Yale Mourns Passing of John Blassingame

John Blassingame, a distinguished member of the Yale History faculty since 1970 and former Chair of Yale’s African American Studies Program, passed away Sunday, February 13, 2000.

Professor Blassingame rose rapidly at Yale from a lecturer in 1970 to his tenured appointment as Associate Professor of History in 1973, then to Professor in 1974.

The swift advancement of Professor Blassingame’s career reflected the extraordinary achievement of his scholarship. He published three books almost simultaneously: an edited book, “New Perspectives on Black Studies” (University of Illinois Press, 1971); “The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South” (Oxford University Press, 1972); and “Black New Orleans, 1860-1880” (University of Chicago Press, 1973).

These books, published within three years, dramatically broke new ground in the emerging field of African American studies and won exceptional critical reviews. They swept away erroneous and highly stereotypical histories with rich, complex portraits of emerging African-American societies before and after the Civil War.

Professor Blassingame also became a major force in the recovery of the African-American documentary heritage. He assumed editorship of the “Papers of Frederick Douglass” in the mid-1970s and published six volumes of Douglass’ papers and manuscripts between 1979 and 1999. He also pioneered the recovery of autobiographical materials by former slaves, which he collected in his massive and highly acclaimed collection, “Slave Testimony: Two Centuries of Letters, Speeches, Interviews, and Autobiographies,” published by Louisiana State University Press in 1977.

His Yale colleagues credit Professor Blassingame’s mentorship with energizing scores of undergraduate and graduate students in his years at Yale, many of whom are now teaching in colleges and universities across the nation. He was an early member of Yale’s then fledgling African American Studies Program, where he served as Acting Chair in 1971-72 and in 1976-77 and then as Chair between 1981 and 1989, all in addition to his active involvement in both the Department of History and the American Studies Program.

Professor Blassingame will be remembered at Yale for the personal warmth and elegance of scholarship that transformed African-American history and American history generally. His achievements at Yale and in the historical profession will live on in the vigor of his original scholarship, in the legacy of his pioneering documentary publishing, and in the strong focus on African-American history that for more than thirty years he brought to Yale’s History Department, American Studies Program, and African American Studies Program.

Professor Blassingame was born in Covington, Georgia, in 1940. He received his B.A. at Fort Valley State College in 1960, an M.A. at Howard University in 1961, and his Ph.D. at Yale in 1971. He served as an instructor at Howard University from 1961 to 1965 and then became an Associate at the Carnegie-Mellon Foundation until he began his Ph.D. program at Yale.

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Tom Conroy: tom.conroy@yale.edu, 203-432-1345