Tuesday, December 05, 2006

George Tindall, Southern historian

North Carolina has been blessed by fine historians, particularly in the 20th century: John Hope Franklin of Duke, my old friend Harry Watson at UNC-CH, David Goldfield at UNC Charlotte and the incomparable William Powell, also of Chapel Hill. And there was the unforgettable Hugh T. Lefler, in whose N.C. History 101 I sat so long ago.
One of the state’s finest historians and most extraordinary persons was George Tindall, a bow-tied South Carolina native who came to Chapel Hill in 1958 and taught there until his retirement in 1990. He died at age 85 Saturday in Chapel Hill. His colleagues remember him as a great teacher, scholar and human being, a man who punctured revered myths about the Old South and wrote engagingly about the disfranchisement of black citizens after Reconstruction. UNC’s News services quoted Bill Ferris, with whom Tindall collaborated on the hefty Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, as saying, “His scholarship was extraordinary, but his personal warmth and generosity also were beyond measure.”
Here’s a link to the obituary UNC Chapel Hill put on its website.


Iconoblaster said...

JH Frankin? Yes.
W. Powell? An out-of-touch dinosaur who writes "Great White Man" history.
G. Tindall? A decent historian.
But David Goldfield a "fine historian"?
You're an idiot - Goldfield is a pinhead hack and everyone in the field knows it.
Stick to journalism Betts - you're way over your head here.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the column Jack, nicely done. And BTW, anyone that complains about "Great White Man" history is obviouly on their own agenda including the usual anti-south, anti-white rhetoric. If the roles were reversed they'd be immediately branded a racist. Which is what they are.

David McKnight said...

Hey, as a Duke undergraduate in the 1960s I went over to Carolina three days a week just to take William Powell's North Carolina history course, and this helped me to learn even more about the history of this state and each of its 100 counties, including Iredell, where Bill Powell spent some of his earlier years. This in turn enabled me to try to "bring something to the table" when we ran congressional campaign ads in The Charlotte Post in support of Harvey Gantt for U.S. Senate when I was running for Congress in the 9th District in 1990 and before that in 1988, when I was fortunate enough to receive 70 percent of the vote in the Iredell County Democratic primary. So if somebody has a problem with white folks in rural areas wishing to sit down with black folks in urban areas in a common effort to make North Carolina a better state, then too bad for them.

Thank goodness black leaders here in Durham such as City Council Howard Clement have always welcomed honest and forthright civic partnerships with people of all races in the Martin Luther King Jr. tradition in trying to lead this region of North Carolina to a more promising and just future for all citizens of Durham and Durham County.

Since North Carolina's state history seems somewhat more difficult to trace than the perhaps more popuarly known state histories of Virginia, South Carolina and Tennessee, then when you read "America: A Narrative History," and other great works by George Brown Tindall, you can see that among his many considerable gifts as a historian was the ability to help North Carolinians find their way within the currents of the history of the South to a better sense of harmony with the entire region while proceeding also to make it easier for Southerners to understand just how the historical threads of their own beloved section of the country region have been interwoven into the overall tapestry of American history.

I am sorry to hear of Professor Tindall's passing and appreciate your bringing attention to his life and works on your Observer blog.

John Parker said...

Of all the great history professors at UNC in the early seventies - including Joel Williamson, Carlyle Sitterson, Carl Pegg, Jim Godfrey, Hugh Lefler - G. B. Tindall was my favorite. More than anyone else, he made the history seem real to me, he made it come alive as it were. (Maybe the bowtie helped.) He was a great story-teller, particularly the stories about the "colorful" old racist politicans such as Theodore Bilbo, Cotton Ed Smith, Cole Blease and the like. I saw Professor Tindall at the University many years after I graduated. I spoke to him, introduced myself and told him that I had loved his Southern History courses. He graciously pretended memory of me, an indistinguished student. Great teacher, great guy.

David McKnight said...

Thank you, John Parker, for posting a comment on George Tindall in his role as classroom teacher. That notion of making history "come to life" is especially fitting in that this was the impression many of us received merely through the reading of Professor Tindall's historical writings themselves.

The marvelous stylistic flow of George Tindall's narrative prose would be worthy of study by journalists of today who are charged with the responsibility of writing in a clear and lucid manner about the complicated and often confounding events and movements of our own time here in the first part of a new century.

And as far as the philosophical limitations in political or cultural equality evident in the speeches and careers of certain public figures in the second half of the 19th Century and the first half of the 20th Century in North Carolina are concerned, it should also be remembered that American society in general and North Carolina's political and educational leadership in particular have managed to give permanence to the more just and progressive platforms forged in each previous era of history and build upon them for the future.

Thus even though there were glaring and occasionally indefensible gaps in state and local political and legal protection of citizens' rights and liberties at various junctures along the roads and byways of the shared historical journey of the people of a Southern state, there was often a forward grasp, reach or stated aspirations in the programs of a social movement--populist, conservative or progressive--or a notable commitment by one of the state's political parties, or perhaps a humanitarian or egalitarian editorial stand by certain courageous and far-sighted pioneers in the state's press which served to fortify and give ongoing substance to the collective forward thrust of the good train North Carolina in its journey toward a more just, prosperous and fulfilling future for the people of this state.

Historians such as George Brown Tindall have been able to leave us, in the volumes of their research and writing, the very trail-guides we need to chart a new and effective course for the American Nation in a 21st Century whose awesome global challenges will call upon us to move ahead with vigor and determination from the splendid accomplishments achieved for posterity through the open frontiers of the 20th Century.

Thus does George Tindall of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill join the pantheon of North Carolina writers and historians who have rendered more comprehensible and imaginable the sturdy and enduring legacy of the Old North State, "where the weak grow strong and the strong grow great."

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