Phinizy Spalding (1930-1994)
As a professor of history at the University of Georgia, Phinizy Spalding emerged as the nation's leading scholar on James Oglethorpe. He wrote more than twenty books, articles, and chapters about Oglethorpe and colonial Georgia. He was also an influential leader in historic preservation efforts in Athens and across Georgia.
Born on September 29, 1930,
Among Spalding's most distinguished publications was his book Oglethorpe in America (1977), nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in biography. The same year he also provided the section on the colonial era in A History of Georgia,
An engaging teacher and mentor, Spalding encouraged his undergraduate and graduate students to examine history in broad terms. His classroom lectures frequently included such varied historical topics as the Atlanta Crackers baseball team, African American churches, and Georgia barbecue. Spalding also spoke to organizations, schools, and historic and preservation societies in every corner of the state, and as typified in his fabled tours of Savannah, he frequently addressed local history, architecture, music, literature, food, art, and rural, natural, and cultural resources. He also coordinated the University of Georgia's Ferdinand Phinizy Lectureship, named for his prominent Georgia ancestor, and brought national figures in the sciences, arts, and politics to the campus.
Spalding and his wife, Margaret, in 1969 were among the first residents to restore a house in Athens, thereby sparking the historic preservation movement in that city. Together they restored dozens of buildings. He established the Historic Cobbham Foundation, which focused specifically on the restoration and beautification of the residential area in which he lived. Spalding was a member of, and leader in, preservation organizations, including the National and Georgia Trusts for Historic Preservation and the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation. He inspired citizens throughout Georgia to save the integrity of their neighborhoods, towns, and landscapes through preservation, conservation, and legal measures. Near the end of his life, he led a successful campaign to restore the entire Lucy Cobb Institute campus.
Spalding's profound influence on Georgia is evidenced by the appearance of his name on a building, a theater, a park, a scholarship, a preservation award, and an endowed professorship at the University of Georgia. For his extensive service to the community and the state, Spalding received the University of Georgia's Abraham Baldwin Award and, in 1990, a Governor's Award in the Humanities. He died in 1994 after a long battle with cancer, and is buried, near many of his forebears, in Oconee Hill Cemetery in Athens.
Harvey H. Jackson III, "Billups Phinizy Spalding: A Tribute," Georgia Historical Quarterly 78 (fall 1994).
William S. McFeely, "Billups Phinizy Spalding," Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society: A Journal of American History and Culture through 1876 104, no. 1 (1994).
H. Michael Gelfand, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia
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