and Clinical Sociomedical Sciences in the Mailman School of Public Health.

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Collection Details

Alan Berkman, physician, member of the Black Liberation Army and “Resistance Conspiracy Six,” convicted criminal, fugitive, prisoner and AIDS activist, was born September 4, 1945 in Brooklyn, the second of four children to father Samuel Berkman, and mother Mona. His family moved to Middletown, New York, where his father owned a plumbing and building supply company. He attended Cornell University (BA 1967) and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University (MD 1971). He married physician Barbara Zeller and had two daughters, Sarah Machel (b. 1976) and Harriet Josina Clark (b. 1980).

Berkman became radicalized as a medical student at Columbia University. One year after he enrolled in the College of Physicians & Surgeons, the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) famously occupied Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus in protest of the University’s research ties to the Vietnam War and its relations with Harlem residents. Berkman claimed that his experience working with minority populations in poor communities awakened him to the class and racial divides he had been protected from as a white person growing up in Middletown, N.Y. He was also personally affected by hearing Kwame Toure (then Stokely Carmichael) speak about the Vietnam War.

His commitment to fighting oppression is shown throughout his life’s work. In 1971, he treated prisoners injured during the Attica Prison riot in New York. In New York City, he interned at the North East Neighborhood Association (NENA) Community Health Center and the Betances Health Center, and was staff physician at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx. In 1973, he and his future wife, Barbara Zeller, treated injured participants of the American Indian Movement (AIM) during the occupation at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

On October 20, 1981, members of the American militant groups, the May 19th Communist Organization, the Black Liberation Army, and the Weather Underground, robbed a Brink’s armored car, stealing $1.6 million, in Nanuet, New York, resulting in the deaths of two police officers and a Brink’s guard. Berkman treated the gunshot wound of one perpetrator, but refused to collaborate with the FBI investigation. In May 1982, he was charged for civil contempt of a federal grand jury. These charges terminated with his arrest in December of that same year for providing medical treatment to a fugitive. He was also charged as an accessory after the fact to bank robbery and murder. He was released on bail but failed to appear in court; he went underground. On September 4, 1984, Berkman and an accomplice participated in the gunpoint robbery of a Connecticut supermarket, stealing $21,480.

Under surveillance by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Berkman and fellow fugitive Elizabeth Ann Duke were arrested in May 1985 outside Doylestown, Pennsylvania, in possession of firearms and a key to a nearby garage containing 100 pounds of dynamite. Berkman went to trail in what is known as the Resistance Conspiracy case involving five additional defendants: Marilyn Jean Buck, Linda Sue Evans, Susan Rosenberg, Timothy Blunk, and Laura Whitehorn; all charged with the 1983 U.S. Senate bombing and other bombings claimed by the clandestine May 19 Communist Organization or M19CO – a splinter group of the Weather Underground, whose members splintered from the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Elizabeth Ann Duke skipped bail and is still at large in 2016.

In 1987, Berkman was convicted on felony charges and for skipping bail. He was also convicted in the State of Connecticut for robbery in the first degree. While incarcerated, Berkman was diagnosed with cancer, specifically Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Due to his health problems, Berkman was often in custody of U.S. Marshals’ Service, but served time at the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners at Springfield, the Federal Medical Center at Rochester, and at United States Prison Marion. He criticized the quality of his health care while in custody, with particular aim at Marion Prison’s carcinogenic water.

Identifying as political prisoners, Berkman and the other Resistance Conspiracy defendants based their political work on anti-imperialist principles. His wife, Barbara Zeller, advocated on his behalf and other U.S. political prisoners by distributing literature and initiating letter writing campaigns.

On July 2, 1992, he was released from prison on parole. His case was deliberated by the New York State Board for Professional Medical Conduct and signed a consent agreement allowing him to reinstate his medical license. Under the terms of his probation and the reinstatement of his medical license, his medical practice was supervised by another physician, Dr. Harold Osborn. His state license was on probation March 1992-March 1994.

