Sue Eakin

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Myrtle Sue Lyles Eakin​

(Louisiana historian, professor,
and journalist; compiled
Twelve Years a Slave)​

Historian Sue Eakin.jpg

Born December 7, 1918​
Rapides Parish, Louisiana, USA
Died September 17, 2009 (aged 90)​
Bunkie, Avoyelles Parish, ​
Political Party Nonpartisan[1]​​
Spouse Paul Mechlin Eakin, Sr. (married 1941-1995, his death)​

Russell Lyles Eakin (deceased)
​ Sara Eakin Kuhn
​ Samuel Fred Eakin
​ Frank William Eakin
​ Paul M. Eakin, Jr.
Samuel Pickles and Mary Myrtle Guy Lyles
Alma mater:
Louisiana State University​ University of Louisiana at Lafayette

Religion United Methodist[1]

Myrtle Sue Lyles Eakin, known as Sue Eakin (December 7, 1918 – September 17, 2009),[2] was an American historian, a professor, and a journalist from Bunkie in Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana. She specialized in Louisiana history, particularly the Old South. Eakin is best known for documenting, annotating, and reviving interest in Twelve Years a Slave (1853), a slave narrative by Solomon Northup, a free man from New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841.

A successful film version was released in 2013. It was directed by Steve McQueen, written by John Ridley, and starred Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup. Principal photography was completed in the summer of 2012 in the New Orleans area. The film was nominated for nine Academy Awards, winning three: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress.

In his acceptance speech, 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.[3][4]


​ 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.[1] She attended local schools and graduated from Lecompte High School in nearby Lecompte.[5]

After completing her college degree, on January 31, 1941, Sue Lyles married Paul Mechlin Eakin, Sr.,[6] (1917-1995) 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 Town Talk in Alexandria, the Opelousas Daily World in Opelousas in St. Landry Parish, and the New Orleans Times-Picayune. From 1957 to 1959, Paul and Sue Eakin also owned and operated The Bunkie Record newspaper.[6]

At the age of forty-two in 1960, Eakin 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.[5]

Teaching and research

After completing her graduate degrees, Eakin began 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."[5] Barber and Eakin collaborated on several books about the history of Rapides Parish and Lecompte.[5]​ ​ Eakin's best-known work is an annotated version of an 1853 slave narrative by Solomon Northup: Twelve Years a Slave—And Plantation Life in the Antebellum South. She co-edited the work with historian Joseph Logsdon;[7] 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.[8] Northup was a free blackfrom Saratoga, New York, who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841, and transported from Washington, D.C., to Louisiana.[9] The book is considered one of the best firsthand accounts of slave life.[5]

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, 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."[3] Interviewed by the The Alexandria 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."[3]

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.[6] 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 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.[1] Another of her works is Avoyelles Parish: Crossroads of Louisiana.[10] As an educator and a researcher, Eakin was responsible for conducting, or sending students into the field to conduct more than four hundred 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 in Lexington,[11]​ named for Louie B. Nunn (1924-2004), the Kentucky Republican governor from 1967 to 1971. ​

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.[6]
  • 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.[12]​​
  • 2001, named to the Hall of Fame of the LSU Manship School of Mass Communications in Baton Rouge.[6]

​​ Eakin died in 2009 at the age of ninety at her home in Bunkie.[6] 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.​


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Sue Eakin (1918-2009). Retrieved on October 26, 2019.
  2. Obituary of Sue Lyles Eakin, Melancon Funeral Home, Bunkie, Louisiana, September 21, 2009.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Jodi Belgard (March 4, 2014). Central Louisiana historian Sue Eakin's work gets Oscar mention". Alexandria Town Talk. Retrieved on March 4, 2014; no longer on-line.
  4. Jenn Selby (March 3, 2014). Twelve Years a Slave: Brad Pitt and Steve MoQueen's Best Picture Oscars Acceptance Speech in Full. Retrieved on October 26, 2019.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Richard P. Sharkey, "Noted Louisiana historian Sue Eakin of Bunkie dead at 90," Alexandria Town Talk, September 21, 2009.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 Obituary of Sue Lyles Eakin. The Baton Rouge Advocate (September 19, 2009). Retrieved on October 26, 2019.
  7. '12 Years a Slave' prompts effort to recognize work of UNO historian in reviving tale. on October 26, 2019.
  8. Twelve Years A Slave by Solomon Northup. Louisiana State University Press. Retrieved on October 26, 2019.
  9. Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup: 9780807151457 NOOK Book (eBook) Barnes & Noble. llc. Retrieved on October 26, 2019.
  10. Sue Eakin: Barnes & Noble. Retrieved on October 26, 2019.
  11. Sue Eakin Louisiana Oral History Collection. Retrieved on October 26, 2009; material may be unavailable.
  12. Annual Washington Catfish Festival. Louisiana Kitchen & Culture. Retrieved on October 26, 2019.

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