EUGENE DOMINICK GENOVESE
Eugene Dominick Genovese, preeminent scholar of slavery and the master class in the American South, died on the morning of September 26th, 2012, after a long illness. Born in 1930, he graduated from Brooklyn College (1953) and Columbia University (1955, 1959) and taught at Rutgers University; Sir George Williams University in Montreal, Canada; the University of Rochester; the College of William and Mary, and a coalition of Georgia universities-Emory, Georgia Tech, Georgia State, and the University of Georgia. Ranking with the most influential historians of his generation, he also had appointments at Cambridge (as Pitt Professor), Princeton, Yale, and Columbia, was recipient of an honorary doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and served as president both of the Organization of American Historians and of The Historical Society, which he helped found.
Genovese began his career as a Marxist and ended it as a Roman Catholic, having returned to the faith of his Sicilian American family. This spiritual and intellectual shift did not affect his, and his late wife's, continuing, collaborative study of slavery and the views of slave owners. Their last volumes, a trilogy-The Mind of the Master Class: History and Faith in the Southern Slaveholders' Worldview (2005), Slavery in White and Black: Class and Race in the Southern Slaveholders' New World Order (2008), and Fatal Self-Deception: Slaveholding Paternalism in the Old South (2011)-published by Cambridge University Press, continued the analysis of Genovese's Bancroft Prize-winning study, Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made (1974).
Undergirding Genovese's analysis of slavery in the United States was the concept of paternalism, which, for Genovese, centrally described a historically unique system of social relations, shaped by slaves as well as masters, in the slave society that was the Old South. From the masters' point of view, paternalism was not about kindness, but control, the need of the slaveholding class to translate power into authority. Slaves accommodated themselves to planter paternalism, but turned it to meet their own needs, to assert their humanity, to hold masters accountable, and to make gains toward the ultimate goal of release from bondage. The theoretical inspiration of Genovese's analysis came from Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci articulated the view that the ruling class, if effective, maintains its position through cultural hegemony-that is, by getting those they rule to accept their values even when resisting their sway. That essential insight informed Genovese's work throughout.
"Aside from probing slaveholder ideology," Professor Peter Kolchin observes, Genovese "also was instrumental in shaping our understanding of slave life and consciousness, slave resistance, the economics of slavery, and comparative approaches to slavery." Pressured to leave Rutgers for his political views, he insisted on respecting the views of those with whom he sharply disagreed. This did not keep him from being a brilliant and engaging controversialist. On the other hand, as Professor Mark Smith remarks, "his kindness as a gentleman scholar … was in many ways his signature as a man and as an historian."
The funeral mass will be at the Cathedral of Christ the King, 2699 Peachtree Rd. NE, Atlanta, GA on Tuesday, October 2nd, at 10 a.m. The private burial will be later in New York. At that time, Professor Genovese will be interred beside his beloved Betsey-Elizabeth Fox-Genovese-his wife of a third of a century and noted scholar of southern women, who died in 2007. He is survived by a niece, Ann Marie Fasulo; two nephews, John Genovese and Robert Genovese; Robert's wife, Candi; two great nieces, Katherine Fasulo and Lily Genovese; sisters-in-law Josephine Genovese and Rebecca MacMillan Fox, and brother-in-law Edward W. Fox, Jr.. Memorial gifts may be sent to St. Vincent de Paul Chapter, Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, 2855 Briarcliff Road NE, Atlanta, GA 30329.