Jul 16

Race and Law Enforcement beyond Policing: The Criminal Jury System in Louisiana

Thomas Aiello is the author of Jim Crow’s Last Stand: Nonunanimous Criminal Jury Verdicts in Louisiana. He joins us on the blog today to talk about the history of racism in Louisiana’s criminal justice system.

The predominant black fear and resentment of law enforcement is justified by every historical measure. The structural bias in policing, for example, has extended back to the first American police force established in 1838 in Boston and has only continued, pushed today by training standards, private prisons, and overt militarization among departments across the country. Demonstrating the historical bigotry inherent in systems of policing, however, is different than criticizing individual police officers, many of whom do their job with fairness and diligence, and most of whom believe that they are public servants. There are, for example, demonstrable historical bigotries inherent in the professoriate—my particular profession—and yet the bulk of those whom I respect most are members of the academy. The confusion in conflating such criticisms, combined with the historical bigotry that was the subject of such analysis in the first place, has left Baton Rouge lesser for the endeavor, publicly strewn with the bodies of Alton Sterling and several police officers and sheriff’s deputies.

Just as law enforcement officers have to continue to work in remarkably harsh and dangerous circumstances, and just as black citizens have to continue to explain to the privileged majority that black lives matter, historians, too, have to continue working to understand the context that creates such tragedies. One of the most racially problematic elements of Louisiana’s law enforcement, for example, is its criminal trial procedure that allows juries to decide criminal cases with nonunamious verdicts, another system that disproportionately affects minority defendants.

The principle of nonunanimous jury verdicts in non-capital criminal cases was not a unique Louisiana holdover from the Napoleonic Code. It was not a legacy handed down from France or Spain or the Holy See, as were so many of Louisiana’s other governmental idiosyncrasies. It was a conservative measure fired in the crucible of the Bourbon restoration following Reconstruction, when white Democrats sought to return their state to some sense of normalcy following federal occupation. The law validating nonunanimous jury verdicts first passed in 1880, and was codified in the Louisiana state constitution of 1898. It was the era of the Redeemers. It was the era of Jim Crow. And the same leaders re-imposing white southern rule and formulating the convict lease system fundamentally changed a code that had been in place since American transfer following the Louisiana Purchase and used it to create more convicts.

Following the end of Reconstruction, the state legislature ordered another in a long line of Louisiana constitutions. “In all criminal prosecutions the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy public trial by an impartial jury,” noted the constitution of 1879, and that jury had to be unanimous—as it always had. But the real force for change in the new constitution was the requirement that jury trial mandates be subject to the legislature’s discretion. There was no specific constitutional provision authorizing the state senate to extend the possibility of binding nonunanimous jury verdicts to criminal cases. But that is precisely what it would do.

On April 10, 1880, the Senate modified Article 527 of the 1870 Code of Practice. “If it appears that nine or more of the jurors have agreed to the verdict,” the new law stated, “the same shall be recorded.” And with that, the burden on criminal defendants was made inexorably harder. Criminal juries no longer needed unanimity to convict. The state would further formalize its new requirements in Article 116 of the constitution of 1898: “Cases in which the punishment is necessarily at hard labor [shall be tried] by a jury of twelve, nine of whom concurring may render a verdict; cases in which the punishment may be capital, by a jury of twelve, all of whom must concur to render a verdict.” The constitutional convention of 1898 was tinged with racial overtones. It was the session that codified Jim Crow and black voting restrictions. Convention president E.B. Kruttscchnitt opened the proceedings by reminding delegates that “this convention has been called together by the people of the State to eliminate from the electorate the mass of corrupt and illiterate voters who have during the last quarter of a century degraded a politics.” In closing the convention, he praised delegates for perpetuating “the supremacy of the Anglo-Saxon race in Louisiana.”

Jim Crow's Last Stand

To help perpetuate that supremacy, legislators needed to combine its attempts at segregation and disfranchisement with a systematic reinstitution of a version of slavery. Louisiana’s convict lease system actually began in the antebellum era, when the state first leased prisoner work to private companies in 1844. That work was originally done inside the prison, turning the penitentiary into a de facto factory, but during Reconstruction the state began shipping prisoners out to work on construction and repair projects. Most of them went to a contractor named S.L. James, who signed a twenty-one year contract with the state in 1870, and renewed it in 1890. The state made a profit, James got cheap labor that he could treat as brutally as he liked. In 1881, the year following the original nonunanimous jury law, fourteen percent of leased convicts died. The next year, more than twenty percent died. And more than three-fourths of Louisiana’s leased convicts after 1870 were black. In light of the racial motivation of such punishments and the overwhelming need of the state for more prisoners to lease to the growing political machine known as the “James Gang,” the state’s change to nonunanimous criminal jury verdicts became almost a fait accompli.

