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Sue Eakin: 1918-2009

This morning, I was saddened to hear of the passing of my great aunt, Sue Eakin, who died at the age of 90 in her home in Bunkie. Sue was one of a dozen of Lyles siblings, which includes my paternal grandmother EakinSueJoanne, all of whom grew up on Compromise Plantation in Loyd Bridge, Louisiana (near Cheneyville).

I hadn’t seen or spoken with Aunt Sue in several years, but very recently, I had the opportunity to pass along some amazing news (which, unfortunately, I cannot disclose here) to three of her children that, I hope, will ensure her work continues to inspire and educate for many, many more years. (And I know the news thrilled her).

Professionally, she will be remembered most 9780807101506for editing Solomon Northrup’s Twelve Years a Slave, the diary of a free man sold into slavery, one of the most compelling slave narratives in American history. Additionally, along with her sister Manie, she also wrote the textbook used in junior high Louisiana History classes.

A couple of years ago, I directed readers to a website Sue published about the history of Central Louisiana. As far as I know, she never stopped pursuing her passion- creatively conveying the history of the people of Louisiana.

Considering Aunt Sue was a student and scholar of history, it is only fitting to provide her history, which spanned over 90 years:

Family: Born December 7, 1918, in Loyd Bridge, LA; daughter of Samuel Pickles, Sr. (a planter) ( I’ve always thought it’s awesome that Pickles is a family name) and Myrtle (Guy) Lyles; married Paul Mechlin Eakin, Sr. (a financial consultant), January 31, 1941; children: Paul Mechlin, Jr., Russell Lyles, Sara Eakin Kuhn, Samuel Fred, Frank. Education: Louisiana State University, B.A., 1941, M.A. (history), 1964, M.A. (journalism), 1965; University of Southwestern Louisiana, doctoral study, 1976. Politics: “Just an alert, concerned citizen.” Religion: Methodist. Memberships: Louisiana Historical Association (member of board of directors, 1973-76), Historical Association of Central Louisiana (member of board of directors, 1975), Les Avoyelles Commissiones.

Worked during the 1950’s as a columnist and feature writer for the Alexandria Daily Town Talk, Alexandria, LA, as editor and co-owner of Bunkie Record, Bunkie, LA, and as feature editor, columnist and reporter for Opelousas Daily World, Opelousas, LA; Louisiana State University, Alexandria, assistant professor of history, 1964–. Archivist for Louisiana State Archives and Records Service.

National Endowment for the Humanities fellow, 1974; outstanding American history professor award from Daughters of the American Revolution, 1975; Louisiana Committee of the American Revolution Bicentennial research award, 1976.

bildePhoto credit: The Town Talk‘s Melinda Martinez

WRITINGS BY THE AUTHOR:

  • (Editor with Joseph Logsdon) Twelve Years a Slave, 1841-1853, Louisiana State University Press, 1968.
  • (Editor and author of introduction) Manie Culbertson, Let Me Speak, Pelican Press, 1970.
  • (Editor) Walter Prichard, Outline of Louisiana History, Pelican Press, 1972.
  • Some History of Rapides Parish: A Sourcebook, Louisiana Committee of the American Revolution Bicentennial, 1976.
  • (With Norman Ferachi) Vanishing Louisiana, Beauregard Press, 1977.
  • (With others) Avoyelles Parish-Crossroads of Louisiana Where all Cultures Meet, Moran (Baton Rouge, LA), 1981.
  • (With Culbertson) Louisiana, the Land and Its People, Pelican Press (Gretna, LA), 1986.
  • Rapides Parish: An Illustrated History, Windsor (Northridge, CA), 1987.
  • Washington, Louisiana: Fabulous Inland Port, Historic Getaway to the Southwest, Everett Companies (Bossier City, LA), 1988.
  • (Editor) William Hicks, History of Louisiana Negro Baptists and Early American Beginnings from 1804-1914, University of Southwestern Louisiana (Lafayette, LA), 1998.
  • Solomon Northrup’s Twelve Years a Slave: 1841-1853, Pelican (Gretna, LA), 1998.

