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NewSouth Books acquired by University of Georgia Press

Tuesday, May 24th, 2022 by Brian Seidman

We are pleased to announce that NewSouth Books has been acquired by the University of Georgia Press. Effective July 1, UGA Press will continue to support NewSouth’s existing catalog of titles under the NewSouth Books imprint while adding new titles acquired by NewSouth principals Suzanne La Rosa and Randall Williams.

NewSouth was cofounded in 2000 by Suzanne La Rosa and Randall Williams. Its offices are located in Montgomery, Alabama. La Rosa is the company’s publisher, Williams its editor-in-chief. La Rosa will join UGA Press on July 1. She will publish 8-12 new titles annually under the NewSouth imprint at UGA Press. Williams will continue to edit selected titles and recommend works for acquisition. Recent noteworthy releases from NewSouth Books include The Southernization of America: A Story of Democracy in the Balance by Frye Gaillard and Cynthia Tucker; The Many Lives of Andrew Young by Ernie Suggs; In the Name of Emmett Till by Robert Mayer; Saving America’s Amazon by Ben Raines; Fourteenth Colony by Mike Bunn; and American Founders: How People of African Descent Established Freedom in the New World by Christina Proenza-Coles.

“NewSouth Books has always punched above its weight in representing the culturally complex and socially significant Deep South to the world. We are thrilled to honor Randall and Suzanne’s work by becoming the new publishing home for these award-winning, critically important books, ” says Lisa Bayer, director of UGA Press. 

La Rosa adds, “NewSouth is proud to align itself with such a distinguished press going forward, one with which we have such excellent compatibility. Our association with the University of Georgia Press will enhance our visibility and expand our reach. We could not imagine a better partner.”

Williams observes, “NewSouth has succeeded due to the talented authors who have trusted us with their research and creativity and to the support of our readers. Both groups will continue to be well served by our alliance with the University of Georgia. Now in its third decade, NewSouth Books looks forward to this important new chapter in its trade publishing life.”

Watch for future communications about how to purchase our books, set up author events, request review copies and such, which changes go into effect on July 1. NewSouth’s website will be updated accordingly.

Historian Joseph Caver pays tribute to Tuskegee Airman Charles McGee

Friday, January 21st, 2022 by Lisa Harrison

Charles McGee, one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, passed away on Sunday, January 16th at age 102. According to the Washington Post, when the all-Black flying unit was formed during World War II, “some officers questioned whether African Americans had the skill, intelligence and courage to become military pilots”. McGee and his fellow pilots proved them wrong, flying some of the most successful missions of the war.  Joseph Caver, co-author of The Tuskegee Airmen: An Illustrated History, 1939-1949, offered some words of remembrance from his personal contact with McGee. He said that what struck him the most about McGee was his calmness. He was “quiet, humorous, loved to laugh, loved to joke. I would consider him a true American hero and someone we could look up to and a great man.” Caver’s book, co-authored by Jerome Ennels and Daniel L. Haulman, uses captioned photographs to trace the Airmen through the stages of training, deployment, and combat actions in North Africa, Italy, and Germany. The authors tell in pictures and words the full story of the Tuskegee Airmen and the environments in which they lived, worked, played, fought, and sometimes died. McGee was a “wonderful man,” said Caver, and his death is a “terrible loss.”

NewSouth Books author Rod Davis busy protesting and celebrating, all in the name of literature

Wednesday, December 15th, 2021 by Suzanne La Rosa

NewSouth Books author Rod Davis (East of Texas, West of Hell among others) responded this autumn to radical right-wing attacks from the Texas governor and members of the state legislature on books in schools that could cause student “distress.” Davis asked the Texas House of Representatives General Investigating Committee that one of his works join the list of titles subject to inspection and possible ban. His letter to the committee stated: “I am sending this to make you aware of another book that should be added to Rep. Krause’s list to the Texas Education Agency of 850 titles to be reviewed for possible removal from use in various schools in Texas for containing materials that ‘might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex.’ American Voudou: Journey into a Hidden World is filled with many controversial references to race, religion, civil rights protests, slavery, lynching, sexual roles, and white supremacy. While it was originally printed in 1998 by a Texas publisher—the University of North Texas Press—it likely may still be referenced by students seeking information on African religions that came to America, especially the South, aboard slave vessels. Certainly this could cause distress. It belongs with the 850.”

