Eugene D. Genovese

May 9, 1930September 26, 2012


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.


  • Memorial Service Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Eugene D. Genovese

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October 19, 2012

It was my great honour to teach with Gene during his years at Sir George Williams University. I was a fresh PhD out of Wisconsin and Gene taught me about history, writing, teaching and the politics of academic life. He was a dear and loyal friend and, with Betsy, provided me with support throughout my academic career. Rest in peace, good and gentle friend. Charles L. Bertrand, Professor Emeritus of History, Concordia University, Montreal.

Daniel Woods

October 7, 2012

My prayers are with the family. I am thankful for Dr. Genovese's profound & courageous scholarship. I read "Roll, Jordan, Roll" in 1977 and have been arguing with it, thinking about it, & quoting its wisdom for the last 35 years. I too returned to the faith of my fathers & allowed this spiritual journey to enrich rather than impede my historical writing. So grateful for Dr. Genevese's example.

Ralph Raimi

October 4, 2012

I knew Gene when he was at Rochester, and played regularly in his weekly poker game. His style of playing was certainly socialistic, for we drew money from ever pot and when the game was over split the money equally to compensate the evening's losers. It was egalitarianism, not poker. His departure from socialism took place after he left here, but I would be interested to hear how his later-life poker was organized. I enjoyed his stay at Rochester, and especially our quarrels at lunch time in the faculty club (which was not open to everyone, even at the height of Gene's influence.

October 4, 2012

I am so sorry to hear of your loss. May the peace of God that excels all thought bring you comfort during this most difficult time. Phillipians 4:7

A. Smith

October 2, 2012

I'm sorry for your loss. Please allow God to be your refuge and your strength during this difficult time. (Psalms 91:2)

October 2, 2012

May the love of friends and family carry you through your grief.

Deacon Scott Reisinger

September 30, 2012

It is with great sorrow that I have learned of the passing of Professor Genovese. Gene was one of America's greatest historians. I shall never forget his example of scholarship
and his superb teaching at the University of Rochester where I was privileged to be one of his students. I shall always be grateful to him for leading me to the study of southern history, slavery, and religion. Gene was a remarkable mentor and teacher for me and so many others. May the angels lead him to paradise to be with Betsy, as well as to be with all those to whom his scholarship gave a voice. And may God continue to bless Gene's family at his difficult time.
Deacon Scott R. Reisinger
U of R Class of '80
Headmaster, Bancroft School


September 30, 2012

So sorry for your loss. May the God of all comfort be with you and your family during your time of need.(2 Cor 1:3-5)

September 30, 2012

I was privileged to get to know Gene at the National Humanities Center in 1988-89 when we were both fellows. I respected his intellectual toughness and energy and his gracious kindness. Several years later I joined the faculty at Emory where I got to know Gene and Elizabeth as colleagues. Separately and together they displayed the best of the intellectual life: passion, skepticism, and an appreciation of how it was important to pay attention to points of view that initially may seem wrong-headed. Our understanding of the tangled path of race and gender in America has been enlarged by the hard and patient work each of them have done. I am thankful that our lives intersected along the way. Rest in peace, Gene. We will not forget all you have given us.

Paul Courtright, Department of Religion
Emory University

Joseph Knippenberg

September 29, 2012

An exemplary teacher, scholar, and colleague, Gene was the very embodiment of the idea of the university. he inspired us all and held us to high standards.

We'll miss him.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.

Joseph M. Knippenberg, Brookhaven, GA.