Author of the new History: A Free Man of Color and His Hotel
Carol Gelderman received her PhD from Northwestern University and is currently Distinguished Professor of English Emerita at the University of New Orleans. Gelderman is the author of nine books, including Henry Ford: The Wayward Capitalist (1981), Mary McCarthy: A Life (1988), and Louis Auchincloss: A Writer’s Life (2007). She also has a strong interest in politics and government, as reflected in her book All the Presidents’ Words: The Bully Pulpit and the Creation of the Virtual Presidency (1997). She lives in New Orleans
A Free Man of Color and His Hotel weaves the story of a uniquely successful black businessman into the burgeoning post–Civil War political struggle that pitted the federal government against the states’ desire to remain autonomous. Born in Washington, D.C., James Wormley worked as a hacker in his father’s livery stable there and as a steward on Mississippi River steamboats before establishing his own catering and boardinghouse businesses. During a period of limited opportunity for African Americans, he built and operated D.C.’s luxurious Wormley Hotel. At the time, most financial and governmental business was conducted in hotels and not only did a number of notable diplomats and politicians live at the hotel, because of its location in the city’s commercial and political center, Wormley also hosted Washington’s movers and shakers. Wormley’s rise, however, occurred as three landmark decisions by the Supreme Court effectively dismantled Reconstruction and led to the
Plessy v. Ferguson decision that legalized segregation. This cautionary tale illustrates how key Supreme Court decisions hindered other African Americans’ potential successes after Reconstruction. By examining the issue of states’ rights in terms of one man’s against-the-odds success, Carol Gelderman shows how these same issues are still relevant in a post-segregation United States.
Praise for the Book
This is a fascinating book that provides wonderful nuggets mined from African American history and the history of our national capital.
— Paul Finkelman, President William McKinley Distinguished Professor of Law, Albany Law School, and co-editor of In the Shadow of Freedom: The Politics of Slavery in the National Capital
In A Free Man of Color and His Hotel, Carol Gelderman frames the life of the successful Washington, D.C., African American hotelier James Wormley around the tumultuous post–Civil War era, most notably the dismantling of the federal protection of the freed people’s civil rights guaranteed by the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments. Presenting both a portrait of Wormley’s entrepreneurship and an incisive history of the controversial presidential election of 1876, Gelderman charts the irony of white southerners and their northern friends reversing many of the hard-fought results of Union victory in the Civil War. Fast-paced, elegantly written, and factually accurate, Gelderman’s book narrates the reactionary triumph of states’ rights ideology over federalism that ushered in eight decades of Jim Crow.
—John David Smith, Charles H. Stone Distinguished Professor of American History, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Many people know that the terms of the so-called Compromise of 1877 were hammered out at the Wormley Hotel in Washington, D. C.; fewer know that its proprietor, James Wormley, was African American. That is only one of the surprises awaiting readers of Carol Gelderman’s new book, which sheds much-needed light on the experiences of the national capital’s black population during the nineteenth century.
—Brooks D. Simpson, ASU Foundation Professor of History, Arizona State University, and author of The Reconstruction Presidents