As an added gesture, Rod also joined members of the Texas Institute of Letters in signing a protest statement objecting to the intensifying suppressions that now include suspensions and firing of teachers and administrators at some schools: 

Meanwhile, as a member of the National Book Critics Circle Board of Directors, Rod serves on two awards committees—Criticism and Biography—which, like the other NBCC board committees, is working to complete reviews and discussions on dozens of entries leading to final selection of winners early in 2022.

Sadly, one of the longtime NBCC board members—poet, playwright, author, and critic Gregg Barrios—passed away in August, and Rod assisted the San Antonio literary center, Gemini Ink, in preparing a two-day commemoration in November, including (due to pandemic concerns) the video, “Rebel with a Cause: A Virtual Celebration of the Literary Life of Gregg Barrios”: 

It featured a range of well-known literary figures from Texas and around the country, and a panel moderated by Clay Smith, now Chief of Literary Initiatives at the Library of Congress. This is Rod’s contribution, stressing Barrios’s time as a Vietnam Era veteran and interest in telling veterans’ stories:

Davis also wrote the memorial for Barrios for the Texas Institute of Letters:  (Scroll down to the 2021 line and click on his name.)

Overturning Brown author Steve Suitts writes that ‘school freedom’ twists meaning of civil rights movement

Wednesday, October 13th, 2021 by Randall Williams

The Nation just published an article reporting on how former secretary of state Mike Pompeo and former education secretary Betsy DeVos were stumping in New Hampshire last week to promote one of the GOP’s favorite issues, “school choice.” This struck a nerve with Steve Suitts, author of the recent new book, Overturning Brown: The Segregationist Legacy of the Modern School Choice Movement

Suitts wrote The Nation:

Jennifer Berkshire did an excellent piece chronicling how Mike Pompeo, Donald Trump’s former Secretary of State, is stumbling in New Hampshire in his attempt to use “school choice” as a political issue to explore a 2024 presidential bid. She points out that pollster Chris Wilson told a “school choice” meeting where Pompeo appeared that their cause could grow more popular only if they abandon their slogan of “school choice,” which now holds huge negative connotations. Based on his polling, Wilson recommended rebranding their movement as “school freedom.”

If the “school choice” leaders take Wilson’s advice, it will be yet another classic example of how a movement that originated to preserve school segregation will co-opt the language and symbols of civil rights in order to overturn civil rights goals. In 1964, the legendary activist Bob Moses, Charles Cobb, and others organized “Freedom Summer” in Mississippi to begin a massive student-operated effort to lessen the stranglehold of white supremacy. The effort involved carrying out voter registration and conducting “Freedom Schools” for black children across the state to begin to free them from what Moses called a history of “sharecropper education.”

In fact, while the work to end segregation and white supremacy in the South in the 1960s is remembered as a civil rights movement, it was called most often by those who participated and benefited from it as a “freedom movement.”

If “school choice” begins to rebrand as “school freedom” it will twist the purpose and meaning of a heroic, historical effort into a slogan to advance what Freedom Schools sought to abolish.

Just Another Day on the Plains

Tuesday, September 21st, 2021 by Andy Hornsby

The recent death of Harold Franklin, Auburn University’s first Black student, caused me to reflect back on the day he registered and attended his first class. 

January 4, 1964, was the start of winter quarter and I had driven in from Tuskegee that morning not expecting the tight security and tension that was in the air. State troopers had closed the campus and were checking everyone’s identification before allowing admission to the campus. The administration, along with student leaders, had quietly planned for this day for months. Auburn’s then-president, Dr. Ralph Draughon, had walked a tightrope trying to carry out U.S. District Judge Frank M. Johnson’s order while satisfying Governor George Wallace and the university’s board of trustees.

Wallace had started 1963 off with his famous “Segregation Now, Segregation Tomorrow, and Segregation Forever” inaugural speech. In June he had “stood in the school house door” at the University of Alabama, sparking a night of riotous behavior that reportedly involved the KKK. The governor threw up roadblocks to the admission of Franklin to Auburn, but Judge Johnson foiled him at every turn.

Noted civil rights attorney Fred Gray, who filed the lawsuit against Auburn for Franklin, had experienced a busy fall too. Four months earlier Wallace had shut down the public schools in Tuskegee, also with state troopers, to avoid court-ordered integration. Gray had sued to admit thirteen Black students to Tuskegee High School. Wallace’s actions that day did irreparable harm to my hometown and had undermined the authority of the local school board and the county sheriff: my dad, Preston Hornsby.

