Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Obituary

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Obituary

Article excerpt

Robert Franklin Durden, professor emeritus of American history at Duke University and past president of the Southern Historical Association (1984), died in Durham, North Carolina, on March 4, 2016. Born in Graymont, Georgia, on May 10, 1925, he attended Emmanuel County Institute. He served as an ensign in the U.S. Navy during World War II (1943-1946), attended the oriental languages school at the University of Colorado, and worked as a Japanese translator and interpreter in the South Pacific and Japan. Upon his return from the war, he earned A.B. (1947) and M.A. (1948) degrees from Emory University and M.A. (1950) and Ph.D. (1952) degrees from Princeton University. In 1952 he joined the faculty at Duke University, where he remained for the rest of his career.

Durden's scholarship initially concentrated on the period between the Civil War and World War I. Later, his research and books on the Duke family, Duke University, the Duke Endowment, and the Duke Power Company extended through the twentieth century. His first book, James Shepherd Pike: Republicanism and the American Negro, 1850-1882 (Durham, N.C., 1957), revised myths about the antislavery North. Likewise, his work on Populism, especially the coalition of Populists and Republicans in North Carolina during the 1890s, resulted in several books that cast new light on a political revolt crushed by white supremacy campaigns. Reconstruction Bonds and Twentieth-Century Politics: South Dakota v. North Carolina, 1904 (Durham, N.C., 1962), The Climax of Populism: The Election of 1896 (Lexington, Ky., 1965), and Maverick Republican in the Old North State: A Political Biography of Daniel L. Russell (Baton Rouge, 1977), coauthored with Jeffrey J. Crow, reminded scholars that the Democratic hegemony of the New South faced significant challenges from poor white farmers and African Americans. One of Durden's most influential books, The Gray and the Black: The Confederate Debate on Emancipation (Baton Rouge, 1972), won the Jules F. Landry Award.

In the 1970s Durden began researching the Duke family, the rise of the American Tobacco Company, and the establishment of Duke University around Trinity College in 1924. That research resulted in perhaps his best-known book, The Dukes of Durham, 1865-1929 (Durham, N.C., 1975). In addition to a quintet of books that he exhaustively researched on the growing influence of the Duke family and its institutions, he also published The Self-Inflicted Wound: Southern Politics in the Nineteenth Century (Lexington, Ky. …

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