The Supreme Court would narrowly validate Louisiana’s law in Johnson v. Louisiana (1972), tried in conjunction with a similar Oregon appeal, and the outcome validated the legality of non-unanimous criminal verdicts. But it didn’t end the controversy about the approximate justice they provided for criminal defendants. In the century prior to Johnson, appellants had argued that 9-3 verdicts made it that much easier to convict. The state countered that they also made it that much easier to acquit. Appellants argued that 9-3 verdicts in non-capital criminal cases overly complicated a system that often tried defendants on multiple counts, including misdemeanors and capital offenses. The state countered that they reduced the number of hung juries, thereby streamlining the system and saving the state money. The Supreme Court was less concerned with such arguments, instead arguing that consistency provided fairness, and fairness was the fundamental bedrock of due process.

That fairness, however, has been questionable and continuously questioned. The original 9-3 verdicts were later modified to requirements for 10-2 decisions, but that did little to make the system more equitable. The Louisiana jury law, forged in post-Reconstruction politics, has remained one of the last holdovers from the early Jim Crow era in Louisiana. The original impetus of legislators to make convictions easier for a state hungry for more convicts withstood constant challenges throughout the following century. Its constitutionality was confirmed in Johnson not because a racist Court sought to reinstitute one of the final vestiges of Jim Crow, but because it ruled that equal protection could be granted by nine of twelve jurors. Still, as the twentieth century became the twenty-first, it was clear that race still played a role in the formula created by the nonunanimous jury standard. It didn’t have the racist odor of poll taxes or separate train cars, and so it remained, with effects that reached far beyond the bounds of race. It still remains. But the debate about the debits and credits of nonunanimous criminal jury verdicts and the assumption of their inherent place in the system by Louisiana legislators and prosecutors has fundamentally shaped the state’s criminal justice policy, for better and for worse. Mostly, however, for worse.

Like policing, the history of the criminal jury system in Louisiana is structurally biased and disproportionately hurts the poor and minority groups. Like police officers, many of the lawyers, judges, and court officials who are part of that system view their work as public service and devote their lives to selflessly participate in that effort. Most don’t know the role played by S.L. James or E.B. Kruttscchnitt in the creation of Louisiana’s modern legal system. But that doesn’t mean they don’t play a role in perpetuating that system. Law enforcement is more than just policing. While debates about the role of policing in black lives are, despite their difficulty, ultimately necessary and beneficial, eliminating racial disparities in the system will take more than just police reform. Law enforcement is a massive enterprise that exists well beyond the scope of policing, and history tells us that, particularly in Louisiana, historical disparities based on race exist in all of its many facets.

Jul 16

Black Lives and the Conundrum of Unimaginable Grace

The United States is suspended in an extended state of crisis. The very meaning of citizenship and the promises of protection from private intrusion in the Fourth Amendment and the promise of equal protection within the Fourteenth Amendment remain in jeopardy today just as was the case during Reconstruction and the subsequent era of de jure racism in the Jim Crow South and de facto racism throughout the rest of the nation. The twenty-first century is an era in which many—across lines of race and ethnicity—insist race no longer matters, that everyone has a fair chance if she or he just works hard and is a good person.

There are many examples of structural racism—historical practices that are actually embedded in the political, economic, and social systems of the nation—that refute the notion of a post-racial United States, just as there are countless legal claims and cases that prove the notion of a colorblind justice system a myth. Employment, education, healthcare, and housing are arenas in which African Americans have experienced unequal access since emancipation. This reality is inextricably linked to the growing national movement attuned to the problem of ordinary black lives holding no value to the nation once those lives were no longer enslaved and forced to labor without compensation.

We, the nation, inherited the sins of our forefathers and instead of correcting those sins many decades ago, the nation allowed them to fester and rot. Thus, today, the ramifications of unequal access to those four arenas central to citizenship and full incorporation into the nation—employment, education, healthcare, and housing—is playing out, literally, on all of our various screens, as one unarmed black person after the next is subjected to police violence (or mass incarceration). These violent altercations are shaped by both the historical racial inequities and the racialization and stereotypes imposed upon black citizens from slavery to the present.

