Walter Lynwood Fleming

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Walter Lynwood Fleming (1874-1932) was an American historian of the South and Reconstruction, and was a leader of the Dunning School of scholars who rewrote Reconstruction history using modern historiographical techniques in the early 20th century.


Fleming was born on a farm at Brundidge, Alabama , April 8, 1874, the son of William LeRoy and Mary Love (Edwards) Fleming. His parents on both sides were Georgians who migrated to Alabama in the ante-bellum period. His father, a well-to-do planter and slave owner, served in the Civil War as a cavalryman. He was not politically prominent during Reconstruction. Fleming attended Alabama Polytechnic Institute (later called Auburn), taking the B.S. degree, with honors, in 1896, and the M.S. degree in 1897. He taught in the public schools of Alabama in 1894-1896 and became an instructor in history and English at his alma mater in 1896-1897. He was assistant librarian 1897-1898 and an instructor in English 1899-1900. In 1898 Fleming enlisted in the Second Alabama Volunteers in as a private; was promoted to lieutenant, and fought in the Spanish-American War.

Fleming began graduate work in history at the nation's leading graduate school, Columbia University in New York in 1900, taking the PhD in 1904. He was influenced especially by Professor George Petrie of Alabama Polytechnic Institute and Professor William Archibald Dunning of Columbia. From 1903 to 1907 he taught history at West Virginia University, and from 1907 to 1917, at Louisiana State University. In 1917, he was called to a chair in history at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, where he was a highly effective teacher of undergraduates and graduate students, mentoring numerous PhD's, who in turn created history programs at colleges across the South. He became Dean of the Vanderbilt College of Arts and Sciences in 1923 and later Director of the Graduate School. Fleming was close to the Nashville Agrarians who dedicated to him their influential manifesto I'll Take My Stand (1930).[1]Woodrow Wilson while president of Princeton University offered him a professorship, which Fleming declined.

Historical research

Fleming helped edit and contributed to numerous reference works, including The Historians' History of the World, 25 volumes (1904); volumes XI and XII of The South in the Building of the Nation, (1909); The Photographic History of the Civil War, 10 volumes (1911); the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1911) and 14th edition (1929); and the Dictionary of American Biography, 20 volumes (1928-36).

He was a leader of the Dunning School historians who argued the victorious northerners spoiled Reconstruction by a spirit of vengeance, and by violating the rights of Southern whites, and by imposing corrupt and inefficient regimes. Fleming rooted his studies of Reconstruction in his knowledge of the ante-bellum period, and gave much more attention that other historians to the writings and activities of African Americans. He wrote that "The negro is the central figure in the reconstruction of the South. Without the negro there would have been no Civil War. Granting a war fought for any other cause, the task of reconstruction would, without him, have been comparatively simple."[2] Along with Frederick Jackson Turner he was one of a few historians to publish in sociology journals. More than any white historian of Reconstruction before the 1970s, he gave extensive attention to the roles of the Blacks, including economic and social conditions. Fleming was the first scholar to examine the Black exodus to Kansas, in "'Pap' Singleton, the Moses of the Colored Exodus" (1909) His study of the The Freedmen's Savings Bank: A Chapter in the Economic History of the Negro Race, (1927) was reprinted by Negro Universities Press in 1970.

Fleming stressed the multiple dimensions and complexity of Reconstruction, and was among the first to emphasize the social, religious and economic dimensions. He tried to balance all viewpoints. Thus in his highly influential Documentary History of Reconstruction (vol 1) he included 64 documents from the white South's viewpoint, 118 from that of their opponents (including 12 blacks), and 70 he considered neutral. In terms of documents, 25 were state laws, 17 were federal laws, 148 were accounts by Northerners, 62 were by ex-Confederates, 22 from Southern Unionists, and 12 from Blacks.[3] W.E.B DuBois denounced Fleming and all the Dunning school, while admitting his works have "a certain fairness and sense of historic honesty." The reviewer for the American Historical Review said that Fleming's "sympathies are decidedly with the South, but the work is free from bitterness or prejudice, and is on the whole as impartial an account as one can expect from any writer on this subject."[4]

Professional Activities

His memory is honored by the many historians who have given the annual Walter Lynwood Fleming Lectures in Southern History at Louisiana State University.

Fleming was highly active in professional historical and archival associations. He was a member of the Board of Editors of the Mississippi Valley Historical Review from 1914 to 1922 and served on the Committee for State Historical Museums and the program and nominating committees of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association. As a member of the Public Archives Commission of the American Historical Association, he surveyed the state archives of West Virginia and Louisiana. He represented the AHA on the National Board of Historical Service and also served on the committee on appointments and the general and program committees. He was a member of the Executive Council of the AHA for two terms and served twice as chairman of the John H. Dunning Prize Committee. Fleming appeared on the program of both these associations as well as that of the Alabama Historical Society.


  • "The Buford Expedition to Kansas," American Historical Review, 6 (1901), 38-48. in JSTOR
  • The Civil War and Reconstruction in Alabama (1905; reprinted 1911, 1949), 805 pp
  • "Immigration to the Southern States," Political Science Quarterly, 20 (1905), 276-97. in JSTOR
  • "Blockade Running and Trade Through the Lines into Alabama, 1861-1865," South Atlantic Quarterly, IV (1905), 256-72.
  • "Reorganization of the Industrial System in Alabama after the Civil War," American Journal of Sociology, X (1905), 473-99. in JSTOR
  • "The Freedmen's Savings Bank," Yale Review, 15 (1906), 40-67, 134-46.
  • editor of Documentary History of Reconstruction: Political, Military, Social, Religious, Educational & Industrial: 1865 to 1906 (1906-7; reprinted 1966 with introduction by David Donald) 2 vols., xviii, 493 and xiv, 480 pp. volume 1 online and vol 2 online
  • "'Pap' Singleton, The Moses of the Colored Exodus," American Journal of Sociology, 15 (1910), 61-82 in JSTOR
  • General W.T. Sherman as college president; a collection of letters, documents, and other material, chiefly from private sources, relating to the life and activities of General William Tecumseh Sherman, to the early years of Louisiana State University (1912)
  • "A Ku Klux Document," in the Mississippi Valley Historical Review, (1915), 1:575-78. in JSTOR
  • The Sequel of Appomattox: A Chronicle of the Reunion of the States (Yale University Press: Chronicles of America series; vol. 32) (1919) online version
  • The Freedmen's Savings Bank: A Chapter in the Economic History of the Negro Race, x, 170 pp. (University of North Carolina Press: 1927; reprinted by Negro Universities Press, 1970)
  • Louisiana State University, 1860-1896 (1936), 499pp


  • William C. Binkley. "The Contribution of Walter Lynwood Fleming to Southern Scholarship," The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 5, No. 2 (May, 1939), pp. 143-154 in JSTOR
  • John Hope Franklin], Race and History: Selected Essays, 1938-1988(Louisiana State University Press: 1989) pp. 65, 411.
  • Fletcher M. Green. "Walter Lynwood Fleming: Historian of Reconstruction," The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 2, No. 4. (Nov., 1936), pp. 497-521. in JSTOR


  1. Green 1936
  2. Fleming, The Sequel of Appomattox (1919), 34.
  3. Documentary History 1:x-xi
  4. Quoted in Green (1936) 507.