“Just Another Day on the Plains” was the headline on page three of Auburn’s student newspaper, The Plainsman, on January 8, 1964. That headline reflected the non-event associated with the admission of Franklin.

Making that story possible was the single act of an individual who likely, at the time, didn’t realize the significance of what he had done. As Franklin approached the building for his first class, hundreds of us had gathered to see what was going to happen. There were some catcalls, but Franklin, walking alone, headed for the building entrance. Franklin was approached by a guy near the door who stuck out his hand and said “Welcome to Auburn. ” Most of the students recognized him as Bill Van Dyke, an all-conference guard and maybe the toughest 185 pounder around. His thick neck earned him the nickname “Mongoose” and he had sacked Tennessee’s quarterback 8 times during the last season. He walked Franklin into class and the onlookers melted away. It was over.

Before he died in 2014, I met Bill Van Dyke at Jordan-Hare stadium and reminded him of that day. He got tears in his eyes as he talked about it. 

* * *

Andy Hornsby is a native of Tuskegee, Alabama, an Auburn University graduate, and a retired federal government employee. His career also included high-level positions in Alabama state government.

Editor’s note: Attorney Fred D. Gray’s account of his successful lawsuit desegregating Auburn University is told in his memoir, Bus Ride to Justice. Judge Johnson’s role in the desegregation of Alabama schools and colleges, in rulings on lawsuits brought by Gray, is told in The Judge, a biography of Johnson written by former Birmingham News reporter Frank Sikora. Both books are published by NewSouth Books. More about Harold Franklin is told in these two newspaper articles on his death and the eventual granting of his Auburn degrees.

Freedom Rides Museum Director Dorothy Walker remembers Ernest ‘Rip’ Patton

Thursday, August 26th, 2021 by Dorothy Walker
Randall Williams (left), editor-in-chief of NewSouth Books, with “Rip” Patton (middle)

This week we mourn the loss of a true American hero. Freedom Rider Dr. Ernest “Rip” Patton has passed away at the age of eighty-one after a brief illness. Dr. Patton was a twenty-one-year-old student drum major in the band at Tennessee A&I (now Tennessee University) when he joined the Freedom Rides in May 1961. He was in the third wave of student Freedom Riders to come to Alabama to complete the journey by bus after the first group of Freedom Riders, sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), were violently attacked in the state on Sunday, May 14, causing them to have to complete the Rides to New Orleans by plane. Dr. Patton did not tell his mother that he planned to go on the Rides when he left heading to Montgomery. He arrived here one day before the group set out to head to Jackson, Mississippi. Dr. Patton would be among the first groups of Freedom Riders to arrive in Jackson, eventually landing him in Mississippi’s infamous Parchman Prison for nearly forty days under a Breach of Peace charge. His mother received a call from a family friend who saw Dr. Patton and other Freedom Riders as the arrival in Jackson was covered by news media. 

While in Parchman, Dr. Patton was a member of a quartet who led freedom songs with other Freedom Riders, their singing often causing them to be targeted for extra punishment from the prison guards. However, whenever Dr. Patton spoke, he would recall how the singing was a source of strength and comfort to the Freedom Riders while they were in prison. As a music major, he believed in the power of music. While he was in prison in Mississippi, Dr. Patton was one of fourteen students who were expelled from Tennessee A&I. After the Freedom Rides, Dr. Patton spent some time fundraising for the civil rights movement before settling on a career as a truck driver. 

When the Freedom Rides Museum opened in 2011 on the fiftieth anniversary of the Freedom Rides, Dr. Patton was one of the Riders who came back to Montgomery to participate. Over the next ten years, Dr. Patton would come to Montgomery frequently to speak to visitors at the museum. Over the last few years, he spoke more virtually to visitors, but he always ended each presentation with a song. We are honored that Dr. Patton spent so much of his life giving to others, whether it be as an activist or a speaker. He was a gifted storyteller and when he sang, visitors young and young at heart were moved, sometimes to tears. 

2021 is the sixtieth anniversary of the Freedom Rides and we hope that folks will take the time this year to reflect on the courage of the Freedom Riders and remember the ones we have lost like Dr. Patton. We are thankful that Dr. Patton and other Freedom Riders took the time to share some of their stories with the rest of us. We will continue to not only reflect on their extraordinary courage and sacrifice but seek to continue their legacy and their journey in the fight for justice and freedom for all.

