‘He changed our world’: Friends and family remember Sansing’s legacy

Posted on Jul 11 2019 - 5:59am by Kenneth Niemeyer

Family, friends, faculty and former students were moved to tears on Wednesday as loved ones gave their accounts of historian and professor emeritus David Sansing at his memorial service in Paris-Yates Chapel.

Sansing impacted the state of Mississippi and helped shape its historical understanding through chronicling the history of the University of Mississippi and the state as a whole.

Photo by Katherine Butler.

Ronnie Agnew, Executive Director of Mississippi Public Broadcasting and a 1984 UM graduate, spoke at the service on behalf of Sansing’s former students.

Agnew said that as an African American and son of sharecroppers, he often felt uncomfortable at the changing university, but Sansing’s encouragement allayed his unease. 

“Ronnie Agnew … you belong,” Sansing told Agnew when he was a student at the university. “This school is just as much yours as anybody’s.”

Sansing’s textbook “A Place Called Mississippi” is still used in high schools across the state. Agnew credited Sansing for being unparalleled in chronicling the history of the university and the state of Mississippi. 

“I do believe that history will show that Dr. Sansing was without peer for telling Mississippi’s complicated history,” Agnew said.

Photo by Katherine Butler.

The funeral was arranged by Waller Funeral Home and Cremation Services, which was founded by Don and Patsy Waller, family members of former Mississippi Gov. Bill Waller. 

Sansing worked with the former governor to create a history of the then dilapidated Governor’s Mansion. After his book “A History of the Mississippi Governor’s Mansion” was published in 1977, the Mansion was restored, and the National Park Service designated it as a National Historic Landmark.

David Sansing impacted everyone he knew whether through his historical works or his personal relationships.

“He changed our world,” Dr. Reed Hogan said.

His personal impact showed those around him that there was more to David Sansing than his academic reputation.

“As you get to know him you learn that David Sansing is not just politically correct, he’s morally correct,” Hogan said.

Sansing’s youngest son, Perry Sansing, serves a UM’s special assistant to the chancellor for governmental affairs. 

Photo by Katherine Butler.

Perry Sansing spoke at the service to convey his father’s love of Ole Miss.

He said that his father’s love of the university was conveyed through the way he taught its history to his students, which made many students become interested when they weren’t before.

“Some of them talk about how they didn’t care about history until they took his class,” Perry Sansing said.

David Sansing dedicated his life to telling Mississippi’s stories through his historical works. He made it his mission to capture the state’s sordid past and remain honest in his accounts for his students.

“One of the things that was so meaningful to him and important to him was teaching honestly about our history,” Perry Sansing said. “(He thought) that young people all the way to college students needed to understand and get a full view of our history.”

David Sansing’s historical works still shape the way that history is taught at the university today. 

Photo by Katherine Butler.

“For any student hoping to write about the history of the university, David’s work is really the go-to,” Anne Twitty, Associate Professor of History said in an interview before the service. “It’s where you start the conversation.” 

Twitty said that many students rely on Sansing’s book “The University of Mississippi: A Sesquicentennial History” because it contains a large amount of information that can’t be found elsewhere. 

She added that faculty members in the History Department and members of the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on History and Contextualization relied on Sansing and frequently came to him with questions about the university’s past.

“David was our Wikipedia page on the University of Mississippi, and some of that was born of all his historical research and the writing of (‘A Sesquicentennial History’),” Twitty said.

Photo by Katherine Butler.

David Sansing Jr., Sansing’s eldest son, gave an account of his father’s unconditional love and support of his family. He described his father as a “true Southern gentleman” and someone who always promoted acceptance of others.

“As we leave this beautiful building and his university, I want to end with a statement that is rather unusual for a historian,” David Sansing Jr. said. “Let us not look back, but look forward.”

David Sansing is survived by his grandchildren, his wife, Elizabeth Sansing, a daughter, Beth McLarty and her husband, John; two sons, David G. Sansing, Jr. and his wife, Cindy and Perry Sansing and his wife, Jeannie; a sister, Margaret Waits, and a brother, Bob Sansing.