The OBI community is profoundly saddened by the tragic news of the untimely death of Dr. Tyler Stovall, an eminent scholar of modern French history who taught for many years at UC Berkeley, served as dean of Humanities at UC Santa Cruz, and since last year was dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Fordham University in New York City.
He was also the loving husband of our Associate Director, Dr. Denise Herd, and father to their son, Justin.
“Our heart goes out to Dr. Herd over her profound loss," OBI Director john a. powell said. "We will miss Dr. Stovall but we will also continue to learn and be inspired by him for years to come. Thank you Dr. Stovall.”
Denise, a distinguished professor of public health in her own right, often spoke proudly of the many talents and achievements of her husband, a fluent French speaker who authored 10 books on French history, colonialism, labor, and race, his most recent being White Freedom: The Racial History of an Idea, published earlier this year.
In early 2020 before the pandemic struck, Tyler participated in two events as part of UC Berkeley's 400 Years of Resistance to Slavery and Injustice initiative, a year-long series to commemorate the 400-year anniversary of the beginning of slavery in the United States, a program spearheaded by Denise and organized by our institute.
In the introduction to one of the events he explained that the Statue of Liberty was originally meant to commemorate the end of slavery. French abolitionist Édouard de Laboulaye envisioned the Statue of Liberty carrying broken chains in her hands to symbolize the end to slavery, and wearing an ancient Roman cap that symbolized freed slaves.
But the Roman cap was not included in the final statue and the broken chains were all but concealed at Lady Liberty’s feet. With the meaning of the statue transformed, Tyler added, ”its roots in the anti-slavery movement have been hidden and have been ignored.” This was part of a larger pattern of concealing or deliberately forgetting the remarkable history of New York City, and Wall Street in particular, as slave centers, from which the city built its status as a financial hub and, we could argue, provided a source for the continued economic and racial inequality in the United States to the present day.
It is these types of connections between the past and the present which both Tyler, as a historian, and Denise, a public health expert, have spent their lives illuminating so we might better understand how to remedy ongoing social inequality.
It's hard to think of a couple more dedicated to this mission than Tyler and Denise.
Our deepest sympathies and most sincere condolences go out to Denise, Justin, and to everyone who had the privilege of knowing and working with the indefatigable Tyler Stovall.