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C. Vann Woodward Bio
C.Vann Woodward was a Pulitzer-prize winning American historian focusing primarily on the American South and race relations. He was long a supporter of the approach of Charles A. Beard, stressing the influence of unseen economic motivations in politics.
Stylistically, he was a master of irony and counterpoint. Woodward was on the left end of the history profession in the 1930s. By the 1950s he was a leading liberal and supporter of civil rights.
C. Vann Woodward Age
C.Vann was born on November 13, 1908, and died on December 17, 1999, at the age of 91 years old.
C. Vann Woodward Death
C.Vann Woodward died in Hamden, Connecticut in 1999.
C. Vann Woodward Career
C.Vann Woodward, starting out on the left politically, wanted to use history to explore dissent. He approached W. E. B. Du Bois about writing about him, and thought of following his biography of Watson with one of Eugene V. Debs. He picked Georgia politician Tom Watson, who in the 1890s was a populist leader focusing the anger and hatred of poor whites against the establishment, banks, railroads, and businessmen.
C. Vann Woodward
Watson in 1908 was the presidential candidate of the Populist Party, but this time was the leader in mobilizing the hatred of the same poor whites against blacks, and a promoter of lynching.
The Strange Career of Jim Crow
C.Vann Woodward’s most influential book was The Strange Career of Jim Crow (1955), which explained that segregation was a relatively late development and was not inevitable. After the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v.
Board of Education, in spring 1954, Woodward gave the Richards Lectures at the University of Virginia. The lectures were published in 1955 as The Strange Career of Jim Crow.
With Woodward in the audience in Montgomery, Alabama, in March 1965, Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed the book “the historical bible of the Civil Rights Movement.”It reached a large popular audience and helped shape the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
Jim Crow laws, Woodward argued, were not part of the immediate aftermath of Reconstruction; they came later and were not inevitable.
Following the Compromise of 1877, in the 1870s and 1880s, there were localized informal practices of racial separation in some areas of society along with what he termed “forgotten alternatives” in others. Finally, the 1890s saw white southerners “capitulate to racism” to create “legally prescribed, rigidly enforced, state-wide Jim Crowism.”
Origins of the New South, 1877-1913
Scholars especially praised Origins of the New South, 1877-1913, which was published in 1951 by Louisiana State University Press in a prominent multivolume history of the South. It combined the Beardian theme of economic forces shaping history, and the Faulknerian tone of tragedy and declension.
He insisted on the discontinuity of the era and rejected both the romantic antebellum popular images of the Lost Cause School as well as the overoptimistic business boosterism of the New South Creed. Sheldon Hackney, a Woodward student, hails the book, explaining:
Of one thing we may be certain at the outset. The durability of the Origins of the New South is not a result of its ennobling and uplifting message. It is the story of the decay and decline of the aristocracy, the suffering, and betrayal of the poor whites, and the rise and transformation of a middle class. It is not a happy story. The Redeemers are revealed to be as venal as the carpetbaggers.
The declining aristocracy is ineffectual and money hungry, and in the last analysis, they subordinated the values of their political and social heritage in order to maintain control over the black population. The poor whites suffered from strange malignancies of racism and conspiracy-mindedness, and the rising middle class was timid and self-interested even in its reform movement.
The most sympathetic characters in the whole sordid affair are simply those who are too powerless to be blamed for their actions.
C. Vann Woodward Books
1. Tom Watson
2. The Battle for Leyte Gulf: The Incredible Story of World War II’s Largest Naval Battle
3. Origins of the New South, 1877-1913
4. Reunion and reaction
5. The Strange Career of Jim Crow
6. The burden of southern history
7. The age of reinterpretation
8. The comparative approach to American history
9. American Counterpoint: Slavery and Racism in the North-South Dialogue
10. Thinking Back
11. The future of the past
12. The Old World’s new world
13. The Letters of C. Vann Woodward
C. Vann Woodward Quotes
“Southerners have repeated the American rhetoric of self-admiration and sung the perfection of American institutions ever since the Declaration of Independence. But for half that time they lived intimately with a great social evil and the other half with its aftermath.
The South’s preoccupation was with guilt, not with innocence, with the reality of evil, not with the dream of perfection. Its experience… was, on the whole, a thoroughly un-American one.”
C. Vann Woodward Presidential Misconduct
“A whole book devoted exclusively to the misconduct of American presidents and their responses to charges of misconduct is without precedent.” —from the introduction to the 1974 edition by C.Vann Woodward, Pulitzer Prize-winning Yale historian
In May 1974, as President Richard Nixon faced impeachment following the Watergate scandal, the House Judiciary Committee commissioned a historical account of the misdeeds of past presidents. The account, compiled by leading presidential historians of the day, reached back to George Washington’s administration and was designed to provide a benchmark against which Nixon’s misdeeds could be measured.
