Alton Hornsby, Jr. (1940-2017)

Alton P. Hornsby, Jr. at Morehouse College Jan. 2006
Alton P. Hornsby, Jr. at Morehouse College Jan. 2006
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Alton Parker Hornsby, Jr., author, historian and professor, was born on September 3, 1940 in Atlanta, Georgia to Lillie Mae Newton Hornsby, an entrepreneur and voting rights activist, and Alton P. Hornsby, an automobile painter.  Hornsby was one of six children whose parents briefly owned Atlanta’s Greasy Food Café in the 1950s. He attended the William H. Crogman elementary school, Booker T. Washington High School (1954-1955), and Luther J. Price High School (1955-1957) where after passing the early entrance exam, spent his senior year at Morehouse College where he majored in history.

Hornsby’s Morehouse years (1957-1961) were influenced by president Benjamin E. Mays, history chair Melvin Dow Kennedy, and fellow students such as future Morehouse president Leroy Keith, actor Charles Black, and activist Julian Bond. His own civil rights activism began on February 2, 1960 when he and classmate William Andrews, along with white Morehouse history professor Ovid L. Futch, were ejected from the Georgia State Capitol after attempting to integrate the House visitor sitting gallery. Hornsby also picketed the McCrory and Richards Variety stores in Atlanta.

Graduating from Morehouse in 1961 with an honors bachelor of arts degree, he immediately enrolled at the University of Texas–Austin (UTA) on a Woodrow Wilson National Foundation Fellowship, earning a master of arts degree in 1962.  In 1969, he completed “Southern Negroes, 1877-1929: The Outsider’s View,” becoming the first African American to earn a UTA history Ph.D. Hornsby taught at Tuskegee Institute (1962-1965) and in 1968 returned to Morehouse as an assistant professor.

During his forty-two year Morehouse career (1968-2010), Hornsby chaired the history department for thirty consecutive years (1971-2001), was inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa honor society in 1984, and appointed the Fuller E. Callaway professor of history in 1996.  He won dozens of prizes for excellence in scholarship, teaching, and service including the 2012 Southern Historical Association’s John W. Blassingame Award. In 1979, he became an early supporter of the Association of Black Women Historians (ABWH) where he established the Lillie M. Newton Hornsby Award (1995) to honor his mother by annually recognizing the academic accomplishments of an undergraduate woman.

One of the nation’s leading African American history scholars, particularly of Atlanta and the South, Hornsby was a prolific writer who published dozens of books and articles. His most prominent books were Black Power in Dixie: A Political History of African Americans in Atlanta and Southerners, Too?: Essays on the Black South, 1733-1990. Between 1976 and 2001, he was the editor of the Journal of Negro History (renamed Journal of African American History in 2002).  Hornsby also edited the John and Lugenia Burns Hope papers, Blackwell’s Companion to African American History, and Dictionary of Twentieth Century Black Leaders.

Over his career, Hornsby served as the president of the Southern Conference on African American Studies (1986-1988) and the Association of Social and Behavioral Scientists. A life member of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), Hornsby held memberships in numerous organizations including the State Committee on the Life and History of Black Georgians, the Organization of American Historians, and the American Historical Association.

Dr. Alton Parker Hornsby Jr. died at seventy-six in Atlanta on September 1, 2017 and is survived by his wife Dr. Anne R. Lockhart Hornsby, Spelman College economics professor, and children: historian Dr. Angela Hornsby-Gutting and patent attorney Alton Hornsby, III.