In 2007, John Powell ’77 established a distinguished professorship in the College of Arts and Sciences in honor of the late Kenan Professor George Brown Tindall, a scholar of the American South who taught at UNC for 32 years.
Powell’s gift of $417,000 was supplemented by a $250,000 challenge grant from the C.D. Spangler Foundation and $333,000 in state matching funds from the Distinguished Professors Endowment Trust Fund to create a $1 million professorship. The fund was established to attract or retain a distinguished teacher and scholar in the American studies department specializing in the American South.
Tindall was often called a pioneer, both for his early advocacy of equal rights and for his insightful, inclusive research on the history of the South.
Born in Greenville, S.C., Tindall was the first in his family to attend college. After graduating from Furman University in 1942, he served in the Air Force as a cryptographer during World War II before enrolling at UNC to earn a master’s degree in 1948 and a doctorate in 1951, both in history.
After teaching at several schools, including Louisiana State University and Eastern Kentucky State University, Tindall returned to UNC in 1958 and taught until his retirement in 1990. He died in 2006.
Tindall’s son, Bruce Tindall ’77, remembers his father as a champion of human rights and civil rights through his academic career and civic engagement.
George Tindall sent his son to one of the first integrated daycare centers in Chapel Hill and supported political candidates who fought for civil rights, Bruce Tindall said.
In the 1950s, Tindall organized a meeting of both black and white historians and fought to find a place where the scholars could sit down to dinner together.
Tindall authored several books on Southern history, particularly African-Americans and segregation in the South. His first book, South Carolina Negroes, 1877-1900, published in 1952, was an account of segregation and the methodical disfranchisement of African-Americans into a state of economic dependency. He also wrote a book titled Emergence of the New South, which was honored by the N.C. Society of Mayflower Descendants, the Southern Regional Council and the Southern Historical Association.
Tindall also pioneered the study of diversity in the South beyond black and white, to the recognition of Irish, Jewish, Scottish and other heritages represented in the region.
Tindall was a major editor and contributor to the 1,656-page Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, written by 800 experts on the region. Professor William Ferris, the volume’s co-editor and senior associate director of the UNC Center for the Study of the American South, called Tindall a giant among Southern scholars.
“He was a great teacher and a great scholar, and his legacy as a Southern historian is outstanding,” Ferris said. “His scholarship was extraordinary, but his personal warmth and generosity also were beyond measure.”
After his retirement, Tindall continued to attend weekly luncheon discussions on campus by Southern studies experts, serving as a sort of “chairman of the board,” Ferris said.
In 1991, some of Tindall’s former students wrote essays in his honor, which LSU Press published as the collection The Adaptable South. He advised 26 doctoral candidates and other students at UNC, many of whom now are history teachers and professors across the country.
Portions taken from a December 2006 UNC General Alumni Association article.