What the report found was that, with the exception of William Henry Harrison (who served less than a month), every American president has been accused of misconduct: James Buchanan was charged with rigging the election of 1856; Ulysses S. Grant was reprimanded for not firing his corrupt staffer, Orville Babcock, in the “Whiskey Ring” bribery scandal; and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration faced repeated charges of malfeasance in the Works Progress Administration.
Now, as another president and his subordinates face an array of charges on a wide range of legal and constitutional offenses, a group of presidential historians has come together under the leadership of James M. Banner, Jr.—one of the historians who contributed to the original report—to bring the 1974 account up to date through Barack Obama’s presidency.
Based on current scholarship, this new material covers such well-known episodes as Nixon’s Watergate crisis, Reagan’s Iran-Contra scandal, Clinton’s impeachment, and George W. Bush’s connection to the exposure of intelligence secrets.
But oft-forgotten events also take the stage: Carter’s troubles with advisor Bert Lance, Reagan’s savings and loan crisis, George H.W. Bush’s nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, and Obama’s Solyndra loan controversy.
The only comprehensive study of American presidents’ misconduct and the ways in which chief executives and members of their official families have responded to the charges brought against them, this new edition is designed to serve the same purpose as the original 1974 report: to provide the historical context and metrics against which the actions of the current administration may be assessed.
C. Vann Woodward Second Reconstruction
In the 1990s, the legal scholar and civil rights attorney Derrick Bell penned several books in response to the racial and conservative backlash of that decade. Bell sought to explain the erosion of civil rights gains and the fact that anti-discrimination reforms of the 1950s and 1960s had not achieved substantive racial justice. His argument for the persistence of racism in American life provided little comfort to supporters of civil rights.
Bell’s pessimism was rooted in a deeply historical account of the relationship between anti-black racism and economic crisis. Powerful whites, he argued, employed racial scapegoating of black people by portraying them as a threat to whites, thereby displacing the anger of poor, working-class whites and their grievances against corporate power and wealthy whites onto black people and other people of color.
Throughout modern American history, white mobs had terrorized African Americans with lynching and other attacks. So-called race riots, sparked by white rage, had plagued the nation’s cities: New York City in 1900; Atlanta in 1906; East St. Louis in 1917; Chicago, Washington, DC, and over twenty additional cities during the Red Summer of 1919; Tulsa in 1921; and Detroit in 1943.
Under conditions of a major economic crisis, Bell warned that such violence could happen again.
Bell’s writings were central to an emergent legal studies field called critical race theory. Critical race theory is often distinguished by unconventional, experimental, imaginative writings, offering a bracing departure from conventional, arcane legal scholarship drowning in footnotes.
In Faces at the Bottom of the Well (1992), Bell argued that white racism was a permanent feature of American society—a claim then regarded by some as too close to bilious black nationalism for comfort.
Bell included in that volume a science fiction story, “The Space Traders,” which was a thought experiment that challenged readers to consider what might become of American society without black people, and presumably, without the deeply entrenched disease of anti-black racism.1
The Space Traders come from a civilization of technologically advanced extraterrestrials—far superior to the capacity of humans on earth—who suddenly visit the United States and propose a deal with the government. It is an offer that officials find difficult to refuse.
These space aliens will solve all of the economic and environmental problems facing the United States if the government will round up all people of African descent, herd them en masse onto spaceships, and remove them from the earth. The government holds a national referendum on whether to send all black people into interplanetary exile. An overwhelming majority of Americans support the proposal to rid the nation of black people.
This turn of events puts the conservative administration’s leading African American cabinet official, also a conservative, in a difficult position. He mounts a campaign to convince the nation’s ruling class that without African Americans, they will be forced to address the nation’s economic inequalities and class conflicts because black people will no longer be present to serve as distracting scapegoats for poor and economically marginal whites.
His campaign fails, and the story concludes as the black conservative and his family are herded onto the spaceships by U.S. troops with the rest of the African American population.
C. Vann Woodward The Burden of Southern History
C.Vann Woodward’s The Burden of Southern History remains one of the essential history texts of our time. In it Woodward brilliantly addresses the interrelated themes of southern identity, southern distinctiveness, and the strains of irony that characterize much of the South’s historical experience. First published in 1960, the book quickly became a touchstone for generations of students.
This updated third edition contains a chapter, “Look Away, Look Away,” in which Woodward finds a plethora of additional ironies in the South’s experience. It also includes previously uncollected appreciations of Robert Penn Warren, to whom the book was originally dedicated, and William Faulkner.
This edition also features a new foreword by historian William E. Leuchtenburg in which he recounts the events that led up to Woodward’s writing The Burden of Southern History, and reflects on the book’s—and Woodward’s—place in the study of southern history. The Burden of Southern History is quintessential Woodward—wise, witty, ruminative, daring, and as alive in the twenty-first century as when it was written.