Myrtle Sue Lyles
December 7, 1918
|Died||September 17, 2009 (aged 90)|
|Thesis||The Black Struggle for Education in Louisiana, 1877–1930s (1980)|
|Institutions||Louisiana State University of Alexandria|
Sue Eakin (1918–2009) was an American history professor at Louisiana State University of Alexandria. She received a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship and was made a Fellow of American Association of University Women. Eakin researched the story of Solomon Northup, Twelve Years a Slave, and published a version of the book that corrected historical inaccuracies.
Myrtle Sue Lyles was born on December 7, 1918, to Mary Myrtle Guy and Samuel Pickels Lyles. She was born just north of Cheneyville, Louisiana, in Lyles or Loyd Bridge. Her maternal and paternal families were early settlers in antebellum Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana. When she was 12, she went to a plantation and was given Twelve Years a Slave written by Solomon Northup to read while her father visited with the owner. She was fascinated by the story.
She began commuting to LSU at the age of 42 to earn her master's degrees. Eakin was awarded a fellowship by the American Association of University Women and received a master's degree in history from LSU in 1964. Her thesis was about Solomon Northup. The next year, she was awarded a degree in journalism. She received a doctorate in history in 1980 from the University of Southwestern Louisiana.
Eakin was a freelance journalist, columnist, and photojournalist. She wrote for Alexandria Daily Town Talk, the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and the column "Bunkie Main Street" for the Opelousas Daily World. She contributed to the History of St. Landry Parish in 1955, edited by Ruth Fontenot. Eakin and her husband published the Bunkie Record from 1957 to 1959. During that time, she had a weekly column at the paper.
She began her career as a history professor at the Louisiana State University of Alexandria in 1965. She received the LSU Foundation Distinguished Faculty Award. Eakin was a professor for LSU for 25 years. During that time, she had a number of research projects.
A team including Sue Eakins researched Northup's book Twelve Years A Slave for accuracy in the 1960s. As part of the research, she found the house that Northup built, the Edwin Epps House. Over 150 years, storms and time had decayed the original house. She co-authored the revised version of the book with Joseph Logsdon of the University of New Orleans that was published in 1968.
I felt that Solomon Northup was my sibling... Solomon was always in our household, so to speak. I remember going to courthouses with her [my mother], tagging along where she would get documentation, interviewing people, descendants of the characters mentioned in the original narrative and all that. Solomon was a big part of our family.— Eakin's son, Frank, who was 7 when the book was published.
Eakin worked to save the Edwin Epps House that belonged to Northup's enslaver. The house is now at LSU-Alexandria. The musical play that she wrote about Twelve Years a Slave has been performed in the Bunkie area for years.
She co-founded La Commission des Avoyelles and authored and edited Avoyelles Crossroads. With Normand Ferachi, she co-authored Vanishing Louisiana. Her husband provided the photographs for the book. She authored An Illustrated History of Rapides Parish. She wrote other books and text books about the history of Louisiana, including Louisiana: The Land and Its People the she wrote with her sister, Manie Culberton. She promoted historical preservation throughout the state.
In 1972, she received a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship. In 1985 she researched outstanding Blacks of Louisiana and was made a Fellow of American Association of University Women. Over her career, she received a number of honors and awards.
Later years and death
After she retired, she continued to write about history. In 2007 she published her definitive version of Twelve Years a Slave, which benefited from source information made available over the previous 40 years.
- McNamara, Dave (February 26, 2014). "Heart of Louisiana: Epps House". WVUE. Retrieved 2021-06-25.
- "Avoyelles historian Dr. Sue Lyles Eakin dies in Bunkie at age 90". The Marksville Weekly News. September 24, 2009. p. 2. Retrieved 2021-06-25.
- Bass, Erin Z. (October 21, 2013). "The Woman Behind 12 Years a Slave". Deep South Magazine. Retrieved 2021-06-25.
- "Dr. Sue Lyles Eakin". The Town Talk. 2009-09-20. p. 20. Retrieved 2021-06-25.
- White, Don (March 25, 2014). "Aunt Sue and Solomon Northup". Church Divinity of the Pacific.
- Schulman, Michael (March 7, 2014). "The Historian Who Unearthed "Twelve Years a Slave"". New Yorker.
- "Sue Eakin papers". University of Kentucky Libraries.