|Born||Myrtle Sue Lyles
December 7, 1918
Rapides Parish, Louisiana, USA
|Died||September 17, 2009
Bunkie, Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana
|Alma mater||University of Louisiana at Lafayette|
|Occupation||Historian; Professor, Journalist|
|Spouse(s)||Paul Mechlin Eakin, Sr. (m. 1941; died 1995)|
Russell Lyles Eakin (deceased)
|Parents||Samuel Pickles and Mary Myrtle Guy Lyles|
Myrtle Sue Lyles Eakin, known as Sue Eakin (December 7, 1918 – September 17, 2009), was an American historian, a professor, and a journalist from Bunkie, Louisiana. She specialized in Louisiana history, particularly the Old South plantation system. Eakin is best known for documenting, annotating, and reviving interest in the 1853 Twelve Years a Slave, a slave narrative by Solomon Northup, a free man from New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841.
In 2013, a popular film version of Twelve Years a Slave, a Golden Globes nominee, was released. Directed by Steve McQueen and written by John Ridley, the picture stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup. Much of the photography was taken in the summer of 2012 in the New Orleans area.[not in citation given] Twelve Years a Slave won the 2013 Academy Award for Best Picture. In his acceptance speech for the honor, director McQueen thanked Eakin: "I'd like to thank this amazing historian, Sue Eakin, whose life, she gave her life's work to preserving Solomon’s book." Eakin discovered Northup's narrative when she was twelve years of age and again when in college; in time, she pushed the project to fruition after many years of work.
Early years and education
Eakin was born on the Compromise Plantation in the Lyles community at Loyd Bridge near Cheneyville in south Rapides Parish. She was the eldest child of the nine surviving children of Samuel Pickles Lyles, Sr., and the former Mary Myrtle Guy. She attended local schools and graduated from Lecompte High School in nearby Lecompte.
After completing her college degree, on January 31, 1941, Sue Lyles married Paul Mechlin Eakin, Sr., (July 19, 1917 – February 6, 1995) of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, later New Jersey. They resided in Bunkie, where he was an accountant and she a professional freelance journalist and a columnist for the Alexandria Daily Town Talk; the Opelousas Daily World in Opelousas, the seat of St. Landry Parish; and the New Orleans Times-Picayune, traditionally the state’s largest newspaper. From 1957 to 1959, Paul and Sue Eakin also owned and operated the Bunkie Record newspaper.
At the age of forty-two in 1960, she began graduate work at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge to earn two master's degrees, one in journalism and the other in history. She was one of thirteen women students in the nation to receive an educational grant from the American Association of University Women.
Teaching and research
After completing her graduate degrees, Eakin began what resulted in a 25-year teaching career at Louisiana State University at Alexandria. It had been established in 1960 as a junior college, and later developed as a four-year institution. In an interview with The Town Talk, Patsy K. Barber, an LSUA colleague, recalled Eakin as "a master teacher [who] researched, she knew her topic and knew how to place her topic into the larger setting. She could hold you spellbound. The creative ideas just spilled out." Barber and Eakin collaborated on several books about the history of Rapides Parish and Lecompte.
Eakin's best-known work is a 1968 annotated version of an 1853 slave narrative by Solomon Northup: Twelve Years a Slave|Twelve Years a Slave—And Plantation Life in the Antebellum South. She co-edited the work with historian Joseph Logsdon; together they annotated the account, retracing Northrup's journey and adding maps and other documentation. Their edition of Twelve Year a Slave was published in 1968 by LSU Press. Northup was a free black man from Saratoga, New York, who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841, and transported from Washington, D.C., to Louisiana. The book is considered one of the best firsthand accounts of slave life.
In 2013, the actor Lou Gossett, Jr., dedicated his 2013 audiobook performance of Twelve Years a Slave to Eakin. In 2014, Frank William Eakin (born c. 1961) of The Woodlands, Texas, a son of Sue Eakin, said of his mother's life's work and the Oscar best picture: "It feels so good to have this validation, not just for Mom, but for the people of Louisiana." Interviewed by the The Alexandria Daily Town Talk, Elizabeth Hood "Liz" Brazelton (born c. 1950) of Alexandria, a former student of Sue Eakin's, noted that without Eakin Twelve Years a Slave "would have been lost to the world ... I was hoping that [McQueen] would recognize Dr. Eakin because I felt that there had been a little lack of recognition. It was really gratifying."
