Lawrence Goodwyn — Historian, Journalist, and Civil Rights Activist — Dies at 85

Lawrence Goodwyn was one of the most influential historians of the last forty years. But before moving to academia, he was a journalist and civil rights activist in Texas. Andrew Schneider has this remembrance of Goodwyn, who died over the weekend at the age of 85.

The son of a career army officer, Goodwyn served as a captain in the Korean War before returning to Texas, intent on a career in the oil business. Then he discovered politics. He worked as an advance man in Ralph Yarborough’s campaigns for governor and the Senate.

He spent much of the 1960s as a writer and editor for the Texas Observer, covering the Civil Rights movement. He soon went from reporting to active participation.

“He was part of an organization called the Texas Coalition.”

The Populist Moment bookPaul Ortiz was a student of Goodwyn’s at Duke University. He now teaches history at the University of Florida.

“This was an organization that really mobilized and organized Latino, African-American, and progressive white activists together, both into voting coalitions, but also into informational coalitions. And what they were able to convince each other was, hey, Mexican-Americans, blacks, whites, have a lot more in common than they have separate.”

Goodwyn’s seminal book, The Populist Moment, influenced not just history classrooms, but also social activists, union organizers, and such Texas politicians as Governor Ann Richards and Agricultural Commissioner Jim Hightower.

Goodwyn is survived by his wife, Nell, his daughter, Lauren, and his son, NPR correspondent Wade Goodwyn. 

Lawrence Goodwyn died in Durham, North Carolina on Sunday. He was 85.

Bio photo of Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Business Reporter

Andrew Schneider joined KUHF in January 2011, after more than a decade as a print reporter for The Kiplinger Letter...