Tribute to Frank Freidel by Nell Painter

Frank Freidel was Nell Irvin Painter's dissertation adviser, in the Department of History at Harvard University. She completed her Ph.D. in 1974. This tribute to Frank Freidel was read at the dinner in his honor given by his students to mark his presidency of the Organization of American Historians, in 1976.

Oscar Micheaux and Frank Freidel
by Nell Irvin Painter

Frank Freidel probably doesn't think of himself as a spiritual descendant of Oscar Micheaux. After all, Micheaux, a Black man, wrote books and made movies especially for colored people. Neither historian nor scholar, he never instructed graduate students or supervised theses. Oscar Micheaux thought himself something of a teacher, however, and he inserted in each of his novels and films a moment when the main characters addressed the audience on the condition of the Race. They knew and told us what we must do.

In The Conquest, written in 1913, Micheaux's young pioneer pauses ot flay his fellows who are"unable to cope with the trend of modern progress" because they think that no mater how well this or that white man prospers, his success portends nothing to anyone Black. The pioneer protests this self-defeating notion."one of the greatest tasks of my life" he says, is convincing "a certain class of my racial acquaintances that a colored man can be anything." He found it quite a job.

Although some sixty years separate me from the young sage of The Conquest, I confess having belonged to his "certain class" of doubters. I admit to having seriously questioned what a Black and female individual might achieve in this profession, in this country. Happily for me, Frank Friedel shouldered Micheaux's burden.

Frank's humanity, sensitivity, and tactful concern helped me hope that I could "be anything" as long as I did my part. It sounds simple, but in this lumpy world, it's a much appreciated achievement. Oscar Micheaux would have testified to its difficulty and taken Frank's hand for doing his part in the work.

Nell Irvin Painter
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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