What strikes me as most unbelievable about this phenomenon is not that certain law enforcement officers (by no means all) are racist—this is not new news. I am instead struck by the utter lack of empathy expressed, verbally or through silence, for the victims. I witness this daily on Facebook when the only posts expressing empathy for black people who have lost their lives or experienced grave bodily and psychological harm at the hands of law enforcement come from academic friends across race and ethnicity, African American family members and friends, and a few white liberal high school friends. The lack of empathy for the victims is indicative of what it looks like to be born into a nation where the remnants of denied personhood continue to inform present day notions of humanness, of what it means to be fully human.

I enter this warped reality from a conflicted position: I am the black mother of three black sons and the wife of a black law enforcement officer. As a mother, I am both fearful and infuriated that I am supposed to do more than is required of white mothers as I raise my sons. That I am supposed to teach them principles for the best chance of survival (success is not guaranteed) in a nation that marked them as a “problem,” as a menace to society, at birth. And, no, my sons’ middle class status does not protect them. It does not protect them from stereotypes in school and it does not protect them from ignorant notions that black people are simply “more violent” and black boys and men are “intimidating.” Just ask Senator Tim Scott.

While I am concerned about my boys, I also cannot help but think about the Facebook post of one of the most recent fallen police officers, Montrell Jackson. In the aftermath of the July 5th shooting of Alton Sterling by Baton Rouge police officers, Officer Jackson posted on Facebook on July 8th: “I swear to God I love this city, but I wonder if this city loves me. In uniform I get nasty, hateful looks and out of uniform some consider me a threat. . . . These are trying times. Please don’t let hate infect your heart.” His statement and the recent targeting of law enforcement officers by African American men in Dallas and Baton Rouge made me feel nothing but dread when just a week later my husband volunteered to be one of the thousands of law enforcement officers working to ensure order and safety at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio.

My husband’s career choice has been a major point of contention in our household for the 10.5 years he has been in that profession. I have never personally had a negative experience with a police officer. In fact, the few experiences I have had have been professional and cordial on the part of the officer. But that fact does not stop me from being apprehensive about law enforcement (it also does not stop me and my children from hating the schedule and all that my husband misses in his absence). My apprehension is not about getting caught doing something wrong, but about how, by doing nothing wrong, I could still be accused of doing wrong, as I have witnessed in countless videos of police stops across this country.

This apprehension is not simply shaped by a troubled history of corruption and discrimination in many law enforcement units across the nation. It is also shaped by things I have observed as the wife of a police officer: wondering why so many officers policing urban cities live in rural communities; wondering why so many officers who never lived in urban cities want to police in those spaces; wondering what other words besides “Jew,” “gay,” and “fag” I would hear bantered back and forth at the holiday party if my husband and I were not there. I wonder why my husband and some of his white colleagues feel their diversity training is ineffective, not because the department does not care about the issue, but rather because it has fallen susceptible to the trend of believing that anyone who lays claim to doing diversity consulting is educated and competent on the subject.

Something else I recently had to wonder is how many times my husband could have “legally” shot a civilian. I knew and have written about one incident in which someone tried to unholster my husband’s partner’s firearm, and my initial shock when he explained that the only reason he did not shoot the perpetrator was due to having an unclear shot. I have since learned that he has nearly pulled the trigger countless times during traffic stops when people will not show their hands and are reaching around in their vehicles (usually trying to conceal drugs). These instances put me in a conflicted space: no one has the right to threaten the life of my husband for doing his job, yet equally no one, simply by virtue of having a badge and gun, has the right to determine that someone is a threat based on their skin tone.

There is an additional facet to my dread and apprehension. The two men who assassinated police officers were veterans. The mother of Gavin Long, the Baton Rouge shooter, has noted that her son suffered from PTSD and the military refused to treat him. There has been recent, but far from enough, media coverage of this pervasive problem. And the problem is not new. In my most recent book, When We Imagine Grace: Black Men and Subject Making, one chapter focuses on my grandfather, Major Gilbert Alexander Boothe, a retired officer of the US Army and a Buffalo Soldier. He was in the first unit of African American soldiers to fight in battle during WWII (as opposed to cleaning latrines and being sent to deliver supplies on battlefields with no firearms). What he accomplished as a black man in the military during that time, both through rank, medals and honors, and afterward by earning a master’s degree in psychology, is something few men of any race have done. But, as my father pointed out, the fact that my grandfather came back from Europe and Korea having seen what he saw, experienced vile discrimination, and managed to not only be functional but to achieve in spaces not previously open to black men, particularly sharecropping black men from rural Georgia, made my grandfather amazing.

