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P.B.S. Pinchback, your thoughts? (1 Viewer)


Senior Member
Hello everyone, my name is glenn, I'm a new member of the group. It's really nice to be here.

I recently obtained a publisher for a bio written by my mother before she died in 2002. She was an Historian, and the book is on a black man who was governor of Louisiana during Reconstruction, among many other things. The point of this is that I am to compose an introduction to the piece, as her son, etc., and thought I would post here my present draft. The length is prescribed by the publisher, and is not in play.
My thanks if you've read this far, Glenn


Elizabeth Lilly Stewart was a graduate student when Dr. Joe Gray Taylor, head of the History Department at McNeese State University, asked her to write a review for a scholarly journal of a prominent Historian’s newest offering. The book she was to review, and criticize if necessary, was the first and only biography ever written of Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback, Reconstruction governor of Louisiana, and the first African American to be governor of a state. As the book was authored by James Haskins, an established scholar, she worried being viewed as immodest, or even an ‘upstart,’ should she reveal flaws in the work. I know that because I was there; she was my mother.
Why would the Historian who was arguably America’s leading expert on Reconstruction in Louisiana ask a graduate student to undertake such a task? The answer is that our mother had chosen to write her Master’s thesis on P.B.S. Pinchback, and was in the midst of years of primary research on the subject. She was, in effect, the best-qualified person to write such a review. Her later reference to James Haskins’ biography in her own book on Pinchback reveals in part the results of the review she penned for the Louisiana History Journal. She cited Mr. Haskins’ book with generosity, though not entirely to his advantage:
“James Haskins’ skillfully blended fact and supposition to produce the first and only biography of P.B.S. Pinchback, making knowledge of the notable black leader more accessible to the general public.”
Elizabeth Stewart taught school, cared for her husband and four children, and chiseled away at her lifelong dream, a Master’s degree in History, which she attained cum laude. Dr. Taylor was her mentor, thesis advisor, and later trusted colleague, and was near completion of his award winning work on Reconstruction in Louisiana. She was passionate about the study and practice of history, and was elated to be present for her mentor’s greatest achievement. I proudly display in my home the copy of Louisiana Reconstructed he endorsed for her. It was among her most cherished possessions.
Though too fine a scholar to relegate the practice of history to ax-grinding, she was keenly aware of the controversy surrounding Pinchback, most of it associated with the corruption and chicanery well known to that period in the South, especially in Louisiana.
“That he joined the other politicians of his day in using his position for personal financial gain is a matter of record. Pinchback’s participation in the Mississippi Riverboat Packet Company and the land deal he made while Park Commissioner resulted in profit for him while costing the state many thousands of dollars... [and] made up a small portion of the web of corruption, bribery, and unethical practices for which the Republicans were blamed during Reconstruction in Louisiana.”
Were we to dismiss those men and women for such failings and character defects, we would have to remove from the record their sacrifices and accomplishments as well, for as is always the case with our species, “feet of clay” are part and parcel of a greater organism. In any event, “they were there, and we were not.”
So it is that my mother neither apologizes nor does she excuse, but rather she finds data of sufficient historical efficacy to explain and understand the historical Pinchback, a task no one had up to that time, (and not since then), even attempted. She firmly believed that men should be considered in the context of their own time, and was to say often “I am a pastist.”
The trail our mother followed those many years poring through the papers of six presidents, the unpublished papers of Jean Toomer (Pinchback’s grandson and the author of Cane), and hundreds of related documents revealed a remarkable black political leader at a time when the very idea of ‘black political leader’ was an untried and unwelcome anomaly in the South, and an ominous endeavor, even for a relatively light skinned ‘Negro’ such as Pinchback. And though in a rare historical moment “conditions were favorable,” (the period from 1870 to 1877 was dubbed the “Era of Black Power in Dixie”), she records for posterity the difficulty, the danger, and the uncertainty of Pinchback’s fortunes.
Pinchback himself could not have felt secure, and never ceased building a bulwark, or sanctuary for his mother “who had known slavery,” his wife of sixty-one years, and his beloved children and grandchildren. “Pinchback needed more than his identification as a quadroon to become an outstanding black Reconstructionist,” Mrs. Stewart writes in her introduction. Then, with the precision of a research historian, and the experience of a Southern woman raised in the Jim Crow South who rejected the bigotry of her birthplace, she demonstrates Pinchback’s struggle to ‘do as well as the white people,’ and if not as well, then merely to survive in an increasingly dangerous Dixie.
Pinchback was not unique among black men in that his fortunes “were inextricably tied to those of his race.” He prospered during Reconstruction, but was essentially broke by the time of his death in 1921. Frederick Douglas, Pinchback’s friend and mutual admirer, died in 1915, leaving W.E.B. DuBois the black leader of favor. Pinchback was thought by the turn of the twentieth century, too close to the Booker T. Washington-led “accomodationists.” There is no record or indication that he had ever read Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book that would coin the term used by some members of later generations to damn him and the Tuskegans with the label “Uncle Tom.” Mrs. Stewart assures us that the historical record does not support such a simple derogatory; a derogatory hardly able to contain the breath and complexity of such men as Washington and Pinchback.
Contemporary observers cannot quite seem to wrap their arms around this most ambitious and energetic man. Pinchback is mentioned in nearly all books on Reconstruction written after World War II, but as though hoping not to be asked for details, Historians have so far, with the exception of the present work, neglected to go beyond their minimal obligation to mention the fact of his existence. And who could blame them? Information about Pinchback beyond government documents was, and remains difficult to obtain. As late as 1974, Pinchback was still missing from the roster of governors in my eighth grade Louisiana History textbook.
In the Introduction to The Post Reconstruction Career of P.B.S. Pinchback, ‘Mrs. Stewart’ begins setting up her explanation of the governor’s extraordinary life and times:
“The meteoric rise of Pinchback to key positions in Louisiana government in the years from 1867 to 1877,” she writes, “caused observers...to characterize him as a brilliant politician, self-seeking, useful, dangerous, corrupt, upright, and shrewd.” Hegelian reductionism would not do. She wanted first and foremost to understand, and as such her elegantly crisp prose lacks the ornamentation and editorializing common to more self-indulgent efforts regarding this complicated and controversial man.
My mother was a participant in generating the “flurry of scholarship in the 1970’s on Reconstruction” to which Historian Eric Foner refers in his most recent best selling book, Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction. In the light of her own mentor, Joe Taylor’s and the work of other Historians already extant, she did not attempt a volume on Reconstruction, but rather the story, as far as can be known, of one of that period’s most remarkable leaders.
She hoped to find simpler terms by which to convey the enormous complexities of post-bellum Louisiana for the purpose of illuminating the life of one man within the confines of the available evidence---“a witches cauldron”---she called it, and agreed with Einstein who said that he hoped to find simpler terms for difficult and meandering constructs, “But not too simple.” She once called her search for historical material on Pinchback a “search for a needle in a burning haystack.”
Agnes Smith Grosz wrote a “scholarly account” of Pinchback’s political career in the 1940’s, but the narrative tapers off in about 1877, leaving the record of Pinchback’s remaining forty-four years essentially unobserved by lay and historian alike. Adding to the difficulty, (and aptness to my mother’s allusion to fire), and no doubt warning away historians, is the fact that Pinchback’s personal papers were burned soon after his death.
But our mother was not deterred, and after over ten years dedicated to meticulous research, we have the present volume, which provides the truth of the man, and the rest of the story of P.B.S. Pinchback’s remarkable and productive life.

