Former Duke history professor Lawrence Goodwyn dies
Lawrence Goodwyn, a Duke history professor for 32 years and architect of Duke’s Oral History Program, passed away Sunday.
Goodwyn was the son of a career Army officer and was born in Fort Huachuca, Ariz., in 1928. He was a leader of the civil rights coalition in Texas, and he worked closely with Latino, white and African American activists to make the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 a reality, according to the university.
He was an English major at Texas A&M and survived his 4 years by playing poker. He served as an Army captain during the Korean War and returned to Texas to work in the oil business. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Texas.
Wesley Hogan, Duke’s director of the Center for Documentary Studies and a former graduate student of Goodwyn’s, said his work made people more aware of the game-changing grassroots level of civil rights activism.
“Most of us have been culturally organized by society not to rebel – farmers, steel workers, day laborers, and sharecroppers – found stunning new ways to act democratically,” Hogan said in a statement to the university. “He made this history vivid and touchable. He encouraged us to dream democracy anew through their actions.”
Goodwyn’s book, “The Populist Moment,” has been widely distributed in U.S. history classes at college and universities nationwide.
Goodwyn also helped lead the successful campaign in 1981 to keep the Nixon Presidential Library out of Duke University. Faculty criticized Nixon, who was part of the Duke law school class of 1937, after his resignation from the presidency in August of 1974 as a result of the Watergate scandal.
Former Duke President Terry Sanford recruited Goodwyn to start Duke’s Oral History Program in 1971. Bill Chafe, a Duke history professor, helped kickstart the Duke Oral History Program with Goodwyn in the ‘70s.
Since then, the university program has collected 238 oral history interviews, most revolving around the civil rights movement in North Carolina and more specifically in Durham, Chapel Hill and Greensboro.
Chafe and Goodwyn both arrived at Duke in the fall of 1971 as assistant professors who wrote about black involvement in the Populist movement. They ended up going to lunch together.
Shortly after, they partnered to start the Oral History Program at Duke, which began with a $250,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, no small sum in 1972. From there, the two were involved with setting up Duke’s Center for the Study of Civil Rights and Race Relations, and the oral history projects brought in two dozen graduate students who’ve had their dissertations published and decorated with awards.
The program “is changing the whole nature in the way history is written about the civil rights movement,” Chafe told The Herald-Sun. It’s about “the importance of understanding the civil rights movement as a bottom-up grassroots movement, not something that was top-down.”
“He was always challenging, provocative and sometimes, abrasive,” Chafe continued. Goodwyn always said “the way we’ve been taught history is crap and we need to re-conceptualize the whole way democracy works, and Larry was always willing to challenge people consistently, constantly.
“Some didn’t like it, but others did.”
Goodwyn, a longtime bridge player, authority on World War II, and fan of the Dallas Cowboys, Atlanta Braves and Duke Blue Devils basketball, leaves behind his wife of 55 years, Nell, his daughter, Lauren, a biology professor at the Borough of Manhattan Community College; and his son, Wade, a correspondent for National Public Radio.