WMU News

Famed labor historian looks at Civil War-era influences

March 20, 2005

KALAMAZOO--The unprecedented upheaval of the Civil War era will be re-examined from the point of view of black and white workers when Dr. David Montgomery, one of America's leading labor and social historians, visits Western Michigan University to deliver the annual H. Nicholas Hamner Lecture.

Titled "American Workers' Civil War," Montgomery's presentation will show how the period's bloodshed and profound social changes led both former slaves and some white wage earners to believe that radical reconstruction of American society was possible. The presentation is from 7 to 8:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 23, in Room 1005 of the Fetzer Center and is free and open to the public. A reception will follow.

In his talk, Montgomery will offer examples of conflict across the color line, but will also examine how "black and white working people developed common objectives in opposition to the 'gospel of wealth' that swept America in the wake of civil strife."

According to Dr. Marion Gray, professor and chairperson of WMU's Department of History, Montgomery's lecture is "an opportunity to make visible the discipline of history within the campus and community by having this distinguished scholar address a theme of broad interest." The event is made possible by an endowment from Dr. H. Nicholas Hamner, WMU professor emeritus of history.

Montgomery is the Farnam Professor Emeritus of History at Yale University and past president of the Organization of American Historians. Renowned for his scholarship on race and labor, he also has deep roots in the American labor movement as both a worker and union activist. He worked for ten years as a machinist in New York and the Minneapolis area, and he was an active member of three unions during those years

Montgomery is the author of a number of books and articles dealing with the history and current prospects of working people in the United States, and for many years, he edited the journal International Labor and Working-Class History. His best-known books include "The Fall of the House of Labor: The Workplace, the State, and American Labor Activism, 1865-1925," which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1988; "Citizen Worker: The Experience of Workers in the United States with Democracy and the Free Market during the Nineteenth Century"; "Workers' Control in America: Studies in the History of Work, Technology, and Labor Struggles"; and "Beyond Equality: Labor and the Radical Republicans, 1862-1872."

His most recent book, "Black Workers' Struggle for Equality in Birmingham," was written in collaboration with Dr. Horace Huntley of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and is based on oral histories that explore how African American workers used different kinds of unions in their quest for equality and dignity on the job and in the community.

Montgomery earned a Ph.D. in history at the University of Minnesota in 1962. He spent 14 years teaching at the University of Pittsburgh and two years in England helping E. P. Thompson establish the Centre for the Study of Social History at the University of Warwick. He has held visiting teaching positions at Oxford University and in Canada, Brazil, and The Netherlands. At Yale, he taught courses about the history of working people in the United States, the Civil War and Reconstruction, and immigration.

For more information, contact Dr. Marion Gray at (269) 387-4650, or visit the department's Web site at <www.wmich.edu/history>.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 269 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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