George Tindall, Scholar of the South, Dies at 85

Kenan Professor Emeritus George Brown Tindall ’48 (MA, ’51 PhD) was often called a pioneer, both for his early advocacy of equal rights and for his insightful, inclusive research on the history of the South.

Before retiring in 1990, the long-time Chapel Hill resident had taught for 32 years at UNC. He was 85 when he died Dec. 2, 2006.

Born in Greenville, S.C., Tindall was the first in his family to attend college; his parents had each been first in their families to get high school educations. After graduating from Furman University in 1942, Tindall served in the Air Force as a cryptographer in WWII. He taught at several schools, including Louisiana State and Eastern Kentucky State, before returning to UNC to teach in 1958.

Tindall’s first book, South Carolina Negroes, 1877-1900, published in 1952, was an account of segregation and the methodical disfranchisement of African-Americans into a state of economic dependency. Tindall’s books also include America: A Narrative History (co-authored with David Shi) and Emergence of the New South, which was honored by the N.C. Society of Mayflower Descendants, the Southern Regional Council and the Southern Historical Association.

Tindall was a major editor and contributor to the eight-pound, 1,656-page Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, written by 800 experts on the region. The volume’s co-editor, Professor William Ferris, is a former chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities and senior associate director of the University’s Center for the Study of the American South. Ferris called Tindall a giant among Southern scholars and noted that Tindall also pioneered the study of diversity in the South beyond black and white, to the recognition of Irish, Jewish, Scottish and other heritages represented in the region.

“He was a great teacher and a great scholar, and his legacy as a Southern historian is outstanding,” Ferris said. “His scholarship was extraordinary, but his personal warmth and generosity also were beyond measure.”

Even in recent years, Tindall attended weekly luncheon discussions on campus by Southern studies experts, where “George was sort of the chairman of the board,” Ferris said. And until recent years, Tindall could be seen riding his bicycle to class.

Tindall’s son, Bruce Tindall ’77, a lecturer at the University of California, San Diego, said his parents sent him to what likely was the first integrated day-care center in Chapel Hill and that his father stood fast for human rights and civil rights through his academic career and support of like-minded political candidates.

He remembered his father organizing a meeting of historians in the 1950s for which he struggled with hotels to find a place that black scholars and white could sit down to dinner together.

In 1991, some of Tindall’s former students wrote essays in his honor, which LSU Press published as the collection The Adaptable South. He advised 26 doctoral candidates and other students at UNC, many of whom now are history teachers and professors across the country.

“In the fall of 1966, I walked into George Tindall’s seminar and my life changed,” wrote Dr. Elizabeth Jacoway ’68 (MA, ’74 PhD) in the book’s introduction. “Within a matter of weeks, the elegant gentleman with the wry wit and the bow ties had led me into a world of new concerns, deeper meanings and higher callings, and in his gentle way, he encouraged me to see that this could be my world, too.”

In addition to his son, Tindall is survived by his wife, Blossom McGarrity Tindall ’48 (MA), of Chapel Hill; daughter, Blair Tindall of Santa Monica, Calif.; and a grandson.

A memorial service will be held at the Carol Woods Retirement Community in Chapel Hill in January. Arrangements are being handled by Walker’s Funeral Home in Chapel Hill.

Memorial contributions may be made to the George B. Tindall Endowed Lectureship and Scholarship Fund, Furman University, 3300 Poinsett Highway, Greenville, S.C. 29613.

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