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Eric Foner and Patricia J. Williams
Apotheosis of George Washington
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November 11, 2008

The special signifigance of the 2008 election to a nation that has journeyed from a founding constitution that counted slaves as three-fifths of a person to electing a black president was not lost on even President-elect Obama's political opponents.

In his concession speech on election night, Senator John McCain spoke of it, "This is an historic election, and I recognize the special significance it has for African-Americans and for the special pride that must be theirs tonight." As did President Bush, in remarks following the election, "They chose a president whose journey represents a triumph of the American story: a testament to hard work, optimism and faith in the enduring promise of our nation. Many of our citizens thought they would never live to see that day. This moment is especially uplifting for a generation of Americans who witnessed the struggle for civil rights with their own eyes and four decades later see a dream fulfilled."

In his own victory speech, President-elect Obama also put historical context to the moment, as seen through the life of one of his supporters, 106-year-old African-American woman Ann Nixon Cooper. Cooper was born one generation away from slavery, and lived through the century that saw the Jim Crowe south, two world wars, the Great Depression, and the Civil Rights Movement.

Bill Moyers sits down with Columbia University professor Eric Foner, who specializes in political and African-American history, and Patricia J. Williams, a professor of law at Columbia University to discuss the historic implications of electing Barack Obama.

Eric Foner

Eric Foner, DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University, is one of this country's most prominent historians. Photo by Robin Holland

Professor Foner's publications have concentrated on the intersections of intellectual, political and social history, and the history of American race relations. His best-known books are: FREE SOIL, FREE LABOR, FREE MEN: THE IDEOLOGY OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY BEFORE THE CIVIL WAR (1970; reissued with new preface 1995) TOM PAINE AND REVOLUTIONARY AMERICA (1976); NOTHING BUT FREEDOM: EMANCIPATION AND ITS LEGACY (1983); RECONSTRUCTION: AMERICA'S UNFINISHED REVOLUTION, 1863-1877 (1988) (winner, among other awards, of the Bancroft Prize, Parkman Prize, and LOS ANGELES TIMES Book Award); THE READER'S COMPANION TO AMERICAN HISTORY (with John A. Garraty, 1991); THE STORY OF AMERICAN FREEDOM (1998); and WHO OWNS HISTORY? RETHINKING THE PAST IN A CHANGING WORLD (2002). His survey textbook of American history, GIVE ME LIBERTY! AN AMERICAN HISTORY and a companion volume of documents, VOICES OF FREEDOM, appeared in 2004. His most recent books are FOREVER FREE: THE STORY OF EMANCIPATION AND RECONSTRUCTION (2005), and OUR LINCOLN: NEW PERSPECTIVES ON LINCOLN AND HIS WORLD (2008), an edited collection of original essays. His books have been translated into Chinese, Korean, Italian, Japanese, and Portugese.

Eric Foner is a winner of the Great Teacher Award from the Society of Columbia Graduates (1991), and the Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching from Columbia University (2006). He was named Scholar of the Year by the New York Council for the Humanities in 1995. In 2006, he received the Kidger Award for Excellence in Teaching and Scholarship from the New England History Teachers Association. He is an elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the British Academy, and holds an honorary doctorate from Iona College. He has taught at Cambridge University as Pitt Professor of American History and Institutions, Oxford University as Harmsworth Professor of American History, Moscow State University as Fulbright Professor, and at Queen Mary, University of London as Leverhulme Visiting Scholar. He serves on the editorial boards of PAST AND PRESENT and THE NATION, and has written for the NEW YORK TIMES, WASHINGTON POST, LOS ANGELES TIMES, LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS, and many other publications, and has appeared on numerous television and radio shows, including CHARLIE ROSE, BOOK NOTES, THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART, and ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, and in historical documentaries on PBS and the History Channel. He was the on-camera historian for FREEDOM: A HISTORY OF US, on PBS in 2003. He has lectured extensively to both academic and non-academic audiences.

Patricia J. Williams
Photo by Robin Holland Patricia J. Williams, a professor of law at Columbia University, was born in Boston in 1951 and holds a BA from Wellesley College and a JD from Harvard Law School. She was a fellow in the School of Criticism and Theory at Dartmouth College and has been an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin School Law School and its department of women's studies. Williams also worked as a consumer advocate in the office of the City Attorney in Los Angeles.

A member of the State Bar of California and the Federal Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. Williams has served on the advisory council for the Medgar Evers Center for Law and Social Justice of the City University of New York and on the board of governors for the Society of American Law Teachers, among others.

Her publications include ANTHONY BURNS: THE DEFEAT AND TRIUMPH OF A FUGITIVE SLAVE, ON BEING THE OBJECT OF PROPERTY, THE ELECTRONIC TRANSFORMATION OF LAW AND and WE ARE NOT MARRIED: A JOURNAL OF MUSINGS ON LEGAL LANGUAGE AND THE IDEOLOGY OF STYLE. In 1993, Harvard University Press published Williams's THE ALCHEMY OF RACE & RIGHTS to widespread critical acclaim. She is also author of The ROOSTER'S EGG (1995), SEEING A COLOR-BLIND FUTURE: THE PARADOX OF RACE (1997) (Noonday Press, 1998) and, most recently, OPEN HOUSE: ON FAMILY FOOD, FRIENDS, PIANO LESSONS and THE SEARCH FOR A ROOM OF MY OWN (2004.)

Guest photos by Robin Holland

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References and Reading:
Eric Foner's Web Page

Steven Fraser on Gilded Ages
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Published November 7, 2008

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Bill Moyers sits down with Columbia University professor Eric Foner, who specializes in political and African-American history, and Patricia J. Williams, a professor of law at Columbia University.

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