For three years Dan Kildee sat in David Blight’s high school classroom watching his teacher bring history to life. They didn’t even have to leave the building — though they did that too, like when Blight stood in the middle of a field at Gettysburg describing Pickett’s charge, the crucial maneuver in the Civil War’s most famous battle.
“He literally stood there and depicted for us how those soldiers came across that big field and how many died,” Kildee says.
Today, Blight is a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and professor at Yale, and Kildee is a congressman representing Flint, Michigan — a career he may not have had without his teacher’s encouragement. After all, it was Blight who supported him when he decided to run for a spot on the Flint Board of Education at only 18 years old.
“I think he really helped me be received and perceived as a serious candidate for office. Ultimately, I won that election and it changed the trajectory of my life,” Kildee says.
Blight is the author of “Prophet of Freedom,” the 2019 Pulitzer-winning biography of Frederick Douglass, currently being developed into a feature film by Barack and Michelle Obama. Kildee will be seated with him Wednesday at a “Congressional Dialogues” dinner. The event series, presented by the Library of Congress, is for lawmakers and invited guests, who hear from historians like Doris Kearns Goodwin, Michael Beschloss and Douglas Brinkley.
Coming in the middle of Black History Month, Blight’s conversation will focus on Frederick Douglass. (February is also Douglass’ birth month.)
Kildee is effusive in his praise of Blight, calling him a “master storyteller.” (Having listened to almost 20 hours of Blight’s Civil War lectures, available online, I agree.)
“The thing that was really extraordinary is the extent to which he went to help us experience that history,” says Kildee. During Kildee’s senior year, the 1976 bicentennial, Blight took 50 students on a weeklong trip to retrace the steps of the American Revolution from Boston to Philadelphia, and to Washington. “It’s something that I’ll keep with me for as long as I live because I came to understand American history in ways that you can’t get from a book.”
Kildee says he’s attended many of the dinners. He and Blight stayed in touch over the years, and he wrote to the Library of Congress asking that Blight be added as a series speaker after he won the Pulitzer. It’s kind of hard to imagine your high school history teacher achieving such an honor. Kildee and his classmates certainly didn’t: “Can you imagine how fortunate my classmates and I were to have this guy as our history teacher in high school?”