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Published: Sunday, 9/18/2005

UT historian wrote of U.S. black cavalry's feats

William H. Leckie, 89, a retired vice president of academic affairs at the University of Toledo and a historian acclaimed for his scholarship on Buffalo Soldiers - the black members of the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments - died of pneumonia yesterday in Tuskawilla Nursing and Rehab Center, Winter Springs, Fla.

He was in ill health since December, his wife, Shirley, said.

Mr. Leckie retired in 1979 from UT, where he had been vice president of academic affairs for a decade. He was especially proud of his role in starting University College, with programs aimed at nontraditional students.

"He felt [University College] was good for the community and good for urban students and if you wanted a more traditional university, go 20 miles down the road to Bowling Green" State University, his wife said.

Mr. Leckie came to UT in 1963 as a history professor from Texas Arts and Industries University, where he was chairman of the history department. He was dean of the UT graduate school in 1968 when he left for a year at Texas A&I. He returned to UT as a vice president.

His first book was The Military Conquest of the Southern Plains. His interest in African American soldiers of the 19th Century was sparked by his own experience at the end of World War II when, as a white Army Air Corps master sergeant, he commanded a battalion of black soldiers returning to the United States from Saipan.

"He discovered that they were the last to be fed for breakfast and they got cold servings," his wife said. "And when he managed to get them fairer treatment by bringing them in [to breakfast] earlier, there were catcalls and hooting."

A revised edition of Mr. Leckie's groundbreaking 1967 work was published in 2003 as The Buffalo Soldiers: A Narrative of the Black Cavalry in the West.

He also encouraged female students to become historians at a time when male professors said aloud that women were just taking up places that rightfully belonged to men, his wife said.

Constance Rynder, a history professor at the University of Tampa, said: "He nurtured women in the [UT history] department, of which I was one."

"It was Bill who really took women history students seriously. He was also a brilliant teacher," said Ms. Rynder, who received a bachelor's degree from UT in 1967. "All that I am that is good and productive and successful as a scholar and teacher at the university level I probably owe to him."

In his retirement, he and his wife - also a historian - collaborated on Unlikely Warriors: General Benjamin H. Grierson and His Family.

Mr. Leckie grew up in Runge, Texas, and attended a junior college before the war. His paternal grandfather, a Scottish immigrant, gave him history books and decried the racial segregation of the South.

While a professor at Texas A&I, Mr. Leckie encouraged black students and was a public opponent of McCarthy-era loyalty oaths required of faculty.

"He suffered" for his outspokenness, his wife said. "He was known as the pinko professor."

He received his bachelor's and master's degrees from Texas A&I and his doctorate from the University of Oklahoma.

Golf was a favorite pastime, his wife said, and their Winter Springs home is on the sixth hole of a golf course.

His marriage to the late Glorieta Leckie ended in divorce.

Surviving are his wife, Shirley, whom he married Dec. 26, 1975; son, William Leckie, Jr.; daughter, Trace Balin; stepson, Mathew Swora; stepdaughters, Kimberly Beck and Maria Swora; nine grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

There will be no visitation. Services will be at 2 p.m. Tuesday in the Baldwin Fairchild Goldenrod Chapel, Winter Park, Fla.

The family suggests tributes to the William H. Leckie graduate scholarship award at UT.



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