Filmstrips:

  • Louisiana’s Cultural Heritage,”.
  • Louisiana’s Physical Features,”.
  • Louisiana’s Wildlife Resources,”.
  • Louisiana Manufacturing,”.
  • Louisiana Minerals,”.
  • Louisiana Mineral Conservation,”.
  • Plantation Revolution: Planters, Negroes and Machines,”.
  • Acadians of Louisiana,” and “A Louisiana Boucherie.“.

Contributor to Louisiana Heritage. Editor of Back Tracking, 1974-76.

Sue Eakin writes:

I was born in central Louisiana where blacks, plantation whites and blacks, and hill country people were represented in the society. This was at the end of the Bourbon period when the planter class Redeemers and Southern industrialists banded together to recreate the Southern caste system. I grew up caught in the position of empathizing with all three groups, and even as a child planned what I wanted to write, and wrote since I can remember, to show these different peoples in the affectionate light in which I saw them. To me, none of the groups seemed to be accepted by the other two, and to me there was a great deal of positive good in all of them. I planned to study in a scholarly way a long list of subjects–English, sociology, journalism, history, and economics, which would help me to understand the Southern people, my people, all of them.

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Robert #

    Very sorry for your loss. And clearly, she was a loss for all of us as well.

    September 19, 2009
  2. Bless your heart, Lamar, as your family is blessed to have it.
    What a delightful lineage.
    I just lost my father who was a few years younger than your aunt and lemme toll’ya they ain’t making them that way any more, broke the mold or whateva.
    Perhaps I speak too soon though since you are pretty bad ass and certainly one of a kind. Really. You hang.

    September 19, 2009
  3. alexcenla #

    We will miss her.
    Alex

    September 20, 2009
  4. what an honor and blessing to have such an amazing influence in your family. I remember reading Slave and wanting to throw the book across the room as the pain, frustration and tragedies poured from its pages. I’ll keep an eye out for her work.

    September 21, 2009
  5. Thank you all for your kind words. I extend my deepest sympathies to the Eakins, an extraordinarily accomplished and talented family.

    A few months ago, I purchased four or five copies of Twelve Years a Slave to give them to people who I thought needed to know the story. Not many people realize that Central Louisiana is the setting of one of the most important and compelling slave narratives in American history. (The Epps House, which still stands on the campus of LSUA, is featured in the book).

    I consider Solomon Northrup to be one of the most influential people to have ever lived in Central Louisiana, maybe because the story has always been close to me but also because I appreciate its value in American History and African-American Studies. I was assigned the book when I took in an Intro to African-American Studies course at Rice; for many people, it’s a seminal text in that discourse.

    In addition to being the setting for Northrup’s book, legend has it that Harriett Beecher Stowe, who was from the North, made an extended visit to what is now Little Eva Plantation (near Coultierville) before writing the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

    September 21, 2009
  6. May her memory forever be for a blessing. How blessed you were to have someone such as your great-aunt in your family tree.

    September 21, 2009
  7. Ace Midnight #

    Mrs. Eakin was a “regional” treasure, and she will surely be missed. As a historian, I was generally interested in the history of our region, and from a young age. However, taking Mrs. Eakin’s class at LSU-A gave me a deeper understanding of the complexity of our region. Particularly, the story of Solomon Northrup (and she wouldn’t let you out of the class without it) has continued to shape my understanding and thought process regarding slavery during the Antebellum period. I was able to identify more closely with the story as I knew every place and location mentioned in the story.

    She was a special person and a legendary educator for our region.

