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FW: ANB - Bio of the Day: Fleming, Walter Lynwood (8 Apr. 1874-3 Aug. 1932), historian,

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  • A.J. Wright
    fyi..aj wright // ajwright@uab.edu ... From: biod-request@www.anb.org [mailto:biod-request@www.anb.org] Sent: Thursday, January 23, 2003 1:00 AM To: ANB bioday
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      Subject: ANB - Bio of the Day

      American National Biography Online

      Fleming, Walter Lynwood (8 Apr. 1874-3 Aug. 1932), historian,
      was born near Brundidge, Alabama, the son of William LeRoy Fleming,
      a prosperous farmer before the Civil War and a veteran of the
      war, and Mary Love Edwards. He received his B.S. from Alabama
      Polytechnic Institute (later Auburn University) in 1896 and earned
      his M.S. there a year later. He was teaching there when he volunteered
      in the Spanish-American War. After enlisting in May 1898 as a
      private, he obtained a commission as second lieutenant of the
      Third Alabama Infantry Regiment (Colored) in July 1898 and served
      in Alabama and Florida as a white officer of a black unit until
      March 1899. He considered a career in the military but instead
      returned to Alabama Polytechnic and in 1900 enrolled at Columbia
      University to do graduate work in history. There he studied with
      men in a wide range of social science disciplines, especially
      historian William Archibald Dunning, and earned an M.A. in 1901
      and the Ph.D. in 1904. He married Mary Wright Boyd in 1902; they
      had four children.

      At about the time he enrolled at Columbia, Fleming published
      an essay, "The Buford Expedition to Kansas," in the American
      Historical Review 6 (Oct. 1900). Exemplifying his interest in
      his home state and the sectional crisis of the Middle Period,
      the article focused on an Alabamian, Jefferson Buford, who had
      sought to foster proslavery settlement in Kansas in the 1850s.
      Displaying Fleming's commitment to work in primary sources, it
      relied in part on letters he had found in the possession of Buford
      family members.

      Recognizing the need for scholarship on the Reconstruction era,
      Fleming set out to study the period in Alabama. As he explained
      at the time: "The Southern people have not rushed into books
      with their knowledge of things. Consequently, the younger generation
      knows little of the post bellum troubles except thro' tradition,
      which is not very lasting, and thro' prejudiced accounts written
      in Mass. [sic] or Ohio" (as quoted in Stephenson, p. 95). The
      son of an Alabama planter dispossessed by emancipation, Fleming
      set out to bring another perspective, correct such biases, as
      he saw them, and provide an enduring history. His dissertation,
      published as Civil War and Reconstruction in Alabama in 1905,
      displayed his prodigious research, felicitous writing style,
      and interpretive powers. For it he collected and examined a wide
      range of documentary materials and spoke or corresponded with
      elderly Alabamians of both races.

      James Ford Rhodes and Fleming's mentor William A. Dunning soon
      relied on his findings when they wrote more general histories
      of Reconstruction. Dunning, the early twentieth century's preeminent
      historian of Reconstruction, also directed dissertations on other
      states, among them Mississippi and Georgia, that, with Fleming's,
      constitute what are known as the Dunning studies of Reconstruction
      for their careful historical work but their antipathy for the
      Republican policies of the time.

      Fleming followed his first book with the two-volume Documentary
      History of Reconstruction: Political, Military, Social, Religious,
      Educational and Industrial, 1865 to the Present Time (1906-1907),
      which incorporated a broad conception of history, far beyond
      the confines of politics and diplomacy that tended to circumscribe
      the study of history in his time. As late as 1966 David Donald
      characterized it as "the broadest and best balanced collection
      of original sources on the Reconstruction era."

      Fleming taught at West Virginia University from 1904 to 1907
      and then at Louisiana State University from 1907 to 1917, when
      he went to Vanderbilt University. In 1919 he published The Sequel
      of Appomattox: A Chronicle of the Reunion of the States (1919),
      an interpretive work that broadened to the entire South the scope
      of his Alabama book. He became dean of Vanderbilt's College of
      Arts and Sciences in 1923 and later directed the graduate school
      there. He returned to full-time teaching in 1926 and published
      The Freedmen's Savings Bank: A Chapter in the Economic History
      of the Negro Race in 1927. Ill health forced his retirement in
      1928, and he died in Nashville four years later of pneumonia
      after a stroke. A posthumous publication, Louisiana State University,
      1860-1896, appeared in 1936.

