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Shelby Foote

I’ve been taken with the late Shelby Foote (1918—2006) since coming upon him (finally) in the late eighties.

Novelist, Civil War historian, son of the American south, raconteur and rebel—Shelby Foote is one of the interesting figures of twentieth century America.

Foote turned my head around about the American south and it’s ways. I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, a fiercely segregated place, then still influenced by a partially southern character and history of slavery. As a child this shaped me: deeply sympathetic to the Black experience, I was galvanized politically by the horrendous sin (a permanent scar on the American  soul, really) of slavery, still resonant in the palpable racism of the 1950s and 1960s St. Louis.

Shelby Foote, an arch-foe of racism and slavery but a lover of his native south, made me think differently about his world. More complex than I understood, more sophisticated, so historically interesting—Foote drew a different picture from what I had seen.  His depiction is now inside my head, jostling a bit uncomfortably with my own childhood rendering (from books like “Black Like Me”, by John Howard Griffin, for instance).

Here Foote is interviewed in 2001 toward the end of a great career and a long and fascinating life by Brian Lamb on C-Span. This is three hours long—watch in full or in parts.

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