In 1978 at the age of sixty, Eakin received her Ph.D. in history from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, then known as the University of Southwestern Louisiana in Lafayette. She continued writing and research projects after her retirement as a professor emeritus at LSUA. She published a new edition of Twelve Years a Slave in 2007, containing much additional material regarding Solomon's years in New York, as well as in the local plantation community. Eakin was eighty-eight at the time of publication.
Eakin also worked as an archivist for the Louisiana State Archives and Records Service in Baton Rouge. With her sister, Manie L. Culbertson, Eakin published Louisiana: The Land and Its People, (1986), a textbook used in junior high classes of Louisiana history. Another of her works is Avoyelles Parish: Crossroads of Louisiana. She had numerous publications. As a teacher and a researcher, Eakin was responsible for conducting, or sending students into the field to conduct over 400 oral history interviews documenting various aspects of Louisiana history, culture and folklife. These recorded audio interivcews are now archived at the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky Libraries as the Sue Eakin Louisiana Oral History Collection
Legacy and honors
Eakin received numerous research grants, awards, and honors for her work, including the following:
- 1970, "Outstanding American History Professor" from the Daughters of the American Revolution.
- 1980, "Distinguished Artist of Avoyelles Parish".
- 1985, "Citizen of the Year," Bunkie Rotary International.
- 1987, nominated to "Distinguished Faculty of the LSU System".
- 1995, selected as grand marshal of the Festival du Courtableau, or Washington Catfish Festival in Washington in St. Landry Parish.
- 2001, named to the Hall of Fame of the LSU Manship School of Mass Communications in Baton Rouge.
Eakin died in 2009 at the age of ninety at her home in Bunkie. Her children donated her extensive collection of documents, diaries, photographs, farm implements, her own notes, and drafts of several historical manuscripts in progress to the Archives of Louisiana State University Alexandria. She hoped that others would continue her research.
- "Sue Eakin (1918-2009)". cenlamar.com. Retrieved June 27, 2011.
- Obituary of Sue Lyles Eakin, Melancon Funeral Home, Bunkie, Louisiana, accessed September 21, 2009
- "Susan King and Rene Lynch, Golden Globes nominations: '12 Years a Slave,' 'Hustle' take Oscar lead". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 12, 2013.
- "Jodi Belgard, "Central Louisiana historian Sue Eakin's work gets Oscar mention", March 4, 2014". Alexandria Daily Town Talk. Retrieved March 4, 2014.
- "Twelve Years a Slave Brad Pitt and Steve MoQueen's Best Picture Oscars Acceptance Speech in Full". independent.co.uk. Retrieved March 3, 2013.
- Richard P. Sharkey, "Noted Louisiana historian Sue Eakin of Bunkie dead at 90", Alexandria Daily Town Talk, accessed September 21, 2009
- "Obituary of Sue Lyles Eakin". Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, September 19, 2009. Retrieved September 21, 2009.
- "Social Security Death Index". ssdi.rootsweb.ancestry.com. Retrieved September 21, 2009.
- "'12 Years a Slave' prompts effort to recognize work of UNO historian in reviving tale". http://www.nola.com. Retrieved 2013-09-27.
- "Twelve Years A Slave by Solomon Northup". http://lsupress.org/. Retrieved 2013-09-26.
- "Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup: 9780807151457 NOOK Book (eBook) Barnes & Noble". Barnesandnoble.com llc. Retrieved September 9, 2013.
- "Sue Eakin: Barnes & Noble". Barnesandnoble.com llc. Retrieved September 9, 2013.
- "Catfish Festival". townofwashingtonla.com. Retrieved September 21, 2009.
- Sue Eakin Louisiana Oral History Collection, Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries