David M. Chalmers
David M. Chalmers

Gainesville - David M. Chalmers, Emeritus and Distinguished Alumni Professor of American History at the University of Florida, and a keen observer of and participant in history for 93 years, died October 25, 2020 at his home in Gainesville, Florida, surrounded by his family.

David prided himself on being first and foremost a classroom teacher during his 39 years with the University of Florida. He was named the University's "Faculty-Teacher Scholar," and in a campus-wide poll was selected as one of the University's "eight top teachers." In 1970, he was one of only a handful of teachers across the country to receive the Danforth Foundation's E. Harris Harbison Award for Gifted Teaching.

His fellow professors elected him President Pro Tem of the Arts and Sciences Faculty Assembly, and he served as Chair of the University President's Faculty Educational Policy Group.

He was best known nationally, though, as a scholar of American social and intellectual history. A leading authority on the Ku Klux Klan, his book Hooded Americanism: A History of the Ku Klux Klan has remained in print continuously since 1965.

His other books include Backfire: How the Ku Klux Klan Helped the Civil Rights Movement; And The Crooked Places Made Straight: The Struggle for Social Change in the 1960s; Neither Socialism Nor Monopoly: Theodore Roosevelt and the Decision to Regulate the Railroads; The Social and Political Ideas of the Muckrakers; The Muckrake Years; and A Brief History of the American People, which he wrote for Japanese students of American history.

He has also written numerous articles and book chapters and has served on several editorial boards.

David's love of history was surpassed by his love for his wife of 62 years, Jean McCormick Chalmers, and the family they made together. David met Jean while teaching summer classes at City College of New York, when a friend asked if he'd liked to meet an intellectual Canadian barmaid at Milady's Bar in SoHo. The obvious answer was "Yes!"

Together they traveled the world while David taught as a Fulbright Scholar or Exchange Professor at the Universities of Ceylon, Tokyo, The Philippines, Tel Aviv, and Genova, and as a lecturer in a dozen other countries.

David wooed Jean to Gainesville with a promise that she would be on the front lines of social change, and together they were. The two spent more than a decade actively involved in the civil rights movement. David went to jail in St. Augustine as part of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s efforts to desegregate local businesses and combat Klan and police violence there. Jean was set to go several weeks later, but Congress intervened and passed its landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Meanwhile, Jean was a moving force in the local Human Relations Council and later became national President of the Southern Regional Council (SRC), one of the country's oldest civil rights organizations.

They pursued other avenues of social change as well, including David's service as head of the local American Civil Liberties Union chapter, and Jean's terms as a Gainesville City Commissioner, and as Mayor in 1985-86.

Their daughter, Kim Sita Chalmers, is a violin teacher and a Realtor with The Chalmers Team in Gainesville. She delighted David with her violin playing, and they share a profound love of classical music. Their son, Henry Ross Chalmers, is an attorney in Atlanta, Georgia, where he and his wife, Rebecca Franco Chalmers, have two children, David Saul Franco Chalmers, a student at Appalachian State University, and Sarina Ria Franco Chalmers, a student at Colorado College.

David was born in Washington, D.C. in 1927. His father, Henry Chalmers, was a government economist and a leading authority on international trade. His mother, Sallie Chalmers, was an editorial assistant for Reader's Digest and an active member in the "voteless" League of Women Voters. His sister, Judith Lynn Chalmers, was a copy editor in New York.

David served in the United States Army and was stationed in Europe at the close of World War II. He received his B.A. with High Honors and Phi Beta Kappa from Swarthmore College, and his Ph.D. from the University of Rochester, where he studied with Dexter Perkins.

In his final days, Jean reminded David of his life's work making the crooked places straight, and she reassured him that his absentee vote for Joe Biden had been cast. David's eyes opened and he mustered the strength to say, "Save the country!"

In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the American Friends Service Committee (www.afsc.org), and David asks that we all save the country.
Published by Gainesville Sun from Oct. 27 to Oct. 28, 2020.
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28 Entries
Just now learning of Professor Chalmers's passing - a departure that saddens me much. He was hands down my favorite professor while I studied history at U of F. RIP.
Todd J Sanders
Other
October 6, 2021
Gladys Cofrin & Daniel Logan
March 27, 2021
My husband and I met in his class Fall 1987, an Honors seminar called American Culture and Society of the 60s. 7 years later we invited him to our wedding and he attended. It meant so much to us!
Laura Collopy & Joe Schmid
Student
November 20, 2020
Deepest sympathies to you Jean and your family in the loss of your beloved David. I recall with great fondness and nostalgia Laurie’s and my visit to you in Florida and the all too brief times together on the Island. May all the love of those who knew David and know you see you through .With love from Ellinore, Michael, Mary, David, and Davis Milner.

