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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.

Rod Davis, author of East of Texas, West of Hell, joins National Book Critics Circle board, continues to shine with writing, reviewing career

Wednesday, May 5th, 2021 by Matthew Byrne

If you’ve read East of Texas, West of Hell, you will likely say crime noir is the specialty of Rod Davis. Considering it’s the second in a noir series after the award-winning South, America, you would not be wrong. But that statement scarcely scratches the surface where his talents are concerned. Davis is that rare writer who is a fine storyteller known for hisCorinas Way engrossing plot lines but whose books also manage to provide a heady, textured examination of culture and place. Corina’s Way, his first book published with NewSouth Books, won the prestigious PEN/Southwest Award for Literary Fiction and remains one of the finest works about the cultural gumbo that is New Orleans. Blending ethnic and religious cultures in a fine piece of Southern fiction, Corina’s Way is a “roller-coaster story” (Charles Ealy, Dallas Morning News) set in “a world most of us will never get to visit” (San Antonio Express-News) that “begs for a sequel” (Eric Nye, Biloxi Sun Herald). Kirkus Reviews wrote that the book is a “lighthearted but spicy bouillabaisse. In the tradition of Flannery O’Connor or John Kennedy Toole: a welcome romp, told in an old-fashioned style and with traditional Southern charm.”

You can be sure, though, that Davis isn’t resting on his laurels. In fact, he’s spreading the love to other writers through his excellent work as a book critic and journalist. See, for example, Davis’s expert and personal analysis of German author Uwe Johnson’s Anniversaries for The Baffler. “Of late, my eyes occasionally moisten, and I pretend it’s allergies,” he writes, describing how the massive Anniversaries left him emotional. “Who are these writers that try to reach us? What have they sacrificed to be famous, or even to be read by one other human being? What do they want to tell us? What do we want to hear? Uwe Johnson knew. It was his gift to us. The Great American Novel that came from Germany.” Wow. Did you ever want to read a massive German novel so badly? It’s this kind of incisive and moving criticism that led to Davis’s appointment to the National Book Critics Circle Board, a high honor indeed. We feel comfortable knowing that Davis is one of many hands on the wheel steering the future of American literary criticism.

Speaking of wheels, 2020 also saw the publication of Davis’s new book East of Texas, West of Hell, a neo-noir Southern crime epic that sees protagonist 1588384160Jack Prine travel across the South in search of a past lover’s lost daughter. Behind the wheel of his beloved Jeep, Prine finds that the truth is far more complicated than it might seem and that his ghosts are following him west. This thrilling and brutal tale has been recommended by D Magazine, the Houston Chronicle, and San Antonio’s Gemini Ink, all trusted cultural sources in Davis’s home state of Texas. Publishers Weekly calls East of Texas, West of Hell a “maelstrom” and a “crime powerhouse.” Don’t worry if you aren’t that familiar with Southern noir either, as Davis eloquently explains this exciting new subgenre in a piece for CrimeReads.

Forgotten fourteenth American colony subject of highly praised new book that corrects historical record

Monday, April 26th, 2021 by Matthew Byrne

The thirteen American colonies are part of our national mythos, a piece of patriotic lore inextricable from our very identity. A new book from historian Mike Bunn, by the name of Fourteenth Colony, offers compelling reasons to change our thinking. Fourteenth Colony covers the colonial period during which the British occupied the area along the Gulf Coast, from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle, known as West Florida. This colorful account offers a fresh but comprehensive413-FC front cover 72ppi reappraisal of the history, describing life in the frontier colony, the political and military realignments that allowed the British to assume control, and offering perspective on why the colony is hardly ever discussed in the context of our country’s foundational history.

Praise for Fourteenth Colony has been strong and comes both from academics and historians writing about the founding of our country to publishing industry journals, such as Kirkus and Booklist, book reviewers, and others. Here’s a sampler of what is being said about Mike Bunn’s new history:

The Journal of the American Revolution: “Engaging and well written. A smart, well-researched book.”
Publishers Weekly: “An accessible and well-researched account. Bunn combines deep scholarship with vivid storytelling in this comprehensive record of the period.”
Samuel C. Hyde Jr., Leon Ford Endowed Chair, professor of history, Southeastern Louisiana University: “At last we have an easy-to-read book that corrects the long-embraced notion of thirteen American colonies rising in revolution against Britain… Impressively researched and well written.”
Kirkus Reviews: “An illuminating exploration of a chapter of American history most readers haven’t previously encountered.”
Library Journal: “An excellent, well-researched introduction to a long-forgotten British colony of America’s Revolutionary era.”
John S. Sledge, author of The Mobile River and The Gulf of Mexico: A Maritime History: “A readable and well-researched history of British West Florida has long been overdue. Now, finally, we have one thanks to Mike Bunn.”
William C. Davis, author of The Rogue Republic: “Combining groundbreaking research with mature judgments and crisp narrative, Fourteenth Colony will surely be the definitive work on one colony that somehow escaped becoming another stripe on Old Glory.”
The Mississippi Clarion-Ledger: “A history which Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi inhabitants ought to know… Fourteenth Colony is riveting history, warranting multiple readings to commit to memory insights into the colonial history of the Southeast.”Mike 2020 2

