Historian and longtime Wellfleet resident William S. McFeely died on Dec. 11, 2019, in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y. He was 89 years old.
Born in New York City, Bill, as he was known, grew up in Wyckoff, N.J., and attended Amherst College. After eight years working as a banker, he pursued a Ph.D. in American studies at Yale University. Inspired by C. Vann Woodward’s The Strange Career of Jim Crow, he came to see history and teaching as tools for social activism.
He helped found Yale’s African American Studies program and taught one of its core courses, though he acknowledged the irony of black history being taught by a white professor. In addition to teaching at Yale, he taught at Mount Holyoke College and the University of Georgia.
A prolific writer, Bill produced several biographies that urged readers to confront the nation’s history with race, including Yankee Stepfather: General O.O. Howard and the Freedmen, Grant: A Biography (which won a Pulitzer Prize), and Frederick Douglass.
Bill and Mary, his wife of 66 years, found a home off Mill Hill Road in Wellfleet in the 1980s. They loved the eclectic community and treasured friendships with neighbors.
The McFeelys lived their last years at Kendal on Hudson, a retirement community in Sleepy Hollow; Mary died there in November 2018.
He is survived by his sister, Jean Ann Kessler; his son, Drake (and Karen); daughters Eliza (and Jeff) and Jennifer (and Jim); seven grandchildren; and one great-grandson.
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the Equal Justice Institute, 122 Commerce St., Montgomery, AL 36104 (eji.org), or the Fund for Nature, Mass Audubon, 208 South Great Road, Lincoln, MA 01773 (massaudubon.org).