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.