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Richard Marks, Hawaiian Activist And Historian, 79

In 1866, the Kingdom of Hawaii declared that all persons with leprosy would be banished to the isolated Kalaupapa peninsula on the Hawaiian island of Molokai. Richard Marks, who died at age 79 on Dec. 9 after a long illness, left Kalaupapa a vastly different community than the one to which he had been forcefully sent in 1956.

Marks was familiar with the ravages of leprosy at an early age: His father, two siblings and several other family members had been sent to Kalaupapa when he was a young boy. When he was 21, a few lesions appeared on his body and he, too, was diagnosed with leprosy and sent to Kalaupapa.

Other than a few trips off-island, Marks remained on Molokai for the remainder of his life. He became Kalaupapa's institutional memory, a civil rights activist for the aging population of leprosy patients who remained behind after formal banishment ended, and a successful local businessman.

Marks and his wife, Gloria, were married for 46 years. Together they ran Damien Tours, the island's only tour agency. Marks named it for Damien de Veuster, the beloved Belgian missionary who devoted his life to caring for the colony's residents.

Marks' legacy will be significant: The soft-spoken island historian led a successful effort to have Kalaupapa designated a National Historical Park in 1980, and he had been diligent in fighting against the pervasive development that has erased much of Hawaiian culture on other, more accessible islands. In 1996, the Damien-Dutton Society for Leprosy Aid honored Marks for educating the public about leprosy and Kalaupapa's history.

Richard Marks was one of just two dozen Kalaupapa residents to remain on the peninsula. Eventually, Kalaupapa will be just empty buildings. But thanks to Marks' life's work, the colony's history will remain intact for posterity.

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Karen Grigsby Bates
Karen Grigsby Bates is the Senior Correspondent for Code Switch, a podcast that reports on race and ethnicity. A veteran NPR reporter, Bates covered race for the network for several years before becoming a founding member of the Code Switch team. She is especially interested in stories about the hidden history of race in America—and in the intersection of race and culture. She oversees much of Code Switch's coverage of books by and about people of color, as well as issues of race in the publishing industry. Bates is the co-author of a best-selling etiquette book (Basic Black: Home Training for Modern Times) and two mystery novels; she is also a contributor to several anthologies of essays. She lives in Los Angeles and reports from NPR West.