But underneath my grandfather’s exceptionalism was rage. The rage was driven not just by the carnage of war he saw on the battlefields and the discrimination he experienced in the barracks, but also the reality of his blackmaleness in the nation he risked his life for and returned home to as a second-class citizen. His wife and children felt his rage in the private space of their home, while in public spaces he was given awards for community uplift. It is such a sad state of affairs that half a century after my grandfather returned home from offering his country the highest form of service, other black servicemen are returning feeling the same rage.

In her novel Beloved, which is a true national treasure, Toni Morrison writes about the trauma of slavery and the struggle for a community of free blacks in Cincinnati to not simply survive but to feel truly human when they were all once property. A matriarch of the community, Baby Suggs, implores these traumatized and disenfranchised human beings to “imagine grace.” She insists, “The only grace they could have was the grace they could imagine. That if they could not see it, they would not have it.”  Perhaps this is what Kendrick Lamar hopes, too, can be understood in the lyrics to “We gon’ be alright” and Beyonce hopes might be accomplished by having Sister Sledge style “all her sisters with [her]” in “formation.”  But more than just imagining grace, Baby Suggs speaks to black people’s humanness in a manner eerily relevant today and worthy of an extensive quote, because it intersects directly with many of the encounters between law enforcement officers and black people that have ended badly:

“Here,” she said, “in this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don’t love your eyes; they’d just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise then up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on our face ‘cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, you! And no, they ain’t in love with your moth. Yonder, out there, they will see it broken and break it again. What you say out of it they will not heed. What you scream from it they do not hear. What you put into it to nourish your body they will snatch away and give you leavins instead. No, they don’t love your mouth. You got to love it. This is flesh I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms I’m telling you. And O my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. And all your inside parts that they’d just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver–love it, love it, and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize.”

The eloquent prose of our Nobel Laureate in fiction echoes real life. Ultimately, it boils down to black people being denied grace, or the Websterian granting of free and unmerited favor, because they still, today, are not seen as fully human. Whether it is fictive African American women imagining how ideologies borrowed from outside the US might offer them solace from raced and gendered experiences, which I study in Critical Appropriations: African American Women and the Construction of Transnational Identity; whether it is real and imagined African American men working to define themselves against narrow stereotypes and embrace their multidimensionality, as I examine in When We Imagine Grace; or whether it is black people and allies across race and ethnicity marching and demanding that black lives matter just as much as anyone else’s; what is indisputable is that we as a nation will never be free or be a true democracy until we can grant free and unmerited favor to every human being calling this nation home, simply because they are human.

Simone Drake is assistant professor of African American studies at Ohio State University and the author of Critical Appropriations: African American Women and the Construction of Transnational Identity.

Jun 16

Confederacy of Dunces included in LOC’s “America Reads”

A Confederacy of Dunces has been included in The Library of Congress’s “America Reads,” an exhibition showcasing 65 books—chosen by the public—that had a profound effect on American life.

“America Reads” Exhibition to Open June 16 (Library of Congress)

Oct 15

Around the Press in 80 Books: Tumult and Silence at Second Creek

In celebration of LSUP’s 80th anniversary the staff selected 80 of our most memorable titles. Adding to our “Around the Press in 80 Books” blog series, executive editor Rand Dotson writes about Tumult and Silence at Second Creek.

Tumult and Silence at Second Creek

In the early 1970s, an archivist at LSU’s Hill Memorial Library suggested to historian Winthrop Jordon that he examine what appeared to be a partial handwritten transcript of slave testimony from a failed 1861 slave revolt. At the time, the uprising was unheard of. Indeed, no record of the events alluded to in the transcript existed in the historical literature. The slave testimony, however, offered a tantalizing starting point, and it led Jordon on a twenty-year odyssey to understand what had occurred in Adams County, Mississippi, in 1861. His historical detective work uncovered one of the most important planned slave insurrections in American history, a conspiracy that led planters just outside Natchez to hang or whip to death nearly 30 of their slaves and afterwards do all in their power to erase the events from the historical record.