    September 23, 2009
  8. I was so sorry to hear about her death. I hope the family is doing well.
    The history you mentioned about where you referenced the 2007 post has moved here:

    http://rapidesgenealogy.org/history/eakin/index.htm

    September 23, 2009
  9. Penny Toney #

    Sue Eakin was a great teacher, a woman who cared deeply about her subjects and about the people who studied them. She was a demanding teacher, expecting more than we expected to give her. I remember trying to learn the name and location of every locality on the Louisiana map for one of her classes. She believed that such knowledge was important, and so it proved to be. I could travel around the state comfortably long before TomToms and iphones. However, her classes were never about memorization; she made the past come alive and teased us into speculating about the future and our part in it. She had that teacher ability to provoke the why. We couldn’t hang around her long without developing our own lists of whys and hows; her curiosity was catching.

    Long after I left LSUA, I returned to visit Ms. Eakin for a special request. My brother had passed away at the age of 27, and Momma had remembered that Blake had done some folklore collecting for one of Ms. Eakin’s classes. I found her in her office, surrounded by a million remembrances of students’ work. I asked if I could borrow my brother’s tape to make a copy for my mother. Ms. Eakin, always thinking of several things at once and moving between maps and books and students, paused in complete stillness, smiled, and, almost like picking a needle out of a haystack, reached among a cluster of tapes, and handed me my brother’s. Her gracious kindness will never be forgotten by my family.

    In later years, I had the pleasure of knowing her son and grandchildren. I send my sympathy to them, to Ms. White, and to all of the family and friends who will miss Ms. Eakin. She was quite a lady. I celebrate her life, her accomplishments, and her good influence for so many of us who had the pleasure to cross her path.

    September 28, 2009
  10. Doris Buechler(nee Fogleman) #

    Just got the book”12 years a slave”,and wish I had gotten it much sooner.Grew up in Alexandria and always desired to know more of the family history,and where we were from.Grandfather Isiaha enlisted in the Confederate Army from St Landry parish.

    July 23, 2010
  11. Christine Hardin #

    I read “Twelve Years a Slave”, edited by Sue Eakin in the summer of 1998. I found the book while visiting the Old Fort House Museum in Fort Edward, New York. After finishing the book, I looked for an original edition by Solomon Northup (published in 1853) and located one in Philadelphia a few years later. In the meantime, I became very interested in the history of slavery and decided to contact Sue Eakin. I called her from my home in California and told her that I wanted to meet her. She was very gracious to agree to meet with me. So my mother flew in from Florida and my father who lived at that time in Baton Rouge drove us all over to meet her at her home in Bunkie. I asked her lots of questions about the book and she allowed me to tape record the discussion. This was in September of 1998. I told Sue that I had never a field of sugar cane or cotton and she said follow me and off she went in her car with us following behind. She had a lot of spunk for a woman in her 80’s. Sue also spent a lot of time showing us her library of research books, her artifacts from the days of slavery and much more. Her home was like a museum. I did get to see my first sugar cane and cotton field and it was because of your Aunt. She was a wonderful person and she gave so much to documenting the history of the area and of an era. A side note…when we left that day we had to drive all the way to Houston to get a plane home because the New Orleans airport was closed as a hurricane was approaching. That’s my exciting story about Sue Eakin! Thank you for having this blog.

    September 18, 2010
  12. Dr. Allan D. Austin #

    This will seem late and maybe so–if anyone still refers to this pleasing site recognizing Sue Eakin. I taught, in Springfield, MA at Springfield College, the story of Solomon Northup shortly after her work appeared in1968. Now in 2014, I find it amazing that she and Joseph Lodgson’s work was so seldom noticed where it needed to be (New York Times, for instance). that paper has since named them but still includes suggestions that the story may not be accurate. Anyone who has gone beyond the title page could not write such a falsehood. Then, too, Wikipedia states that Ms Eakin produced a larger effort the year before she died, but says nothing about where it might be found. I will do what I can to revive the name of these two broad-minded, serious, Louisiana investigators and teachers here in the distant North.

    January 23, 2014

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