Winthrop D. Jordan: NYT obituary

Historians in the News

Winthrop D. Jordan, a National Book Award-winning historian who wrote several influential works on American slavery and race relations, died on Feb. 23 at his home in Oxford, Miss. He was 75.

The cause was amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, said his wife, Cora.

At his death, Dr. Jordan was emeritus professor of history and African-American studies at the University of Mississippi, where he taught from 1982 until his retirement in 2004.

Dr. Jordan’s most famous book was “White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812” (University of North Carolina, 1968). “White Over Black” was considered one of the first significant works of scholarship to trace the deep roots of 20th-century racial inequality, devoting particular attention to its basis in the collective psyche of the early European settlers of North America.

Reviewing the book in The New York Times Book Review, the historian C. Vann Woodward wrote, “In seeking out the origins, meaning and explanation of Negro debasement in America, Mr. Jordan has tackled one of the most abstruse, subtle, tangled, controversial and certainly one of the most important problems of American history.”

“The result,” he added, “is a massive and learned work that stands as the most informed and impressive pronouncement on the subject yet made.”...

Winthrop Donaldson Jordan was born on Nov. 11, 1931, in Worcester, Mass., the son of Henry Donaldson Jordan, a professor of history at Clark University, and Lucretia Mott Churchill, a great-great-granddaughter of the abolitionists James and Lucretia Mott. Disinclined at first to follow in his father’s field, Winthrop Jordan earned a bachelor’s degree from Harvard in 1953; his major — a gentle act of rebellion — was not history but social relations.

“My undergraduate background meant that my approach to history was strongly influenced by the social sciences of the early 1950s,” Dr. Jordan wrote in a recent autobiographical essay posted on the Web site History News Network (www.hnn.us). “More particularly, I aimed to understand the large component of emotion and indeed irrationality that characterized the attitudes of the white majority toward ‘Negroes’ in this country.”...
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