010: W. Fitzhugh Brundage, 45

Basic Facts

Teaching Position: William B. Umstead Professor of History, Director of Graduate Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2002- )
Area of Research: Modern U. S. South (since 1865)
Education: Ph.D, Harvard University, 1988
Major Publications: Author of: The Southern Past: A Clash of Race and Memory (Harvard University Press, 2005); A Socialist Utopia in the New South: The Ruskin Colonies in Tennessee and Georgia, 1894-1901 (University of Illinois Press, 1996); Lynching in the New South: Georgia and Virginia, 1880-1930 Fitzhugh Brundage JPG (University of Illinois Press, 1993).
Editor of: Booker T. Washington and Black Progress: A Centenary of Up From Slavery (University Press of Florida, 2003); Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington (Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002); Where These Memories Grow: History, Memory, and Regional Identity in the American South (University of North Carolina Press, 2000); Under Sentence of Death: Essays on Lynching in the South (University of North Carolina Press, 1997).
Awards: Brundage has received several awards for his books including; Choice Outstanding Academic Book of the Year in 1997 for A Socialist Utopia in the New South; the Merle Curti Award for Best Book of Social History awarded by the Organization of American Historians in 1994 and the Elliot Rudwick Award for Best Work on Afro-American History published by the University of Illinois Press in 1992 both for Lynching in the New South.
Additional awards include; Kirk Visiting Scholar, Agnes Scott College, Spring 1997; National Humanities Center Fellow 1995-1997; Whitney Humanities Center Fellowship, Yale University, 1995-1996 (Declined); A.S.U.S. Teaching Excellence Award, Queen’s University (1991).
Additional Info: Formerly Associate Professor of History at Queens University, Canada (1989-1997) and Professor of History at the University of Florida (1997-2002) and Department of History Chair at the U of Florida (1999-2002).
Advisor, exhibit design, Cape Fear Museum, Wilmington, NC, 2003-2004; Advisor, Listening Between the Lines/Reality Works documentary series on racial and ethnic conflict in American history, 2001-; Interviewed by for Shaping America Educational Television Series; consultant and participant in Bill Brummell Productions/A&E documentary on vigilantes and lynching, June 1999.

Personal Anecdote

Like every first-time book author I was anxious when I submitted my revised dissertation to my editor. That my editor was August Meier, a distinguished and remarkably prolific historian of American race relations and African Americans, only added to my anxiety. Meier had a reputation as a stern taskmaster and an irascible critic. In the year and a half that I spent revising my dissertation Meier had proven to be a surprisingly gentle critic. But I did have to get used to receiving phone calls at odd hours (e.g., 7:30 on a Sunday morning) that often included lengthy digressions during which Augie recounted his extraordinary life story from his childhood in leftist summer camps in New Jersey to his participation in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Beyond deepening my respect for Meier, these conversations accentuated my own doubts about the larger significance of my own work. After all, I was revising my dissertation for publication at the same age that Meier, several decades previously, had already worked for President Charles Hamilton, the noted black sociologist and President of Fisk, and had publicly debated Malcolm X.

With mixed emotions, then, I prepared to send my manuscript to Augie. At the time, I was teaching at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. It was both easier and cheaper to mail the manuscript from upstate New York, so I crossed the border and dropped off my manuscript at the MailBoxes Plus in Watertown, New York. The proprietor of the store generously provided a free recycled box (fewer dead trees and no expense for packaging!), which just so happened to be a box emblazoned with the Subway sub shop logo. I carefully addressed the manuscript and sent it off.

Within a few days I received a letter from Meier’s secretary at Kent State – email was still not the preferred medium of record – thanking me for the package and assuring me that it was safely stored. Apparently, Augie was in India (another fascinating chapter in his life) and would return in a month or so. I was a little puzzled by the stress that Augie’s secretary place on thanking me for the package but I gave it little thought. A month passed without a word from Augie, but I expected as much because he was in India. When a second month passed I began to wonder but a first time author is hardly likely to harass his/her editor after taking too long to read a manuscript. Moreover, by then I was immersed in the business of fall classes.