On his 100th birthday, NewSouth celebrates the life of the Rev. J. Phillips Noble

Thursday, August 19th, 2021 by Randall Williams

One of the recent losses from the pandemic was the cancellation in Decatur, Georgia, on last Sunday of a celebration of one of our authors turning one hundred years old: the Reverend J. Phillips Noble. NewSouth Books published his memoir, Beyond the Burning Bus: The Civil Rights Revolution in a Southern Townin 2003.

Reverend Noble was born August 18, 1921, in rural Mississippi. He grew up in segregation and like most Southern Whites was taught to understand “that’s how it was.” But even as a youngster, Noble realized that something was wrong with an education system that provided him a classroom but didn’t do the same for Black sharecroppers he worked alongside in the fields with and played with on his family farm. 

He grew up to attend Presbyterian seminary, where he developed further consciousness about race and religion. In one of his early pastorates, he could see looming trouble in the reaction of some of his White church members to the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954. His awareness was growing. And then when he was called two years later to the pastorate of a larger church in Anniston, Alabama, he saw firsthand the incongruity of White registrars suppressing Black would-be voters.

Soon local segregationists were firebombing a Greyhound bus carrying Freedom Riders, beating up and harassing civil rights protestors, and doing all they could to maintain the status quo of white supremacy and total segregation. 

Did Reverend Noble pray about this? Yes, and even publicly and even with local Black ministers, whom he surprised with his conviction for human kindness and compassion, which included racial justice. Thus he became one of the leaders of a biracial commission that helped bring Blacks and Whites together in their small Southern city. Bloodshed and strife were minimized, and relationships were made across the racial divide. Bit by bit, things improved, and Reverend Noble was part of the reason why.

Happy 100th, Phil. And thank you for a life well-lived.

CNN’s Don Lemon, Dr. Bernice King, and others reflect on legacy of civil rights icon C.T. Vivian upon publication of his memoir, It’s in the Action

Friday, July 30th, 2021 by Suzanne La Rosa

C.T. Vivian, who died on the same day as his close friend John Lewis roughly one year ago, was celebrated this month in a program featuring some notable guests: Don Lemon, CNN host; Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr.; Andrew Young, civil rights leader and former US ambassador; Al Vivian, son of C.T.; and author Steve Fiffer, coauthor of Vivian’s recently published memoir It’s in the Action: Memories of a Nonviolent Warrior. The Alliance of Christian Media hosted what was a truly excellent program. 

This esteemed panel spoke at length on Vivian’s life story and how the activists of the modern generation can learn from his example. Considering the speakers present and the scope of discussion, we are encouraged to believe that those unfamiliar with Vivian’s story will better understand the true moral and spiritual power behind America’s civil rights movement.

This recent program culminates several months of activities sparked by the publication of Rev. Vivian’s memoir, It’s in the Action, in February. During this time, the book has been the subject of dozens of reviews, profiles, and excerpts, including in publications like the Washington Post, CNN, the Daily Beast, Associated Press, the Tennessean, and the Atlanta-Journal Constitution

It’s also been the centerpiece of numerous other virtual and in-person programs. Coauthor Steve Fiffer has generously participated in most of them, including a quite special presentation hosted by the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. Incredibly, timed to that event, the city of Jackson, Mississippi, declared May 26th C. T. Vivian Day in recognition of the major accomplishments Vivian made during the civil rights movement. To top it all off, that same week Peoria Public Schools voted to change the formerly named Thomas Jefferson Primary School to the C. T. Vivian Primary School. 

We are deeply honored at NewSouth to have had the opportunity to publish It’s in the Action, and proud to see our book go where our friend the Rev. C.T. Vivian can no longer.

Bob Moses, late civil rights leader, remembered by peer John Obee

Monday, July 26th, 2021 by John Obee
Bob Moses, left, and John Obee, right.

Bob Moses, one of the most courageous human beings to have walked this earth, died July 25, 2021. Tributes have been pouring in from many who knew Bob or knew of him, including President Barack Obama, who said: “Bob was a hero of mine. His quiet confidence helped shape the civil rights movement, and he inspired generations of young people looking to make a difference.” 

Bob was twenty-five and a school teacher in New York City when he became inspired by the bravery of the young women and men who started the sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina, in February 1960 that quickly spread throughout the South. In the summer of 1960, Bob headed South intending to work with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Instead, he became involved with the fledgling Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and was encouraged by Ella Baker to go to Mississippi to determine how this largely student-based group could break down the barriers for equal rights for Black Mississippians, then living in a totalitarian, white supremacist state.

