Peter V. and C. Vann Woodward Professor of History, African American Studies, and American Studies
Glenda Gilmore, B.A. Wake Forest University, Ph.D. University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, faculty member at Yale since 1994: You are one of the leading social historians of your generation, a scholar who has opened innovative avenues of inquiry that have transformed the fields of African American studies, women’s history, and Southern history. Each of your books has had an important impact on the field, displaying your archival persistence and ingenuity, your sophisticated interpretive skills, and your mastery of the biographical arc. Your ability to use all aspects of biography as the building blocks of historiography is your signature across a body of work that helped us to see the American South through new eyes and in a wholly new conceptual frame.
Following the saga of Sarah Dudley Pettey and her family in Gender and Jim Crow, you illuminated the many ingenious—and for us, counterintuitive—ways that African American women found to carve out a space for their own influence within the confines of Jim Crow political culture. It is a brilliant rendering of a mode of black proto-feminism and politics that had eluded every other historian who had ever taken a look at that time and place.
Your next epic work, Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights, 1919–1950, redrew the political map of the American South, excavating a history of Southern egalitarianism whose advocates and foot soldiers you found at the radical edges of a human rights movement after World War I, among black and white union members and communists between the wars, among Dixie’s ex-pats, forever made famous and vilified as the “outside agitators” of the long Civil Rights struggle, among anti-fascists before and during World War II, among daughters of the South like Pauli Murray, who would never let the human rights debate be silenced. You also trained your fine eye on historical questions beyond the South, giving students of U.S. history the gift of your wider insight in books like Who Were the Progressives? and These United States.
Your mentoring has been a piece of good fortune to your mentees and an inspiring model—if not a subtle rebuke—to your colleagues. Page by page, line by line, you have commented on over sixty dissertations and countless undergraduate essays with a combination of toughness and intellectual generosity that will not be forgotten by anyone who was either recipient or witness. Many of your students may have lost sleep over your advice; but so did they most often lose whatever that thing was—timidity, inhibition, facile simplification, overgeneralization, inadequate sourcing, defective logic—that was keeping them from delivering their very best work.
The field of U.S. history now counts many of your students among its intellectual leaders, from the faculty of your own UNC, to Brown, Duke, American University, Cambridge, and beyond.
It is a legacy of pedagogy which may rival the distinguished work you have published over the span of a career that many of us blush to recall was your second one. Congratulations on an extraordinary latest career, and on your retirement.