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Ripley, C. Peter 1941-

RIPLEY, C. Peter 1941-


Born 1941, in ME. Education: Florida State University, B.A., 1966, Ph.D., 1973.


Office—Florida State University, 401 Bellamy Building, Tallahassee, FL 32306-2100.


Historian and author. Florida State University, Tallahassee, professor of history, 1973—.


Slaves and Freedmen in Civil War Louisiana, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1976.

(Editor with John W. Blassingame) The Speeches of Frederick Douglass, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1979.

(Editor with others) The Black Abolitionist Papers, five volumes, University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill, NC), 1985-1992.

Richard Nixon, Chelsea House (New York, NY), 1987.

(Editor with Roy E. Finkenbine, Michael F. Hembree, and Donald Yacovone) Witness for Freedom: African-American Voices on Race, Slavery, and Emancipation, University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill, NC), 1993.

Conversations with Cuba, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 1999.

Contributor of reviews and articles to journals, including the American Historical Review. Contributor to The African-American Experience in Louisiana: Part B: From the Civil War to Jim Crow, edited by Charles Vincent, Center for Louisiana Studies/University of Louisiana (Lafayette, LA), 2000.


A professor of history at Florida State University, C. Peter Ripley has focused on America in the 1960s and on African-American history. His works as researcher, writer, and editor have helped to change the historical perspective on slavery, abolition, and the struggle for emancipation. Such works include Slaves and Freedmen in Civil War Louisiana, The Black Abolitionist Papers, and Witness for Freedom: African American Voices on Race, Slavery, and Emancipation. He has also dealt with the American presidency in 1987's Richard Nixon, and in 1999's Conversations with Cuba he takes a new look at a thorny foreign policy issue through the lives of ordinary citizens of Fidel Castro's Cuba.

In his first book, Slaves and Freedmen in Civil War Louisiana, Ripley examines both slavery as an institution in that state and also the Union policy pursued in Louisiana after the state's early occupation. Ripley contends in his study that these federal policies presented a "rehearsal for Reconstruction" and largely failed in securing equality for African Americans. Peter Kolchin, writing in the Journal of American History, praised the study as "thorough, informative, and based on extensive research," but at the same time found that its "deficiencies stem from the author's excessively moralistic approach to his subject." For Kolchin, the author is too eager to "assign blame for the failure to achieve this equality." Despite reservations about certain "errors and omissions" in the work, Louis S. Gerteis, writing in the American Historical Review, thought Ripley's book is "useful and, perhaps, important" because of his discussion of such themes as the relationship between slave and master. And a critic for Choice felt that "Ripley's work should encourage similar studies."

Between 1985 and 1992 Ripley coedited the five volumes of The Black Abolitionist Papers, a collection of voices from the African-American community speaking out on slavery and abolition in England, Canada, and the United States. These documents were culled from a seventeen-reel microfilm collection that contained letters, newspapers, speeches, essays, and pamphlets in the United States, Canada, and England. The first volume deals with speeches and writers who attempted to influence the population in Great Britain between 1830 and 1865. Richard Blackett, writing in the Journal of American History, thought that Ripley and his fellow editors do a "masterful job" in avoiding repetition by being "highly selective" of the contributors and also by presenting a broad range of voices from the era. For Blackett, this is a "volume that will have to be consulted whenever the Atlantic abolitionist movement is examined." The editors, Blackett concluded, "are to be commended both for their investigative talents …and for their skilled arrangement of the documents."

Reviewing the second volume of The Black Abolitionist Papers, which focuses on Canada, Waldo E. Martin, Jr., writing in the Journal of American History, found it a "fascinating collection" that "offers invaluable insight into Canada's black community." Martin also praised the "excellent variety of the documents" and further commented that volume two "continues the exemplary editorial standards" found in the first. Ripley turns to the United States in the last three volumes, which have been similarly commended by reviewers. A critic for American Visions thought the third installment is a "valuable reference supplement," while Ravonne A. Green in Library Journal called it an "impressive and invaluable aid." A reviewer for the Virginia Quarterly Review commented that, in spite of the "one noticeable gap" in the collection—the absence of material from Frederick Douglass—the third volume is "essential …for anyone interested in early 19th-century African American History."