Note about the text, and a personal note:
No one knew anything about personal computers in the 1970’s, and so my mother typed her paper on a small, portable Smith-Corona typewriter given to her in 1942. For that reason I have done some formatting that she was unable to do on her beloved ‘typing machine,’ and on occasion have rephrased in order to liven up what was intended to dwell only in the archives of academia, accessible to scholars, but not the marketplace of interested book consumers.
She was satisfied to have accomplished the task of uncovering the truth about Pinchback and leave it at that. But I was not satisfied to have her work lost to posterity. I undertake the publication of her work for my own reasons, and by way of no expressed wish or permission on my mother’s part. However, if for a moment I thought she would not approve, I too would have left “it at that.”
Both P.B.S. Pinchback and generations of students are deprived so long as my mother’s work remained in a box, inadvertently hidden from history, and representing a substantial gap in the record. She reflected Pinchback’s unwillingness to record his own accomplishments, and like the subject of her work, was instead busy every day working to manifest results, attending to her next challenge, or whatever was new and interesting and life enhancing. She was proud to be a member of a still small group of female Historians of her generation, the most notable of whom was Pulitzer winner Barbara Tuchman, whom she considered to be one of the great historians, gender notwithstanding.
She had three primary dreams that I am aware of. First and foremost she wanted to see her six children grow to be “happy, contributing adults.” Second, she wanted to be an Historian; and third, she wanted someday to retire and open a used bookstore.
Though my mother was to see three of her children die before her own death in 2002, she did indeed become an Historian, and she later retired to a small island off the coast of Washington State and opened, with a good friend, a used bookstore. She never wanted to sell anything, and was often caught to the bewilderment of her business partners, placing a carefully selected book in the hand of a child while refusing the child’s mother’s attempt to pay for it.
And so it is with great pride and deep affection that I am pleased, along with my sister Margaret, my brother David, and my father, Norman Stewart, (ever my mother’s champion), to offer Elizabeth Lilly Stewart’s accurate, incisive, and poignant account of the man who earned the distinction of holding more political offices than any other African American in history.
Glenn Stewart
San Juan Island, Washington 2006

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Senior Member
first of all, it's 'foreword'... as in the words that go at the 'fore'/beginning...

next, it'd be easier to read if you'd take it out of bold and add line breaks where the indents don't register in posting... i'll be glad to take a good look at it, but can do so more easily if sent to me as an attached document in an email... let me know if you'd like a detailed assessment... otherwise, i'll give it a quick scan after you restructure it here...

congratulations on hooking a publisher!... which one bit?...

love and hugs, maia
[email protected]


Senior Member
mammamaia, thanks for the lok...I'm still figuring out how to make a format work here...On the piece---I was looking for thoughts, my apologies for contamninating the impression with the hard to read font and format. I appreciate the offer of a detailed assessment, I may take you up sometime...Glenn


Senior Member
you can go to 'go advanced' for posting, which will offer you more options... same for editing after posted... you can disable the bold and use double space for line breaks where indents are needed... that will make this more reader-friendly and may gain you some feedback...

as for the piece, it's basically well-written enough, but needs a really good proofread... is your publisher a paying one that will provide an editor to do it, or a pod [or other version of vanity/self-publishing], where you have to do it all?...

i'll be happy to do a complete edit, if you want, but you'll have to send it to me, as it's too much to do in a post... hugs, m