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I don’t normally do obits – there are too many of them, they tend to be downers, and… well, we’re all headed toward one, so why focus on the morbid?
But here’s a passing that truly deserves our notice, for his life was lived exceptionally well. An original thinker, progressive activist, rebellious scholar, eloquent writer, and inspirational teacher, Larry Goodwyn gave us the gift of a bigger, bolder understanding of America’s historic striving for egalitarianism. By word and deed, Goodwyn, rewrote the textbook story of our nation by focusing on the enormous potential of grassroots people. Rather than the impotent theory that workers, farmers, poor people, and the rest of us riff-raff are dependent on The Great Man to come along and lead us toward economic, political, and social progress, Goodwyn revealed that real progress comes from the mavericks and mutts who dare to challenge “the great men.”
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For three decades, he was a Duke University professor, but not a complacent resident of the ivory tower. He came to academics honestly: From being an activist in the struggle for justice and opportunity for all. From Goodwyn’s muckraking days as a fiery editor of The Texas Observer, and then as a passionate organizer in the civil rights movement, he didn’t just read history, he experienced and practiced it on dangerous turf.
It was my good luck to know and be inspired by Goodwyn. His powerful eye-opening book, Democratic Promise: The Populist Moment in American History, brings to life that 19th century people’s revolt against corporate greed, providing a cultural framework for rebuilding a populist movement today. As one of Goodwyn’s colleagues wrote, “He made this history vivid and touchable. He encouraged us to dream democracy anew.”
Check out Democratic Promise – and recommit to realizing that dream.
“Duke Flags Lowered: Historian Lawrence Goodwyn Dies,” www.today.duke.edu, September 30, 2013.