t the time of his death in 1971, David Potter had the unusual distinction of holding the two highest positions available to members of his profession: the presidencies of both the American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians. The photograph that appeared alongside his obituary notice in the Journal of American History shows him in a typical pose: crew-cut, bow-tied, head slightly cocked to one side, brow wrinkled, as if about to respond to a question with one of his famously well-constructed answers. In the accompanying article Edmund S. Morgan, a Yale colleague, is quoted as describing him as “the wisest man I ever knew.” Others recalled that during the turbulent 1960s when he chaired the Department of History at Stanford his was always the voice of moderation and reason. No discussion was ever complete, another recalled, if he was present and had not spoken. Writing in The Times of London an Oxford friend, H. G. Nicholas, ascribed to him “a high degree of the rare historical virtue of humility.” All bore witness to the fact that in addition to his achievements as a scholar he had a remarkable capacity for inspiring devotion. 1.
Potter was born in Augusta, Georgia, in 1910. Although the Civil War had ended almost two generations earlier, it remained a bitter memory. He recalled growing up with “a feeling that in an indirect, nonsensory way” he could actually remember what was still referred to simply as “The War.” On Memorial Day, held on a different date from that observed in the North, he saw large numbers of men in gray proudly marching through town in celebration of the battles the South had lost. It left an indelible____________________