Death of a Civil Rights Icon: D’Army Bailey

Upon hearing the sad news of Judge D’Army Bailey’s death, executive editor Rand Dotson reflects upon the publication of his 2009 memoir, The Education of a Black Radical.

Occasionally all acquisitions editors receive a gift in the form of a manuscript that they start reading and cannot put down. In my case, that happened when Judge D’Army Bailey’s memoir landed on my desk. I remember taking it to lunch, then later to coffee, only putting it down to attend a meeting, and finishing it by the close of day. The Judge had phoned me earlier that week to gauge my possible interest in his work. I remember politely explaining that LSU Press rarely publishes memoirs, and then trying to recall his role in the well-known Hollywood films that he mentioned appearing in. Mostly I remember the Judge telling me that I would want to publish his life story and me thinking that this was highly unlikely. I am not often wrong, but when I am, I am wrong spectacularly.

After LSU Press published the Judge’s Education of a Black Radical: A Southern Civil Rights Activist’s Journey, 1959-1964, he came to Baton Rouge to speak at Southern University about his experiences there as well as to LSU to speak to students about the fight for racial equality. On both occasions, I was in the audience along with students and faculty, listening to the Judge’s description of leading protests against Jim Crow laws in downtown Baton Rouge and getting expelled from Southern for his actions, even though he was class president. In both instances, the Judge received standing ovations.

My initial thoughts upon hearing of the passing of Judge Bailey were that he was an absolute gentleman and that he was on the right side of history at a time when being so was a sure way to ruin your life.