Finally, almost four months after I sent the package to Augie, I received a terse note from him asking pointedly about the state of my manuscript. I immediately called his secretary, reminding her that I had sent Meier the package more than three months earlier. For perhaps fifteen seconds there was dead silence on the line, and then we simultaneously began to laugh hysterically when he realized what had happened. For whatever reason, she had assumed that I had sent Augie a package from Subway subs, which she had conscientiously stored in his refrigerator for more than three months. She at once retrieved my manuscript, which had been preserved in excellent condition among the other frozen goods in Augie’s freezer. Curiously, Augie never seemed to see the humor in the saga of my manuscript.

That my manuscript ended up in Augie Meier’s freezer, I suggest, is a testament to the charming eccentricities of academia. In what other line of work would a secretary assume that someone would ship a sub sandwich from upstate New York to northern Ohio? But given Augie’s eccentricities (and those of other academics that his secretary almost certainly dealt with), who can blame her? The other lesson I draw from this experience is that it doesn’t pay to cut corners or save pennies when it comes to manuscripts. I willingly pay for packing now.

Quotes

By W. Fitzhugh Brundage

  • “During the twentieth century we have become accustomed to measuring the numbers of victims of inhumane violence in millions. The casualties of genocide during this century — Armenians, Jews, Cambodians — almost elude the grasp of the human mind. Lynching in the United States, which claimed somewhere between four and five thousand victims, may appear as modest in scale by these standards. But the atrocity of lynching has left an indelible mark on American life. For blacks, lynching epitomized the hypocrisy of a nation that prided itself on respect for the natural rights of mankind. In song and literature black artists, such as Billie Holiday and Richard Wright, found in lynching a tragic symbol of the American capacity for savagery. For whites, lynching was either a relapse into barbarism that stood in contradiction of their faith in the continued ascent of humankind, or an expression of their determination to crush what they perceived as a threat to the advance of civilization. With the decline of lynching, many southern whites renounced the inhumanity of the mob, preferring instead to rely on the harsh justice of the state. The history of lynching inspires pessimism and skepticism about the values of a society that could unleash the dark forces of mob violence. Yet it also fosters a degree of hope that the demise of lynching at once has emancipated African-Americans from a gnawing fear and at the same time demonstrated that descents into barbarism are not irreversible.” — W. Fitzhugh Brundage in Lynching in the New South
  • About W. Fitzhugh Brundage

  • “This is a major book, a likely award winner. The research is formidable, the analysis sophisticated. Clearly, this is the best work ever written on lynching.” — Numan V. Bartley, author of The Rise of Massive Resistance: Race and Politics in the South during the 1950s on “Lynching in the New South”
  • Fitzhugh Brundage’s The Southern Past is an extraordinarily ambitious and important book, a true achievement by an immensely talented historian. This book should reach a wide audience with its story of how the past has been shaped and reshaped in the South through usable narratives, commodities, curriculums, parades, books, sacred sites, vacant lots, real politics, and heroic icons on both sides of a tragic racial divide. In scope, research, and writerly execution, no one has ever captured the scars and the possibilities of Southern memory quite like this. — David W. Blight, Yale University on “The Southern Past”
  • History is a powerful weapon. In this stunningly imaginative and finely crafted study of the struggle for the control of the memory of the Southern past, W. Fitzhugh Brundage has provided a critical lens through which we can view some of the most volatile issues of our time. In stark detail, he explains how Southern white memories of gentility and the heroic Confederacy co-existed with, and were finally challenged by, Southern black memories of human bondage and heroic slave resistance. In a most sophisticated analysis Brundage explains how shifting political power has constructed and reconstructed the remembered history of a changing Southern cultural landscape. This is history at its best in service of our society’s efforts to come to terms with notions of Southern heritage, one of the most complex, controversial, and significant issues of our time. — James Oliver Horton, co-author of Slavery and the Making of America on “The Southern Past”
  • “I really recommend this class… Brundage seems to know everything imaginable about music, and is always open to our questions. really nice guy!”…”awesome teacher, lectures are interesting… awesome class.” — Anonymous Students
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