Ellinore Milner
Family
November 11, 2020
Richard Wang
October 30, 2020
David stood up for the students. Thanks for what he inspired on campus, and in the wider world.
Richard Johnson
Student
October 29, 2020
Jean, Kim and Henry please accept my deepest condolences on the passing of David. I was blessed to have known him. Kim, your love that I witnessed for your daddy is simply beautiful. Peace be with you all.
Anne Parrett
Friend
October 29, 2020
My condolences to the family will keep you all in prayer ❤
Rosa Freeman
Friend
October 29, 2020
What a life well lived! Thank you for all those you taught and the love you shared with our fellow Realtor and Friend, Jean.
Laraine Teiss
Friend
October 29, 2020
We are so very sorry for your loss, David's contributions to humanity will live on forever,
With Deepest Sympathy
Heather & Jim Doughton
Friend
October 29, 2020
Dear other Jean, your David was such a special fellow. Of course he was a teacher to the very end, challenging those he leaves behind to save the country. Savor the memories of just how much he influenced all of us that he reached out and touched.
Jean Chance
Friend
October 29, 2020
Thank you David, I cast my vote in PA to save this Nation from greed.
Bonnie Bon Giorno
Acquaintance
October 29, 2020
David Chalmers was an inspiration to me.
He was brilliant and humble. He taught by
example every where he went. He will be missed.
Pat Bern
Friend
October 29, 2020
I was a student of Dr Chalmers and he was a friend of my father, a professor in the English Department. Dr Chalmers taught one of the few undergraduate History courses I took that required you to think and analyze as opposed to regurgitation. He was a kind and thoughtful man; I very much enjoyed my long conversation with him last year at the AAUW meeting.
My deepest condolences to your family and to humanity who have lost an empathetic, kind, brilliant, and generous man who fought for justice.
Jesse Kershner
Student
October 28, 2020
I have Dr. Chalmers to thank for my career. As a senior at UF, I didn’t know what I was going to do once I graduated. Dr. Chalmers and I went out to lunch and he suggested options I had never thought of. The next day, I followed up on one of the options and began my lifetime work in museums. He was such a kind man who loved teaching. I am grateful I got the opportunity to learn from him.
Heather Duckworth Curtis
Student
October 28, 2020
Our lives were enriched every time we spoke with David. He was such a wise man but he always made you feel like you had something important to say! Your legacy will live on! Condolences to your amazing family.
Cheryl V Scot & Chanterelle Davis
Friend
October 28, 2020
David was a charming & fascinating man. I'm grateful to have met him through his amazing wife, Jean. Sending love to Jean & the family.
Jami Johnson
Friend
October 28, 2020
A great man. Honored to have known him.
Tom bullock
Friend
October 28, 2020
David was a kind man, a model teacher/scholar, always capable of surprise. He was unforgettable. My condolences to Jean and the Chalmers family.
Chris Morris
Student
October 28, 2020
I never had the honor or pleasure of knowing Dr. Chalmers, but I was so inspired by reading about his amazing life. I feel immense gratitude for all he's done for our country and its citizens.

My deepest condolences to his family and friends. May you be comforted by your memories and by the knowledge that there are so many working to "save the country," as Dr. Chalmers requested. We won't give up!
Lisa Greene
October 28, 2020
Back in 1975 or so I met Dr Chalmers through my grandmother. She worked for the Office of Instructional Resources at UF. She distributed all the AV equipment to professors. THey still used OH projectors and slides. David would come in sometimes to speak with her and reserve equipment. I was struck by how kind and patient he was with her. She could be intense. But around David she was more relaxed. UF and our community was better for him being part of it.
stephen e acree
Friend
October 28, 2020
My deepest condolences to Jean. You and David were a dynamic couple and you each and together made a powerful and positive impact on Gainesville and the world.
Rosalie Miller
Friend
October 28, 2020
David was a kind ,loving ,bright and charming man ,although we did not know him long ,we found him to be a great man with much love for his family ,he will truly be missed,there is a new angel in heaven and a new star in the sky .Jean,Kim, Henry,our thoughts and prayers are with you all. Much Love Carol and Robert Bass.
Carol and Robert Bass
October 28, 2020
What a great life he had!
Lee
October 27, 2020
One of my favorite colleagues and human beings, ever. I first met him in December 1987, when I was still a nervous doctoral student interviewing for my position at UF. David was kind, sweet, gentle and very attentive, and nearly one year later I found myself in his beautiful Golfview home with his wife Jean having my first Florida Thanksgiving and enjoying their company and witticisms. They were the warm, gracious and inviting people that many of us in the community have come to know. This obituary is a beautiful tribute. It captures the spirit of David's life and work and the stunning way he brought his teaching, scholarship, and activism together. He was a role model for many of us, and certainly for me, though I am no longer a junior person trying to find my way.My deepest condolences to Jean and the family. I am very sorry that we are all so far apart at this historical moment, and only hope that David's final wish is materialized. It does sound just like him.
Betty Smocovitis
Friend
October 27, 2020
My heart breaks for Jean and the children. David was such a wonderful person. He contributed so much to raise the quality of life in Gainesville, and to civil rights everywhere. I was honored to know him. We were fortunate that he was given 93 years on earth to do good. That is a feat few people can achieve.
Melanie Barr
Friend
October 27, 2020
I had Dr. Chambers for political science my freshman year at UF He was one of the best teachers at had here. He knew his subject and how to teach freshmen. He genuinely enjoyed teaching and always treated the students with respect. May he rest in peace.
LYNN LABAUVE
Student
October 27, 2020
Jean and family. I was sorry to learn about David's death. However, I know what a great life you two had. I will pray for your continued healing.
God Bless!
Judy Boles
Judy Boles
Friend
October 27, 2020
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