      Fleming's greatest scholarly output came between about 1902
      and 1912. A central reason for the decline thereafter was how
      much time he spent at both Louisiana and Vanderbilt in administration
      and working to build up a center of graduate study in the South.
      He also served on the editorial board of the Mississippi Valley
      Historical Review (later the Journal of American History) for
      its first eight years of publication (1914-1922). Professional
      colleagues appreciated his manifold contributions as scholar
      and administrator, and some of his colleagues at Vanderbilt displayed
      their esteem by dedicating I'll Take My Stand: The South and
      the Agrarian Tradition to him when they published it in 1930:
      "This book is dedicated in love and admiration to Walter L. Fleming
      . . . [,] to whom some of the contributors owe doctrine and example,
      and all would offer this expression of perfect esteem."

      Fleming became known as perhaps the premier historian of his
      generation--the generation after William A. Dunning--of the South
      during the Civil War and Reconstruction eras. His accomplishments
      went beyond his breadth of research, work in primary sources,
      and integration of various facets of social and cultural history.
      He did something in Civil War and Reconstruction in Alabama rarely
      emulated through the next seventy years when he followed through
      on his insight that, to comprehend the post-Civil War years,
      one must understand the developments of the prewar and wartime
      periods. He also insisted: "The negro is the central figure in
      the reconstruction of the south. Without the negro there would
      have been no Civil War. Granting a war fought for any other cause,
      the task of reconstruction would, without him, have been comparatively
      simple" (Sequel of Appomattox, p. 34). Yet Fleming's limitations
      related to the same insights, when he observed, from the vantage
      point of the early twentieth century, that the black codes of
      the immediate postwar years, "with few exceptions, were timely
      and sensible, and in substance had long been and still are on
      the statute books of most of the states of the Union" (as quoted
      in Green, p. 508).

      Recent historians have found Fleming's research more compelling
      and enduring than his perspective. As early as the 1930s one
      critic, pioneer black historian Horace Mann Bond, chided Fleming
      for exaggerating the racial texture of Reconstruction politics.
      Seeing instead a clash of railroad corporations--the Alabama
      and Chattanooga versus the Louisville and Nashville--Bond spoke
      of Fleming's "delightful naivete" and rejected his "strictly
      racial and sectional interpretation of the period." Viewing the
      Republican and Democratic parties as "only the obverse aspects"
      of these two great railway enterprises, Bond suggested that "the
      basic economic issue of the campaign of 1874 in Alabama was to
      determine which of the financial interests involved would be
      able to make the best possible settlement with a state government
      bankrupted by the earnest efforts of both."

      Beginning in the 1960s a new generation of students offered
      major revisions of the "Dunning studies" for every state of the
      former Confederacy. Central to their approach was a greater attention
      to and more favorable view of black southerners in the years
      before as well as after emancipation. Fleming had supplied perhaps
      the strongest of the Dunning studies, but other voices insisted
      on being heard a century after the events his research helped
      bring to light.


      Fleming's papers are at the New York Public Library, Louisiana
      State University, and the Alabama Department of Archives and
      History. Assessments of his life and work appear in Fletcher
      M. Green, "Walter Lynwood Fleming: Historian of Reconstruction,"
      Journal of Southern History 2 (Nov. 1936): 497-521; William C.
      Binkley, "The Contribution of Walter Lynwood Fleming to Southern
      Scholarship," Journal of Southern History 5 (May 1939): 143-54;
      Horace Mann Bond, Negro Education in Alabama: A Study in Cotton
      and Steel (1939); Wendell Holmes Stephenson, The South Lives
      in History: Southern Historians and Their Legacy (1955); David
      Donald's introduction to a reprint edition of the Documentary
      History of Reconstruction (1966); and Beth Taylor Muskat, "The
      Ironic Military Career of Walter Lynwood Fleming," Alabama Review
      44 (Oct. 1991): 269-84. Obituaries are in the Nashville Banner,
      3 and 4 Aug. 1932, and the American Historical Review 38 (Oct. 1932): 182.

      Peter Wallenstein

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      Peter Wallenstein. "Fleming, Walter Lynwood";
      American National Biography Online Feb. 2000.
      Access Date:
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