- Editor’s Note
With this number of the Review, we commence a new series of annual symposium issues. Red-jacketed and sometimes longer than a regular issue, the symposia will concentrate on a theme or event or, as is this case this year, the contributions of a single historian.
Montgomery native Mills Thornton demonstrated exceptional promise from an early age, and stood out as a Princeton undergraduate well before taking his seat at the foot of the master, C. Vann Woodward, at Yale University. After receiving his Ph.D., Thornton joined the history faculty at the University of Michigan and in 1978 published the first of two truly monumental contributions to American history—Politics and Power in a Slave Society: Alabama, 1800–1860. Twenty-four years later, that was bookended by the breathtaking Dividing Lines: Municipal Politics and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma. In between, Mills was a revered adviser to Michigan students (including to Jonathan Daniel Wells, who honors his mentor with new work here). And for two generations, the experience of reading and discussing these books in graduate seminars has been a hallmark (and humbling) experience for students everywhere.
Mesmerizing as Mills’s books are for historians, the striking thing is just how approachable Mills is as a person. Erudition such as his is rare, as is so comprehensive a range of knowledge, but he wears his legendary reputation lightly. Mills is generous with what he knows, and he shares his powers of observation freely. In short, historians and history—particularly Alabama historians and Alabama history—are better for having known Mills.
And so we begin the sixty-seven year of the Alabama Review with a look back at Mills Thornton’s contributions to this journal, to Alabama history, and to American history. [End Page 3]