A former TCU professor will be remembered more for his contribution to the history of the South rather than the racist connotations derived from his radical view of United States history, friends and colleagues said Wednesday.Grady McWhiney, who taught history from 1983 to 1996 before retiring, died Tuesday evening at his home in Abilene due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease, said Amy Smith, treasurer of the Grady McWhiney Research Foundation.
McWhiney spent his career working on a less conventional interpretation of the history of the South. His book “Cracker Culture” argues the differences between the North and the South can be attributed to different immigration patterns in the areas.
The Southern Poverty Law Center labeled McWhiney as “the intellectual grandfather of the neo-Confederate movement.”
Don Frazier, president of the Grady McWhiney Research Foundation and a former graduate student of McWhiney’s was quick to defend his longtime friend.
“He was always controversial, but you can’t ignore him,” Frazier said. “(His interpretation of the history of the South) was provocative but well-studied.”
Robert Pace, a professor and chair of the history department at McMurry University in Abilene, calls Grady “an idealist, not an ideologue.”
Both Frazier and Pace earned their doctorates in history from TCU in 1992 under the direction of McWhiney, who acted as their sponsoring professor. Pace is also the vice president of the McWhiney Foundation, which was established in 1996 in order to promote a continuing interest in 19th century American history, according to the official Web site.
McWhiney spent several years as a member of the League of the South, an organization who’s Web site describes themselves as a “Southern Nationalist organization whose ultimate goal is a free and independent Southern republic.”
Once McWhiney “figured them out, he resigned,” Pace said. “Unfortunately they continued to use his name and only removed it when we intervened legally.”
While some, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, say McWhiney’s name is synonymous with a pro-South movement, Pace said his legacy will be something else altogether.
“What’s really going to be his reputation is his scholarly record,” Pace said.
McWhiney contributed to more than 14 books and authored dozens of professional journals and articles.
McWhiney, born in 1928 in Shreveport, La., earned his doctorate in history from Columbia University in 1960.
Before coming to TCU as the Lyndon Baines Johnson Professor of United States History, McWhiney taught for more than 40 years at schools including Northwestern University, Tulane University and the University of California at Berkeley.
Just before his retirement, in an April 1996 letter sent to TCU history department chair Spencer Tucker, McWhiney said “the past fourteen years have been my happiest in academia.”
“My tenure at TCU has been my longest at any university because I have had better graduate students here than anywhere else,” McWhiney said.
Kenneth Stevens, chair of the TCU history and geography department, began working at TCU the same year McWhiney began teaching.
Stevens said he agreed McWhiney had some controversial ideas but said “there is some merit to them and other historians have recognized” his work.
“He was politically conservative,” Stevens said, “But he had a great range of friends. He knew everybody.”
Smith said McWhiney will be cremated during a ceremony in late-May.
Frazier said McWhiney’s wife died more than four years ago; they had no children.