Ted DeLaney, Conscience of a Roiled University, Dies at 77Historians in the News
tags: obituaries, racism, Confederacy, Washington and Lee University
Ted DeLaney, who began his nearly 60-year career at Washington and Lee University as a custodian, accumulated enough credits to graduate at 41, returned a decade later as a history professor, became the school’s first Black department head and later helped lead its reckoning with the Confederate general its very name honored, Robert E. Lee, died on Dec. 18 at his home in Lexington, Va. He was 77.
His son, Damien DeLaney, said the cause was pancreatic cancer.
Professor DeLaney’s fondness for his alma mater was both wholehearted and complicated. He took pride in his decades of hard work — overcoming obstacles, he often pointed out, that a white academic would never have had to face — and he bristled at suggestions that he was a poster child for the university’s racial liberalization.
In fact, he was a prime mover in driving what was still a very conservative institution forward. As a member of countless faculty committees, he urged the university to recognize its own difficult past — it once owned scores of slaves — and to increase students’ exposure to Black history and culture.
“He was always willing to call out the institution on its failure to live up to its promise,” said Molly Michelmore, the chairwoman of the Washington and Lee history department.
But Professor DeLaney’s primary target was Lee himself, and Lee’s defining role in the university’s identity.
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