Evolution of a Historian

Eugene DeFriest Bétit, evolution of a historian.

History is something I grew into. I majored in Humanities at Providence College – German and English literature. Then I went off to my adventure and love affair with the Army as an intelligence analyst and had the good fortune to be selected for the Russian Foreign Area Officer Program. My Ph. D. at Georgetown University imparted an appreciation for the sweep of Russian history.

My First Book

I became a docent at Belle Grove Plantation when we moved to the Shenandoah Valley eleven years ago. Major Isaac Hite, the plantation’s builder, was said to have six grandsons who died fighting for the Confederacy. When I began researching, I discovered that one enlisted at 14 years of age and died before his fifteenth birthday. Moreover, more accurately, four grandsons, plus two great-grandsons gave “the last full measure.” But nine more survived, as well as a great-grandson who lost his arm fighting at nearby Fishers Hill. I also discovered that there was no public education throughout the South until 1870; the “damned Yankees” introduced it as part of Reconstruction. That was my first book, War’s Cost: the Hites’ Civil War

Bitten by History

Bitten by the history bug, I decided to write a book about my mother’s family, who we thought were Dutch. It turns out they were Walloons, French-speaking Huguenots (Protestants), forced to flee to Leiden, The Netherlands due to religious persecution the same time the Pilgrims were there. This resulted in book two, Manhattan’s Walloon Settlers: Jesse DeForest’s Legacy.

A Story Uncovered

I knew of the existence of the Fifteenth Amendment and could not rationalize this with Jim Crow and the near-total disenfranchisement of black citizens for nearly a century. The story I uncovered in my third book, Collective Amnesia: American Apartheid — African Americans’ 400 Years in North America, 1619-2019is ghastly, documented in nearly 450 pages,  67 graphics, and 850 footnotes. This history is radically and disturbingly different from what we were taught in school. 

Fascinated by this topic, I continued researching, resulting in a new book, African Americans in American History, which makes it clear that “Black history” is not an addition, but an integral part of America’s history. White supremacy and racism had everything to do with its previous omission. The book has some 575 pages, supported by 1,045 footnotes and 78 graphics.

I‘ve also completed a book for children with the same title likely to have far greater influence. It is critical that we teach authentic history, not the mythology embraced in the past.

I hope you will read my blogs. I welcome your input and comments.

History is dynamic -– a living, breathing process vital to our future!