The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Monday, August 8, 2022


William McFeely, Pulitzer-winning historian, dies as 89
In 1970 McFeely became a history professor and dean of the faculty at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. He wrote “Grant: A Biography” (1981) while there. Others had mythologized Grant, but McFeely’s book did the opposite.

by Neil Genzlinger



NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE ).- William S. McFeely, a historian who won a Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Ulysses S. Grant but was also well known for advancing the field of black history, died on Wednesday in Sleepy Hollow, New York. He was 89.

His son, W. Drake McFeely, said the cause was idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a lung disease.

McFeely also wrote an acclaimed biography of Frederick Douglass as well as “Yankee Stepfather: General O.O. Howard and the Freedmen” (1968), a study of the Freedmen’s Bureau, set up by the government at the end of the Civil War to oversee the welfare of freed slaves, and the man who ran it.

These books and other writings established McFeely as a leading interpreter of Reconstruction, the pivotal period after the Civil War.

“Via his books on Howard, Douglass and Grant,” the historian Eric Foner said by email, “McFeely played a major role in the reevaluation of Reconstruction — seeing it not as an era of misgovernment and corruption as previous scholars too often did, but as a key moment, despite its flaws, in the ongoing struggle for racial justice in this country.”

Whatever his subject, McFeely wrote in a style that was unusually accessible for academia.

“His prizewinning books, and especially his magnificent biographies, have made the past vivid for scholars and general readers alike,” the historian Drew Gilpin Faust, a former president of Harvard University, said by email.

William Shield McFeely was born on Sept. 25, 1930, in New York. His father, William C. McFeely, was an executive with Grand Union supermarkets, and his mother, Marguerite (Shield) McFeely, was a homemaker who did volunteer work.

McFeely graduated from Ramsey High School in New Jersey and earned a bachelor’s degree in American studies at Amherst College in Massachusetts in 1952. He seemed headed for a career in banking, but in 1960, after eight years at the First National City Bank of New York, he enrolled at Yale University to pursue a Ph.D. in American studies, which he received in 1966. His dissertation became “Yankee Stepfather,” published in 1968.

McFeely taught at Yale until 1970, helping to establish the university’s Department of African American Studies and teaching a core course on African-American history. Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Harvard scholar, was among the black students in his class.

“Professor McFeely’s riveting lectures brought to life in the most vivid way a world about which most of us had been unaware,” Gates wrote it in an email, “a world of black achievement, sacrifice, resistance and attainment, facts and stores that had been edited out of standard American history textbooks.”

“Inevitably,” he added, “during question period, someone would stand up and rudely ask how a white man like him could dare to teach a black history class. Invariably, he responded, unfazed, that the person was absolutely right, that a black person should be hired, and would be hired one day, soon. But in the meantime, we should study our lecture notes and do next week’s reading for the class! I think even the most militant among us respected him enormously for the courage of that response.”

In 1970 McFeely became a history professor and dean of the faculty at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. He wrote “Grant: A Biography” (1981) while there. Others had mythologized Grant, but McFeely’s book did the opposite.

“There are historians who, when asked to contemplate Grant, insist that he must have had some secret greatness, hidden within him, that allowed him to accomplish what he did,” McFeely wrote.

“I am convinced that Ulysses Grant had no organic, artistic or intellectual specialness,” he continued. “He did have limited though by no means inconsequential talents to apply to whatever truly engaged his attention. The only problem was that until he was nearly 40, no job he liked had come his way — and so he became general and president because he could find nothing better to do.”

McFeely took a similar approach in “Frederick Douglass,” published in 1991, five years after he moved to the University of Georgia.

“After all that has been written about Douglass,” Herbert Mitgang wrote in reviewing that book in The New York Times, “including some mythmaking by Douglass himself in three autobiographies, Mr. McFeely’s ‘Frederick Douglass’ has a freshness of fact and boldness of interpretation that is admirable.”

Ishmael Reed, in his review in the Los Angeles Times, found that the book captured not only the man but the era.

“This engaging and well-written work of literature suggests that the Age of Douglass was this nation’s greatest epoch,” Reed wrote. “People of humble origin transcended themselves. Former slaves rose to greatness and spoke with the eloquence of angels.”