The author himself has joined in on the conversation as well. Q&As, interviews, and presentations with Mike Bunn include:

• WAMC Radio for Bob Barrett’s The Best of Our Knowledge
Mobile Bay Magazine
• Mississippi Department of Archives and History

Bunn continues to research and speak about the history told in Fourteenth Colony, and we expect to continue to share more news with you on this blog and our social media platforms. For more information, visit

NewSouth author, poet Jacqueline Trimble receives National Endowment for the Arts Writing Fellowship

Monday, March 22nd, 2021 by Matthew Byrne

For the winter quarter of 2021, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded Alabama institutions and artists $270,000, supporting the best and brightest creators in the state. NewSouth Books is proud to announce that Jacqueline Trimble, author of American Happiness, received twenty-five thousand of those dollars in support of the furtherance of her work as aTrimble cropped Lois poet. Chosen alongside the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, and the city of Tuscaloosa, Trimble’s achievement as an individual is a remarkable one indeed. As she told Alabama State University, where she serves as a professor of English and chair of the Department of Languages and Literature, “The National Endowment for the Arts only bestows this award to poets every other year, which makes it very special and most important to me. While the monetary award is fantastic, the most important thing to me is the level of recognition and encouragement this fellowship gives me as a writer by having a jury of my peers choose my manuscript out of a total of 1,601 in a blind competition. This makes me feel that my long hours of writing poetry are worthwhile … Being named an NEA Fellow is personally awe-inspiring to me.”

Jacqueline Trimble has been a poet and educator for much of her life, working tirelessly to create and share the beauty and art of poetry with students and readers alike. Dr. Jennifer Fremlin, chair of Huntingdon 327-AH front cover 72dpiCollege’s Department of Language and Literature, had this to say about her: “Those lucky enough to have been students or colleagues of Dr. Jackie Trimble know that she is first and foremost a teacher, and her poetry is an extension of that drive to help us all learn to see the world as it is: unvarnished and truthful and painful and beautiful all at the same time.” This NEA fellowship enables Trimble to continue writing full-time without distraction, a gift to us as readers.

American Happiness, her award-winning debut poetry collection, was published by NewSouth in 2016. Alabama Writers Hall of Famer Honorée Fanonne Jeffers wrote this about the collection: “I longed for her kind of poetry, these cut-to-the-flesh poems, this verse that sings the old-time religion of difficult truths with new courage and utter sister-beauty.” To use the language of the pandemic, Trimble’s work is essential, and we should be grateful that she has received this NEA grant that will keep her writing in 2021 and beyond.

More about Trimble’s work and the award can be found from Huntingdon College and Alabama State University.

New Ben Raines release joins books by Brockovich, Thunberg on Booklist list of vital environmental publications

Friday, March 12th, 2021 by Suzanne La Rosa

Envirojournalist Ben Raines has been passionate about the natural world for his entire life, a good bit of which has been spent quietly exploring the Mobile-Tensaw Delta by boat. His new book, Saving America’s Amazon: The Threat to Our Nations Most Biodiverse River System, is the ultimate expression of that mission, as is evidenced in the book’s sweeping discussion about the environmental perils facing the delta and its many glorious companion photographs. The Alabama delta is one of our nation’s most biodiverse ecosystems — it has more species of insects and fish and flora and fauna than Colorado and California combined. Its abundant biodiversity has been recognized by many, including E.O. Wilson, considered the father of the field of biodiversity and the contributor of the foreword to Ben Raines’s book, and now Booklist too, which has named Saving America’s Amazon to its Top 10 Books on the Environment and Sustainability in 2021. Booklist, a publication of the American Library Association, writes that the book is among “the most clarifying and resonant books about environmental issues and sustainability” and that it “tell(s) the elucidating and affecting stories of endangered animals and places…”

Booklist isn’t the only outlet recognizing Saving America’s Amazon as an important new release. WBEZ Chicago’s Reset spoke with Raines about the biodiversity of the delta and how special the area is when compared with other ecosystems around the country. The author’s expertise about the flora and fauna of the Mobile area is on full display in this conversation with Susie An, so nature lovers should delight. Alabama’s top book reviewer Don Noble says that “Ben Raines is on his way to becoming a household name” and writes for Alabama Public Radio that Saving America’s Amazon is “gorgeous and impassioned … jaw-dropping.”  We certainly agree. For Raines, though, it’s all about the Delta. “Coming out in a boat in the delta, you may as well be in the Amazon,” he told Debbie Elliott on NPR’s Weekend Edition. “It’s just so seductive.” Most important of all is its preservation, and Saving America’s Amazon is an important call for us to take its future seriously.