Remembering George Tindall

Civil War Historians, Southern History

Some of you may be aware that historian George Tindall died last month at age 85.  Tindall spent his career at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  The Raleigh News & Observer recently included an article that included a few comments by Cliopatria founder Ralph Luker:

Tindall was regarded, along with the late C. Vann Woodward (a UNC-CH graduate) and John Hope Franklin of Duke University, as part of the holy trinity of 20th-century Southern historians.  “He, Franklin and Vann Woodward were the sources of a renaissance of Southern history that we are still benefiting from,” said Ralph Luker, a retired historian living in Atlanta.

It is not an exaggeration to say that Tindall, Woodward and Franklin took Southern history out of the magnolia-scented Lost Cause legends of the Civil War and administered the smelling salts of reality.  “All three insisted that Southern history had to be written in black and white,” [Ralph] Luker said. “Prior to their generation, Southern history had been written as a history of white people. That produced such a badly skewed and romantic vision of the South that we can look back on it with amusement and sadness.”

Tindall, a native of Greenville, S.C., taught at UNC-Chapel Hill for 32 years before retiring in 1990. He was an elegant gentleman with a bow tie and a wry sense of humor who would sometimes ride his bicycle to class. The historians trained by Tindall are now the pillars of distinguished history departments across the South.  In his personal life, Tindall was ahead of his time. In the 1950s he made sure that dinners were held in hotels where white and black historians could eat together, and he sent his children to the first integrated day-care center in Chapel Hill.

His books are living legacies. His most famous, “The Emergence of the New South, 1913-1945,” is an 807-page masterpiece published in 1967. It will likely remain the authoritative history of an era that saw the South pull itself out of rural poverty and wrestle with the great questions of race.

I have to admit that while I have a copy of The Emergence of the New South I’ve never actually read more than a few short sections.  A few days ago a post of mine which referenced a short essay by Mark Grimsley on recent interpretations of Sherman’s March led to a spirited discussion with a reader.  The reader’s comments implied that these revisions were authored by Northern historians who fail to sympathize with the suffering, destruction, rape, and pillage that Sherman’s hordes brought to Georgia.   Today Mark was kind enough to weigh in on the discussion by noting that he is a white southerner from North Carolina.  George Tindall grew up in Greenville, South Carolina and both the late C. Vann Woodward and Ed Ayers grew up in the South.  I could go on and on.

The important point to remember is that those most responsible for challenging the Lost Cause stories of the Civil War and the “Old South” are a product of the South.

4 comments… add one

  • University Update Jan 23, 2007

    Remembering George Tindall

  • John Smith Jan 23, 2007

    Not a product of the South. A product of the “media and academic elite”, at least that is the opinion of a white, liberal northerner: Eugene Genovese:

    “To speak positively about any part of this southern tradition is to invite charges of being a racist and an apologist for slavery and segregation. We are witnessing a cultural and political atrocity–an increasingly successful campaign by the media and an academic elite to strip young white southerners, and arguably black southerners as well, of their heritage, and, therefore, their identity. They are being taught to forget their forebears or to remember them with shame.”

    What would your thoughts be on Genovese’s comments? You’ve referred favorably to his work in previous posts.

  • Brett Jan 24, 2007

    In what sense do you refer to Genovese as a liberal? He used to be a Marxist, but in the 1990s became a conservative. That quote would appear to be from The Southern Tradition (1994), written during his conservative phase, which as I understand it is the opposite of liberal in American usage. (I’m not an American, it means something else where I’m from.)

  • Kevin Levin Jan 24, 2007

    Mr. Smith, — I am more than happy to discuss Genovese’s scholarship with you. But why do I have a feeling that that – along with the other historians mentioned in this post – would be futile with you? Do you do anything more than find quotes that utilize vague references to media and academia? Do you even understand the content of the interpretations that you criticize? Your reference to Genovese as a northern elite suggests that you don’t know the first thing about his personal history.

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