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BELL IRVIN WILEY, 1906-1980 Richard M. McMurry I shall always remember Bell Wiley as he was on April 26, 1979. On that day Wiley, then seventy-three years old, came to Valdosta State College to speak to a group of students and townspeople about the emigration of freed American slaves to Liberia and the research he had done for his latest book, Shves No More: Letters from Liberia, 1833-1869. After the lecture, the Valdosta State chapter of Phi Alpha Theta held a reception for him at the home of Louis and Susan Schmier, a short distance from the campus. By 10:00 p.m. or so Wiley had settled down on the ledge in the Schmiers' split level den/breakfast room with a half dozen students from my Civil War class sitting on the floor before him. He talked at length with the students about history in general and the Civil War in particular, quoting at length from books and unpublished letters, listening to the students' comments, questions, and ideas, and offering advice and leads for further research on their term papers. How long this informal class would have gone on is anybody's guess. I finally tore Wiley away, reminding him that he had a very early plane to catch the next morning. As we were leaving the house, I overheard one student's excited comment: "I could listen to that guy for hours!" It was my privilege to know Bell Wiley as scholar, teacher, and friend for twenty years. My first contact with him was when, as a first classman at the Virginia Military Institute, I wrote to inquire about graduate work at Emory University and to ask if I might come by for a visit. The response was favorable, and in due time I found myself in Wiley's office. (It is impossible to describe that office to those who never saw it—floor to ceiling and wall-to-wall bookshelves, most covered with two or more layers of books, corners filled with Civil War memorabilia and papers, and photostatic copies and microfilm of Civil War documents everywhere.) Wiley was kind enough to spend a long time talking with me about the possibility of my coming to Emory, and then, after introducing me to other members of the department, he took me on a tour of the library, with emphasis on Emory's collection of Confederate imprints. Finally, we went to the administration building at the far end of the quadrangle to get the forms necessary to apply for admission. (It was at that time I discovered that he walked too fast for me to keep up Civil War History, Vol.XXVI, No.3 Copyright ® 1980 by The Kent State University Press 0009-8078/80/2603-0006 $00.50/0 BELL I. WILEY271 without almost running. Not until arthritis slowed himyears later could I maintain the pace he set.) Two years of military service intervened between my first meeting with Wiley and the beginning of my graduate career at Emory. During that time Wiley and I kept in touch by mail, and he was always kind enough to answer my pestering letters from Fort Campbell. While at Emory (1963-1967) I served as the graduate assistant in Wiley's History of the South class. This course was offered every spring quarter and had an enrollment of between 110 and 130. (In 1974, the last time the course was taught before Wiley's official retirement, the enrollment was 211.) For these large classes, Wiley made pictorial seating charts, with a passport size photograph of each student and, often, some personal notation about the student, his work in the class, or some interesting story he had told Wiley. At the beginning and end ofhis teaching career, Wiley frequently organized and conducted bus tours of Civil War sites for students in his classes. Henry Malone, one of Wiley's doctoral students, once called him "a great teacher ... a master teacher." Wiley's prose, his resonant voice, his evangelical manner of delivery, and his sense of humor combined with the sheer enjoyment of his teaching to make his class one that few students could forget. A friend of mine...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 270-272
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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