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History pulled from the shadows

November 4, 2005

Photo of the cover of Waldrep's book "Vicksburg's Long Shadow"Christopher Waldrep, Jamie and Phyllis Pasker Endowed Chair in History, expands his bibliographic focus on constitutional and legal history with his latest book, "Vicksburg's Long Shadow, the Civil War Legacy of Race and Remembrance." The history professor's earlier books, including "Night Riders: Defending Community in the Black Patch" (1993) and "The Many Faces of Judge Lynch" (2002), largely focus on violent opposition to constitutionalism in the United States. The new book highlights a turning point in the Civil War -- one that is often overshadowed by a more famous battle.

Waldrep's interest in the battle of Vicksburg developed while conducting research in the Mississippi town for his book, "Roots of Disorder: Race and Criminal Justice in the American South, 1817-80" (1998). That volume profiles the extralegal violence by whites toward blacks leading up to and beyond the war. There Waldrep met and interviewed locals who had ancestral ties to the battle, and he began to examine the details that would become the focus of this new book.

The Vicksburg campaign, the longest of the Civil War, began May 22, 1863, and ended July 4, one day after the end of the bloody three-day battle in Gettysburg, Pa.

"Of course Abraham Lincoln delivered a famous speech at the Pennsylvania battlefield, but the Battle of Vicksburg was more significant in terms of how the Civil War turned out," Waldrep said. "First, it established General Grant's reputation ... one that was floundering at the time. Even more importantly, the battle divided and therefore weakened the Confederacy when the Union troops took control of the Mississippi Valley."

Home to major plantations, the valley boasted tens of thousands of slaves. "These slaves all became free after the Union victory in Vicksburg," Waldrep said.

As the focus of Waldrep's professional research might suggest, he is a native of the South. He was born in Tennessee and spent a portion of his childhood in Meridian, Miss.

"In the South you are constantly reminded of the Civil War," Waldrep said. "It's in the air, it's everywhere. You cannot turn around without seeing monuments and cannons. You go into a drug store and hanging on the wall are artifacts of the war like broken bayonets and canteens."

San Francisco high school history teachers will soon reap the benefit of Waldrep's scholarship. The History Project, a joint effort with the San Francisco Unified School District, will provide the opportunity for public high school teachers to study with SFSU historians. Joel Kassiola, dean of the College Behavioral and Social Sciences, credits Waldrep for leading the SFSU History Department in securing $251,000 from the U.S. Department of Education to fund the program.

For more information about Vicksburg's Long Shadow, published earlier this month by Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc. visit their website.

The Pasker Chair is funded through a $2.4 million dollar gift from Robert Pasker, an SFSU history graduate and his wife, Laurie Pitman, both founders of WebLogic, a maker of server and platform applications.

-- Denize Springer


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Last modified November 4, 2005 by University Communications