by MaryKatherine Callaway, Director, LSU Press
A Books That Matter Essay
A More Noble Cause: A.P. Tureaud and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Louisiana, by Rachel Emanuel and Alexander P. Tureaud, Jr. (Louisiana State University Press, 2011)
When I arrived at Louisiana State University (LSU) Press in 2003, one of the projects under contract was a biography of Alexander Pierre Tureaud, Sr., written by Rachel Emanuel and A.P. Tureaud, Jr. I had heard of Mr. Tureaud only vaguely, but his intriguing story pulled me in, and working with the two authors turned out to be one of the most affecting author-publisher relationships I’ve known.
To briefly summarize Mr. Tureaud’s complex and full life, he worked at one time as the only regularly practicing black attorney in Louisiana and led the legal fight to end segregation, discrimination, and disfranchisement in the Jim Crow era. Born in New Orleans, he received his law degree from Howard University, then returned to his hometown and worked as a civil rights pioneer, fighting successfully to obtain equal pay for black teachers, to desegregate public accommodations, schools, and buses, and to ensure the voting rights of black residents. Tureaud’s work, along with that of dozens of other African American lawyers, formed part of a larger legal battle that eventually overturned Plessy v. Ferguson, the 1896 US Supreme Court decision that legalized racial segregation.
But my connection to Mr. Tureaud’s accomplishments came through his son, A.P. Tureaud, Jr., who struggled with intense racism when LSU admitted him in 1953 as its first black undergraduate. What a profound honor it was to meet this amazing man, who never forgot but long ago forgave the white students, professors, and administrators who ostracized and derided him during his time on campus. “I never thought that I would ever want to step on this campus again when I left,” he said. “All of the people that worked with me for years never knew that I had this history because it was just too painful and too anxiety-producing to relive again. It was just something that I wanted to get away from.”
Thanks to the work of Rachel Emanuel, Tureaud, Jr., was persuaded to return to campus and to help Emanuel with her research on his father. She first wrote about the elder Tureaud while earning degrees at LSU and producing two well-regarded documentaries, Journey for Justice: The A.P. Tureaud Story and Taking a Seat for Justice: The 1960 Baton Rouge Sit-Ins. Through her efforts, a new generation understands the injustices that both the Tureauds faced and how many people dedicated their lives to changing an unfair system. Emanuel poured much of the last ten years of her life into capturing this story, so that students, faculty, and staff would know it and understand the very tangible results that civil rights pioneers worked to achieve.
The book’s publication in April of 2011 offered us the opportunity to work with LSU’s Office of Equity, Diversity, and Community Outreach and with Academic Affairs to host a symposium on the history of civil rights in Louisiana, featuring Tureaud, Jr., Emanuel, and others.
Looking out over a packed auditorium of mostly students, many of whom were hearing for the first time gripping personal stories of the resolve, sacrifice, and dedication it took to bring about equal rights in our country, it was apparent how university press publishing can open up the world. By putting these personal stories in a larger historical context, everyone there left with a better understanding of our state and national history—not only the broad concepts, but the direct impact as well.
As Tureaud, Jr., told me, “I left Louisiana in 1960 because I didn’t want to be restricted in anything that I wanted to do as a person of color. Growing up in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, and having to travel and not have a place to stay, having to sit in segregated train cars, having to buy gasoline at the gas station and go into the bushes to use the restroom, and go to back windows to buy food as we went from state to state, those were all demeaning experiences. We were segregated in every aspect of our lives. But, if you educated yourself and you partnered with other people and you used the written constitutional law of this country, you could prevail. And there was no bitterness or anger or the desire to destroy anything. The hope was that we could become a part of this wonderful society and country that we live in.”
I am proud to say that LSU awarded an honorary doctorate to A.P. Tureaud, Jr., in May 2011.
Publishing A.P. Tureaud’s story in A More Noble Cause,which is also his son’s story, was an enormous privilege that allowed us the opportunity to contribute to the community, and allowed me the opportunity to meet two of the most impressive people I will ever know.