A Few Thoughts on the Passing of Tony Horwitz

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I have spent the better part of my day reading through the tributes to Tony Horwitz. My thoughts of course, are with his family. In this moment of profound loss, they might find some comfort knowing that Mr. Horwitz touched the lives of so many in such positive ways. Each individual tribute I read contributed to a chord sounding in unison: he was kind, generous, gracious, humble, encouraging…the list of virtues goes on, and on. I never had the pleasure of meeting him, but we did have a friendly exchange or two on the Interwebs. And for that, I am grateful.

Like many, my first introduction to his writing was assigned: Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War - required reading years ago for a UCLA undergraduate course on the Civil War. His words, a series of vignettes following the author’s travels through a South that was quite unwilling to shed its Confederate past, resonated with me especially as a southerner with ancestral ties to the Confederacy. Confederates in the Attic inspired me to challenge my thinking on the subject of Confederate iconography and the Lost Cause, and most importantly, it introduced me to the field of Civil War memory…what would lead to the foundation of my work as a scholar of American history.

Now I teach my own advanced class on the Civil War to high school juniors. This week we are finishing up with the final chapters of Confederates in the Attic. Reading this book with students who are learning of it for the first time is always a pleasure. And more than two decades after its original publication, it is still so monumentally important. A point we bring up often in class: throughout Mr. Horwitz’s travels, he is clearly in touch with his Jewish identity. And as I teach in a Jewish school, this fact reverberates with the students. They seem to connect with him and understand his encounters with antisemitism in ways many of us cannot fully and personally grasp. When I told the kids that Mr. Horwitz had passed, they were visibly shaken. We had gotten to know and greatly admire his wit and charm and deftly executed prose. He meant a great deal to them…and lively discussions regarding his experiences in Dixie were the highlight of our classwork this year.

We have an online group chat for the class where we share ideas and resources regularly. Yesterday evening, a student commented in the most concise yet appropriate manner: “God bless Tony Horwitz.”

I could not have said it better.