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272CIVIL WAR HISTORY George Washington Williams: A Biography. By John Hope Franklin. (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1985. Pp. xxiv, 348. $24.95.) George Washington Williams published his two-volume work, A History of the Negro Race in America from 1619 to 1880; Negroes as Sfoves, as Soldiers, and as Citizens, in 1882, and followed it five years later with A History of Negro Troops in the War of the Rebellion. Williams's name, however, has not been a familiar one in the historical profession. He has not usually been included with other nonprofessional American historians ofthe nineteenth century such as George Bancroft and Francis Parkman— whom Boyd Shafer termed the "gifted amateurs"—for study by aspiring historians in reading seminars. John Hope Franklin discovered Williams in 1945, when he began work on his own history of black Americans. This discovery started Franklin on a quest that ended nearly forty years later with the publication of the present volume. The author found Williams to be an elusive subject, but he became an adept practitioner of the art ofhistorical detection. Franklin's quest began with a conversation with Dr. Carter G. Woodson and led finally to an unmarked grave in an English cemetery. "Stalking George Washington Williams," Franklin said, "has been worth every minute I have spent on it, and not merely for the joy of the sleuthing. It is also because the search brought to light an American of extraordinary achievement" (p. xxiv). Franklin's biography unfolds the career of a truly remarkable man. Williams served in the Union army during the Civil War under an assumed name, and after the war he enlisted under his own name and served until 1868. He left the army at nineteen years ofage with little formal education, entered the Baptist ministry, studied briefly at Howard University, and earned a degree from the Newton Theological Institution in Massachusetts . This training opened the way for a successful career as pastor oflarge Baptist congregations in Boston and Cincinnati. The years of his ministry were also interspersed with other activities. He tried unsuccessfully to establish a nationally circulated black newspaper in Washington, D.C, became actively involved in Republican politics, and studied law. Williams's political fortunes reached their height in 1880 when he entered the Ohio House of Representatives as the first black person elected to the Ohio legislature. After one term, however, he was ready to turn his attention in other directions. While still in the legislature, he began work on his History. Franklin's assessment of the History would place Williams in the ranks ofthe "gifted amateurs." "Williams," Franklin wrote, "regarded his sources with the healthy skepticism of a careful scholar" (p. 107). Still, the work showed the effects of being "hastily written," and it reflected Williams's "personality, experiences, and values" (p. 112). Williams spent the last two years ofhis life abroad. He met King Leopold II of Belgium and traveled through the Belgium Congo investigating conditions there. A report on the feasibility ofbuilding a Congo railway and an BOOK REVIEWS273 open letter attacking Leopold's rule in the Congo resulted from this journey. Franklin did a masterful job ofchronicling the life and works of this man whom he pursued for nearly forty years through libraries, archives, musty records, and failing human memories. This biography exemplifies the best product of the historical craft. The author claims neither too little nor too much for his subject. He remains throughout the detached, objective observer, evaluator, and recorder. One searches in vain for the telltale stain of at least one of die author's symbolic tears, shed perhaps in frustration over the bloody ground traversed by both him and Williams or in celebration of his subject's accomplishments or in sorrow over his human failings. "Williams," Franklin concluded, "was one of the small heroes of this world; but it is well that one should not try to make more ofhim than what he was—a flawed but brilliant human being" (p. 241). Arvarh E. Strickland University of Missouri, Columbia Boy Colonel of the Confederacy: The Life and Times of Henry King Burgwyn, Jr. By Archie K. Davis. (Chapel Hill and London: University of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 272-273
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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