McFeely’s interests extended to other areas as well. After he was called as an expert witness in a legal case in Georgia, he became interested in the death penalty in that state. Immersing himself in the subject, he produced, in 1999, the book “Proximity to Death,” in which he, a death penalty opponent, observed a series of capital punishment cases and the work of the lawyers defending the accused.

“This book is simply a story of a few people living in one corner of the country who carry a large responsibility,” he wrote. “The dry boards of a Georgia courthouse creak into life when one person — a lawyer — in defiance of a society that no longer cares, goes about the tough, unpopular work of trying to keep us from killing his client.”

His most recent book was another departure, a biography of an artist: “Portrait: The Life of Thomas Eakins” (2006).

McFeely’s wife of 66 years, Mary Drake McFeely, died in 2018. They moved to the Hudson River town of Sleepy Hollow in 2013 after living for years in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod. In addition to his son, he is survived by two daughters, Eliza and Jennifer McFeely; a sister, Jean Ann Kessler; seven grandchildren; and a great-grandson.

During his Yale tenure, a contentious time on American campuses, McFeely sometimes felt the strain of being a white professor teaching black history. In a 2011 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, he recalled turning up to teach his black history class during the May Day turmoil of 1970, when the campus was the site of protests related to a Black Panthers trial.

He wrote an outline of the day’s lesson on the blackboard, but when he turned around to face the students, he got a surprise.

“I found myself looking down at three camouflage-clad men carrying automatic weapons,” he wrote in the article. “The spokesman — a black radical in town for the rally — said emphatically, ‘I’m closing this class down.’”

“With more presence of mind than confidence,” he continued, “I said that I didn’t think the statistics on the board made what we were going to talk about that morning irrelevant to events on campus.” On the board he had just written figures on the number of black men lynched in the United States. The three intruders backed down, and the class continued.


2019 The New York Times Company










Today's News

December 15, 2019

Exhibition at McNay Art Museum pays homage to the City of Light

Christie's to offer important Bill Traylor work from the Collection of Alice Walker

U.S. places sanctions on art collector said to finance Hezbollah

Danny Aiello, actor in 'Do the Right Thing,' dies at 86

First art museum dedicated to celebrating southern China's regional Lingnan culture will open in March 2020

Museum fr Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg opens an exhibition of works by Sagmeister and Walsh

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston opens "Norman Rockwell: American Freedom"

First solo museum exhibition in the UK of American artist Theaster Gates opens at Tate Liverpool

AI puts final notes on Beethoven's Tenth Symphony

New York's newest private museum is tucked away in Brooklyn

TEFAF supports three global and diverse conservation and restoration projects

The Kestner Gesellschaft opens an exhibition of works by the Czech artist Eva Koťtkov

Kerlin Gallery opens an exhibition of new paintings and sculptures by Guggi

Morocco's Gnawa musical culture listed by UNESCO

Exhibition of new works by Australian photographic artist Leila Jeffreys opens at Olsen Gruin

William McFeely, Pulitzer-winning historian, dies as 89

The heroes of Bastogne: 75 years on

New Skin, curated by Jason Stopa opens at Monica King Contemporary

Elisabeth Sifton, editor and tamer of literary lions, dies at 80

kamel mennour exhibits a series of works by David Hominal

William Luce, playwright, dies at 88; Wrote 'Belle of Amherst'

'The Ferrante Effect': In Italy, female writers are ascendant

Mega Man video game sets $75,000 world record as most expensive ever sold at public auction

FotoFest Biennial 2020 artist list announced

What is LSD? How to make LSD Drug and how it feels?

Why Playtech Casinos Are Popular in the UK

Top 5 Most Unique and Handy Gadgets You Should Always Carry on Your Car




Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .

 



Founder:
Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez

sa gaming free credit

Royalville Communications, Inc
produces:

ignaciovillarreal.org juncodelavega.com facundocabral-elfinal.org
Founder's Site. Hommage
to a Mexican poet.
Hommage
       

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site Parroquia Natividad del Señor
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful