A Conversation with David W. Blight, Sterling Professor of American History at Yale University

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Frederick Douglas was the “prose poet of America’s (and perhaps a universal) body politic. He searched for the human soul, envisioned through slavery and freedom in all their meanings. There had been no other voice quite like Douglass’s.”

Join me and Professor David Blight as we discuss his Pulitzer Prize winning biography, Frederick Douglass, Prophet of Freedom. The lessons Douglass taught about freedom, dignity, and justice nearly 150 years ago are as important and relevant today as they were then.

Guest

David W. Blight, Sterling Professor of American History at Yale University

David W. Blight  is a teacher, scholar and public historian. At Yale University he is Sterling Professor of History, joining that faculty in January, 2003. As of June, 2004, he is Director, succeeding David Brion Davis, of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition. In his capacity as director of the Gilder Lehrman Center at Yale, Blight organizes conferences, working groups, lectures, the administering of the annual Frederick Douglass Book Prize, and many public outreach programs regarding the history of slavery and its abolition. He previously taught at Amherst College for thirteen years. In 2013-14 he was the William Pitt Professor of American History at Cambridge University, UK, and in 2010-11, Blight was the Rogers Distinguished Fellow in 19th-Century American History at the Huntington Library, San Marino, CA. During the 2006-07 academic year he was a fellow at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Writers and Scholars, New York Public Library. In October of 2018, Simon and Schuster published his new biography of Frederick Douglass, entitled, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, which garnered nine book awards, including the Pulitzer Prize, the Francis Parkman Prize, the Bancroft Prize, and the Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize. The Douglass book has been optioned by Higher Ground Productions and Netflix for a projected feature film. Blight works in many capacities in the world of public history, including on boards of museums and historical societies, and as a member of a small team of advisors to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum team of curators. For that institution he wrote the recently published essay, “Will It Rise: September 11 in American Memory.”  In 2012, Blight was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and delivered an induction address, “The Pleasure and Pain of History.” In 2018, Blight was appointed by the Georgia Historical Society as a Vincent J. Dooley Distinguished Teaching Fellow, which recognizes national leaders in the field of history as both writers and educators whose research has enhanced or changed the way the public understands the past.

Blight’s newest books include annotated editions, with introductory essay, of Frederick Douglass’s second autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom (Yale Univ. Press, 2013), Robert Penn Warren’s Who Speaks for the Negro, (Yale Univ. Press, 2014), and the monograph, American OracleThe Civil War in the Civil Rights Era (Harvard University Press, published August 2011), which received the 2012 Anisfield-Wolf Award for best book in non-fiction on racism and human diversity. American Oracle is an intellectual history of Civil War memory, rooted in the work of Robert Penn Warren, Bruce Catton, Edmund Wilson, and James Baldwin.  Blight is also the author of A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including their Narratives of Emancipation, (Harcourt, 2007, paperback in 2009).  This book combines two newly discovered slave narratives in a volume that recovers the lives of their authors, John Washington and Wallace Turnage, as well as provides an incisive history of the story of emancipation.  In June, 2004, the New York Times ran a front page story about the discovery and significance of these two rare slave narratives.  A Slave No More garnered three book prizes, including the Connecticut Book Award for non-fiction.  Blight recently published the articles, “The Theft of Lincoln in History, Politics, and Memory,” in Our Lincoln, Eric Foner, ed., (2008); and “Hating and Loving the ‘Real’ Abe Lincolns: Lincoln and the American South,” in Richard Carwardine and Jay Sexton, eds., The Global Lincoln, (Oxford Univ. Press, 2011); “Mirror of Memory,” American Interest, August, 2011; and numerous op-ed columns for newspapers, including the New York Times and the New York Daily News.

Blight is also the author of Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (Harvard University Press, 2001), which received eight book awards, including the Bancroft Prize, the Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize, and the Frederick Douglass Prize as well as four awards from the Organization of American Historians, including the Merle Curti prizes for both intellectual and social history.   Other published works include a book of essays, Beyond the Battlefield: Race, Memory, and the American Civil War (University of Massachusetts Press, 2002); and Frederick Douglass’s Civil War: Keeping Faith in Jubilee (LSU Press, 1989).  Blight is the editor of and author of introductions for six other books, including When This Cruel War Is Over: The Civil War Letters of Charles Harvey Brewster (Univ. of Massachusetts Press, 1992); Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (Bedford Books, 1993); co-editor with Robert Gooding-Williams, W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (Bedford Books, 1997); co-editor with Brooks Simpson, Union and Emancipation: Essays on Politics and Race in the Civil War Era (Kent State Univ. Press, 1997); and Caleb Bingham, The Columbian Orator (orig. 1797, NYU Press, 1997), the book of oratory and antislavery writings that Frederick Douglass discovered while a youth.  The edited volume, Passages to Freedom: The Underground Railroad in History and Memory, was published by Smithsonian Press in 2004 and is the companion book for the opening of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati.

Host

Michael Zeldin

Michael Zeldin is a well-known and highly-regarded TV and radio analyst/commentator.

He has covered many high-profile matters, including the Clinton impeachment proceedings, the Gore v. Bush court challenges, Special Counsel Robert Muller’s investigation of interference in the 2016 presidential election, and the Trump impeachment proceedings.

In 2019, Michael was a Resident Fellow at the Institute of Politics at the Harvard Kennedy School, where he taught a study group on Independent Investigations of Presidents.

Previously, Michael was a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice. He also served as Deputy Independent/ Independent Counsel, investigating allegations of tampering with presidential candidate Bill Clinton’s passport files, and as Deputy Chief Counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives, Foreign Affairs Committee, October Surprise Task Force, investigating the handling of the American hostage situation in Iran.

Michael is a prolific writer and has published Op-ed pieces for CNN.com, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Hill, The Washington Times, and The Washington Post.