Long before I became the acquiring editor for southern history at LSU Press, I was an aspiring historian in graduate school at LSU. Having been deeply fascinated with the history of the South, I was fully aware of the Press’s longstanding reputation as one of the leading academic publishers in the region. What impressed me most about the Press was not only the ways in which its array of award-winning and distinguished titles had literally shaped the prevailing historiography of the southern past, but also how many of its titles had over the decades added new and important voices to the debate. The Press’s books about or by black southerners were a substantial part of that admirable tradition. Dozens of the Press’s releases are cherished classics in African American history. Indeed, titles such as Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years a Slave; John Blassingame’s Slave Testimony; Eric Foner’s Nothing but Freedom; and Gwendolyn Midlo Hall’s Africans in Colonial Louisiana literally reshaped the way historians thought about black southerners.
When I became an editor at the Press, one of my foremost concerns was therefore how I would carry on this rich tradition. Mainly what I hoped to do was add titles about the black experience that were innovative, challenging, provocative, and compelling.
I was struck almost immediately by the potential for bringing other ways of examining the struggle for black freedom onto the list. Books such as Lee Sartain’s Invisible Activists: Women of the Louisiana NAACP and the Struggle for Civil Rights, 1915–1945; Shannon Frystack’s Our Minds on Freedom: Women and the Struggle for Black Equality in Louisiana, 1924-1967; and Rob Riser’s Defying Disfranchisement: Black Voting Rights Activism in the Jim Crow South, 1890-1908 were works that I thought would begin to fulfill that mission. Finding new slave narratives to publish was also high on my wish list, which resulted in John Washington’s Civil War: A Slave Narrative, edited by Crandall Shifflett, and Slave Life in Virginia and Kentucky: A Narrative by Francis Fedric, Escaped Slave, edited by C. L. Innes.
Memoirs by African Americans involved in the long quest for civil rights seemed a natural fit for LSU Press as well as a compelling way to add primary source material to the field. Remember My Sacrifice: The Autobiography of Clinton Clark, Tenant Farm Organizer and Early Civil Rights Activist, edited by Elizabeth Davey and Rodney Clark, did just that. D’Army Bailey’s Education of a Black Radical: A Southern Civil Rights Activist’s Journey, 1959-1964 did so as well. Other books that I believe have expanded the ways in which scholars think about black southerners include Mechal Sobel’s Painting a Hidden Life: The Art of Bill Traylor and Leonard Moore’s Black Rage in New Orleans: Police Brutality and African American Activism from World War II to Hurricane Katrina.
Finding books that challenged the prevailing historiography of slavery or recast the slavery experience were also a priority. Alexander Byrd’s Captives and Voyagers: Black Migrants across the Eighteenth-Century British Atlantic World and Walter Rucker’s The River Flows On: Black Resistance, Culture, and Identity Formation in Early America, both of which are in the Press’s prestigious Antislavery, Abolition, and the Atlantic World Series, are models of what I hope to publish, as is Jason Young’s Rituals of Resistance: African Atlantic Religion in Kongo and the Lowcountry South in the Era of Slavery.
Bringing in books about the critical role that blacks played in the creation of the indigenous music of the South in the form of jazz or blues is another facet of my list. Rob Lawson’s Jim Crow’s Counterculture: The Blues and Black Southerners, 1890-1945; and Roger House’s Blue Smoke: The Recorded Journey of Big Bill Broonzy are two of the first of what I hope will be many steps into that field.
Having been an acquisitions editor at the Press for several years now, my appreciation for how scholars and participants work meticulously and tirelessly to offer a more comprehensive, inclusive, and accurate portrait of the southern past – one that brings in everyone’s voice – could not be higher. I have no doubt that publishing these sorts of books will long continue as an LSU Press tradition.
– Rand Dotson, Senior Acquisitions Editor