He served as Medical Director for El Rio Treatment Services (1993) and Highbridge-Woodycrest Center (1994), both in the Bronx. He entered the Harlem Hospital Physician Assistant Program (1994) and became a research fellow at Columbia University HIV Center for Clinical and Behavioral Studies (1995). He was appointed Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychiatry (1988). He left Highbridge-Woodycrest Center in 2003 after accepting a full-time faculty position at the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University. He was made Assistant Professor of Clinical Epidemiology and Clinical Sociomedical Sciences. His parole ended March 1997.

Outside of his academic appointments, Berkman founded Health Global Access Project (GAP), an AIDS patient advocacy group that lobbied the Clinton administration to require less expensive, generic drug equivalents to be sold by U.S. pharmaceutical companies to foreign countries, resulting in a dramatic reduction in the cost of AIDS medications internationally. He died on June 5, 2009 in Manhattan, survived by his wife and two children.

This collection consists of correspondence, form letters, oral history transcripts, interview transcripts, court and trial documents, parole certificate, appointment letters, diplomas, medical licensure records, research study applications, biographies, curricula vitae, memoir drafts, poems, articles, notes, speeches, prison diaries, clippings, pamphlets, photographs, certificates and awards, plaques, and digital video. The bulk relate to Berkman’s legal issues; his trial and prison term are well documented through court documents and correspondence with legal counsel, friends and family. His papers contain only one folder relating to his role as founder of Health GAP.

Collection Access & Use

DVDs are closed until preservation imaging completed.

Open for research.

Collection Subjects & Formats

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Series : Biographical

Date: 1960-2010

Timelines, chronologies, diplomas, certificates, awards, interview and oral history transcripts, obituaries, and letters of condolences document the life and death of Alan Berkman. This series contains personal correspondence not relating to his legal issues or medical career. Includes an album presented to him upon his release from prison, materials relating to his memorial held by the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University. The Cornell University Class of 1967 25th reunion yearbook includes a story about Berkman written by classmate Susan Mokotoff Reverby (pages 40-41).

Series : Legal

Date: 1973 - 2001

Legal documents include original letters, as well as facsimiles and photocopies of correspondence, from defense attorneys Ronald L. Kuby, William M. Kunsler, Susan V. Tipograph, and William Mogulescu; Public Defender Rosemary Herbert; the Parole Commission; Bureau of Prisons; and other offices on behalf of Berkman regarding his medical condition. Part of these efforts involved requests to transfer Berkman to a different prison to meet his medical needs, the change in his security classification, and ultimately, his release on parole. Includes letters written on behalf of Berkman to the Parole Commission or the presiding judge, advocating for his release.

Series : Medical career

Date: 1972 - 2009

The bulk refers to work after his release from prison. Health GAP materials includes notes, timeline, and articles. The Conference on Global AIDS folder contains notes and printouts of slides.

Series : Writings

Date: 1977 - 2009

Berkman’s writings describe his experience in prison, particularly regarding his health and cancer status. Prison diaries contain his observations of other prisoners, guards, and multiple other aspects to his life behind bars. He worked to develop his previous writings into an autobiography. His papers include correspondence (1994) relating to this book project. After his release and death, others may have re-worked his writings, interviews, correspondence, and press release statements, into his memoir. It was never published.

Series : Non-print media

Date: 1963 - 2010

Photographs, plaques, three-dimensional glass awards, and digital video. Includes photograph and postcard reproductions of the mural Roots of Freedom/Raices de Libertad by Miranda Bergman, Raul Valdez and Ambray Gonzalez. Alan Berkman is depicted. Lectures and speeches were recorded to DVD. Other digital video includes his memorial celebration and the published film, Pills Profits Protest (2005). Some photographs are adhered to album pages. Photographic prints of FBI evidence and Mumia Abu-Jamal are filed with Series: Legal.