After his initial foray into Mississippi, Bob returned to the state in the summer of 1961 to build upon the nascent civil rights activism of Medgar Evers and others. Bob led a voter registration drive in McComb, one of the most repressive cities in a very repressive state. He was soon joined by young Black Mississippians Hollis Watkins, Curtis Hayes, Brenda Travis, and others, who saw in Bob and his mission the opportunity to create real change in their lives and the lives of Black Mississippians generally. Bob and his allies were met with bombings, beatings, jailings, and killings. While the initial civil rights beachhead in McComb was frustrated by the white power structure, the movement persisted.

Over the next four years, Bob continued the movement with voter registration drives and direct action throughout Mississippi. Although Bob was often described as the “leader” of the Mississippi movement, he shunned titles. His approach and the approach of SNCC generally was to encourage and empower local Black women and men, such as Fannie Lou Hamer, to lead the movement in their communities. As he often stated, quoting from the Constitution, “We the People, have the power, not the presidents, the senators or the congressmen, and we must seize that power that was given us by the Founding Fathers.” 

In the push to bring about meaningful change in Mississippi, Bob championed the 1964 Freedom Summer project that brought large groups of students, many of them white, to work with Black Mississippians to achieve their rights. Much of what they worked for came to fruition with the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. While all was not successful, it was partly through Bob’s efforts that today Mississippi has more Black elected officials than any other state.

Bob never ceased in his efforts to empower Black men and women.  With the assistance of a McArthur Genius Grant in the 1980s, he guided the formation of the Algebra Project, teaching math literacy in inner-city schools in Mississippi and elsewhere. Bob’s roots as a teacher made him see that if Black youth were to succeed in this society, they needed the necessary math skills to compete. Many young African-American women and men who might not otherwise have been able to obtain a college education were able to do so as a result of this program. 

Bob remained ever optimistic despite the obstacles he encountered in Mississippi and the more recent obstacles to voting rights. He encouraged some of his former compatriots in the telling of their stories by writing forewords to their books, including two published by NewSouth, Brenda Travis’s Mississippi’s Exiled Daughter and Gwen Patton’s My Race to Freedom. In the foreword to Patton’s book, he described her as a person “with dedication, principle, and an unbending devotion to justice, equality, and the well-being of all people.” These powerful words of Bob Moses equally describe him and his own life mission. He will be sorely missed. 

John Obee, inspired by Bob Moses, worked as a civil rights worker in Mississippi in 1967 and has continued his civil rights activism since that time. He is currently working on a project to increase minority representation in the labor arbitration field. Obee is the co-author of Mississippi’s Exiled Daughter, the memoir from civil rights activist Brenda Travis.

Last week marks 70th anniversary of school walkout in Prince Edward County, Virginia, as featured in The Road to Healing

Monday, May 24th, 2021 by Suzanne La Rosa

Seventy years ago, sixteen-year-old Barbara Johns led a walk-out at R. R. Moton High School in Farmville, Virginia, in protest of Jim Crow segregation, specifically the so-called separate-but-equal education policies which had been the law in the South since Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. The school Johns attended indeed was separate, but it was in no way equal to the White public schools in the same county. NAACP lawyers Oliver Hill and Spottswood Robinson supported the walk-out students by filing a federal lawsuit against the Prince Edward County school board. The original suit failed, but its claims were folded into Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark 1954 ruling in which the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Plessy and declared school segregation to be unconstitutional. Barbara Johns’s reward for this victory was harassment by the Ku Klux Klan and the closure for several years of all public schools in Prince Edward County as local White officials did all they could to avoid and delay desegregation.

72ppi 354-RTH jacket v300Half a century later, the activism of Johns and the other walk-out students had been largely forgotten before journalist Ken Woodley discovered the background story of school closures in Prince Edward County while working for the Farmville Herald, the local newspaper in his and Johns’s hometown. Woodley told the resurrected story in articles and editorials and led a campaign for reparations for the years of lost education. In the end, Woodley took the campaign all the way to the governor’s office and secured both a public apology and scholarships for those affected by the Prince Edward County school closures. Woodley’s moving and inspiring memoir, The Road to Healing, shares the story of his and others’ efforts to make right the societal ills in his small Virginia town. The tale reminds readers that even small gestures can go a long way toward repairing the social fabric of our country.