Kenneth Stampp, 96, Berkeley Historian

Kenneth M. Stampp, a University of California, Berkeley, professor emeritus of history and a scholar known for paving the way to a sharply revised assessment of American slavery, the coming of the American Civil War and Southern Reconstruction, died in Oakland on July 10. He was 96.
Although Stampp’s work aroused controversy in some academic quarters, his interpretations prevailed, and he is recognized today as one of the most influential 19th century historians.
In his 1950 book “And the War Came: The North and the Secession Crisis, 1860-1861,” Stampp rejected the then-common theory that sectional compromise might have saved the Union, and he also traced the cause of the Civil War to slavery.
His 1956 book “The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South” remains “the indispensable reinterpretation” of the enslavement of African men and women and has influenced decades of scholarship and teaching, said Leon Litwack, a UC Berkeley professor emeritus of history as well as a former student and colleague of Stampp’s.
“In any subsequent study of slavery, the voices of the slaves themselves could no longer be denied,” Litwack said, referring to the impact of Stampp’s extensive documentation of the daily lives and resistance efforts of slaves.
“He humanized enslaved African Americans and read what they said about slavery rather than depend on the recollections of those who had been their masters.”
As an example, Litwack pointed to Stampp’s final chapter of “The Peculiar Institution,” which contains remarks by a slave who said, “Tisn’t he who has stood and looked on, that can tell you what slavery is, – ‘tis he who has endured. I was Black but I had the feelings of a man as well as any man.”
Stampp, a native of Milwaukee, WI., was born on July 12, 1912. He earned his B.A., M.A. and Ph. D. in history at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
Stampp’s “The Era of Reconstruction, 1865-1877” (1965) rejected the traditional notion of Reconstruction as a period of unredeemed sordidness and misrule, and it forced a reappraisal of the often misunderstood and caricatured era.
As a survivor of the Great Depression, Stampp developed a strong sense of social justice and was committed to progressive politics, said his attorney, Richard F. Hill. Stampp actively opposed the Loyalty Oath imposed by the University of California system in the early 1950s, even though he said family concerns led him to reluctantly sign the oath. He participated in one of the 1965 Civil Rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.
His survivors include a son, Kenneth Mitchell Stampp Jr. of Oakland; daughters Sara Katherine Stampp of Berkeley, Jennifer Elizabeth Stampp of El Cerrito, and Michele S. Macartney-Filgate of Toronto; as well as four grandchildren and his partner, Jean Working of Oakland.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Isabel B. and Kenneth M. Stampp Fund for the San Francisco Symphony, c/o the San Francisco Symphony, Davies Hall, San Francisco, CA 94102-4585. A campus memorial event will be held in September

Kenneth M. Stampp

Kenneth M. Stampp