Ripley continues in a similar vein with his "splendid" Witness for Freedom, a "respectful examination of African American participation in the antislavery movement," according to Marton L. Dillon in the African American Review. Selected from the five-volume work, the documents in Witness for Freedom are intended as a more-accessible, one-volume approach. As such, the book is "fashioned to reveal the course of Northern black antislavery activities from 1817 to 1865," as Dillon commented, in so doing showing "African Americans shaping the crusade against slavery at many points." Dillon went on to note that this "valuable collection" should serve to turn readers to the larger five-volume work. One of the important issues this collection highlights, according to Michael A. Cooke in the Mississippi Quarterly, is "the growing militancy and frustration of black abolitionists with white Northerners who were willing to compromise certain principles for the sake of preserving the Union." For Janet Harrison Shannon, reviewing Witness for Freedom in the Journal of American History, the work is an "excellent introduction to black abolitionism," and has, as one of its strengths, the "inclusion of obscure sources and individuals." Shannon additionally felt that the book "will appeal to a wide audience." And writing in the New York Review of Books, David Brion Davis felt that the efforts of Ripley and others in the field "lead us out of the Plato's cave of Civil War legend." For Davis, the documentary and research work of Ripley and others puts modern readers in touch with the real and actual voices of the time, allowing us to "hear the aspirations, the pain, the rage of African Americans."

From racial themes, Ripley turns to politics in his concise biography Richard Nixon. Ripley is "nonjudgmental," according to Joyce Whitson in School Library Journal, as he takes the reader through Nixon's career, from his California beginnings, to his years as vice president under President Dwight Eisenhower, to his own term as thirty-seventh U.S. president, and concluding with his resignation as a result of the Watergate scandal. Whitson further commended the short history for being both "detailed" and "well balanced."

Politics also informs Ripley's Conversations with Cuba, but here the author attempts to show the human face of ordinary Cubans with whom he came into contact on his five visits to the island between 1991 and 1997. Through such individual stories, he shows the changing economic situation of the country. Ripley includes profiles of teachers, a gold trader, and others caught in the maw of history, as well as his own personal observations. Avia Chomsky, reviewing the book in the Times Literary Supplement, felt "Ripley is at his best in recounting conversations with individual Cubans." Chomsky further noted that the book "offers a satisfying glimpse into today's Cuba." Library Journal's Mark L. Grover found the same book "well written and informative" if not "entirely objective." Wendy Gimbel, however, writing in the Los Angeles Times thought that "the strength of [Ripley's] writing is that it is simply observational, it values the search for objectivity." According to Gimbel, Ripley "makes the case for reconciliation" between the two countries.



Ripley, C. Peter, Slaves and Freedmen in Civil War Louisiana, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1976.


African American Review, winter, 1995, Merton L. Dillon, review of Witness for Freedom: African-American Voices on Race, Slavery, and Emancipation,, pp. 673-676.

American Historical Review, June, 1977, Louis S. Gerteis, review of Slaves and Freedmen in Civil War Louisiana, pp. 747-748.

Booklist, October 1, 1999, Joe Collins, review of Conversations with Cuba, p. 342.

Choice, February, 1977, review of Slaves and Freedmen in Civil War Louisiana, p. 1658.

Journal of American History, September, 1977, Peter Kolchin, review of Slaves and Freedmen in Civil War Louisiana, pp. 443-444; June, 1985, Richard Blackett, review of The Black Abolitionist Papers, Volume I, pp. 402-403; December, 1988, Waldo E. Martin, Jr., review of The Black Abolitionist Papers, Volume II, pp. 936-937; December, 1994, Janet Harrison Shannon, review of Witness for Freedom, pp. 1314-1315.

Library Journal, February 15, 1991, Ravonne A. Green, review of The Black Abolitionist Papers, Volume III, pp. 206-207; October 15, 1999, Mark L. Grover, review of Conversations with Cuba, p. 87.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 12, 2000, Wendy Gimbel, review of Conversations with Cuba, p. 6.

Mississippi Quarterly, fall, 1994, Michael A. Cooke, review of Witness for Freedom, pp. 693-695.

New York Review of Books, November 4, 1993, David Brion Davis, review of Witness for Freedom, pp. 6-11.

School Library Journal, December, 1987, Joyce Whitson, review of Richard Nixon, p. 108.

Times Literary Supplement, October 29, 1999, Avia Chomsky, review of Conversations with Cuba, p. 33.

Virginia Quarterly Review, autumn, 1991, review of The Black Abolitionist Papers, Volume III, p. 116.


Florida State University Web site, (November 7, 2003) "Dr. C. Peter Ripley."*

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