Published in 1993, Tumult and Silence at Second Creek, is not only the story of the failed insurrection and its bloody aftermath, but also of how Jordon came to understand the details of what happened and the life stories of the individuals involved. In essence, he takes readers along as he gathers evidence and interprets it, offering an informal guidebook on how the best professional historians work their craft. The result is a history book like no other: one that places readers over a historian’s shoulder as he solves a perplexing historical mystery using scattered and incomplete sources, eventually turning a fragment of slave testimony into the richest possible rendering of a vanished slave conspiracy and the extralegal trials and executions of those accused that followed. Upon publication, Tumult and Silence won the Bancroft Prize – one of the most prestigious awards in the history profession – and was widely praised by fellow historians as the most remarkable feat of detective work by a modern historian.

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Oct 15

Around the Press in 80 Books: Glass House

In celebration of LSUP’s 80th anniversary the staff selected 80 of our most memorable titles. Adding to our “Around the Press in 80 Books” blog series, financial operations manager Becky Brown writes about Glass House.

Glass House

In the fall of 1993, I had been working at LSU Press for about four and a half years and was still awed and captivated by the look, feel, and smell of all the new books we published. Back then we had a huge warehouse on River Road and our warehouse staff would bring boxes full to the brim with our new books so the staff could see the end result of their work. I also spent many an hour in that warehouse taking inventory, and some books called to me just because I found them aesthetically appealing.

Glass House: A Novel by Christine Wiltz was one of those books. I loved the artwork on the cover depicting a New Orleans Garden District mansion with the big white columns and stained glass doors. It was, in my opinion, a beautiful book. Then I read the blurbs from great writers James Lee Burke, Valerie Martin, and Vance Bourjaily. Kirkus Reviews gave it high marks, so I was all in. It remains one of my favorite LSU Press novels to date. In 2001 we published it in a paperback edition as part of our “Voices of the South” series, and it remains in print and pertinent. They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but I believe that, for me at least, the beauty of this book’s cover led me to experience and enjoy the beauty of the story within.

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Oct 15

Around the Blog in 80 Books: We Were Merchants

In celebration of LSUP’s 80th anniversary the staff selected 80 of our most memorable titles. Adding to our “Around the Press in 80 Books” blog series, senior designer Michelle Neustrom writes about We Were Merchants.

We Were MerchantsWhat is Goudchaux’s?

A reasonable question to ask if you did not grow up in the Baton Rouge area, but it instantly causes shock and horror to appear on the faces of loyal Goudchaux’s customers. How did I not know about the most amazing, magical department store of all time? About the famous 5-cent Coke machine and how children would receive a nickle for every A on their report card? About the laughing mechanical Santa that appeared every Christmas? And the salespeople who knew customers by name and the piles and piles of fur coats and the interest-free charge accounts! Oh, and that is NOT how you say it. It’s pronounced “Gaw-chaw’s.”

I did not know about this family-owned department store because it closed about 5 years before I moved to Baton Rouge. Even 25 years after its closing, people still remember shopping at Goudchaux’s like it was yesterday, and everyone has a fond memory of the place. This is largely due to the family that owned Goudchaux’s for over 55 years, the Sternbergs. They made customers feel special and would do anything for them, like secretly order a jacket when a size wasn’t available in-store or send a gift when a baby was born. They treated their customers and workers like friends and family.

When it came time to design We Were Merchants, I had a much better understanding of the store. I could see why people loved the Sternbergs and Goudchaux’s, and I wished I could have had the pleasure of shopping there too. After expressing this desire, one of my coworkers brought in a very old Goudchaux’s box and said I could have it. I was so excited! I know, it’s just a box, but it was an artifact of something I had only read and heard about. I scanned it and used the striped Goudchaux’s/Maison Blanche pattern on the end sheets of the book. That box now sits on top of my bookcase in my office and I feel like I have a little piece of Baton Rouge history. I morn the loss of a great Baton Rouge establishment along with everyone else and, yes, I too get that horrified look on my face when someone asks, What’s Goudchaux’s?

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Sep 15

Around the Press in 80 Books: Poverty Point

In celebration of LSUP’s 80th anniversary the staff selected 80 of our most memorable titles. Adding to our “Around the Press in 80 Books” blog series, designer Barbara Neely Bourgoyne writes about Poverty Point.

Poverty Point

Maybe I’d heard of Poverty Point before. Maybe when I was younger and still in school. I can’t seem to recall. But wow, what an amazing place! Occupied from about 1700 to 1100 BC and once the largest city in North America, it stretches across 345 acres in northeastern Louisiana. The complex array of earthen mounds and ridges overlooking the Mississippi River flood plain are not only impressive for a pre-agricultural society; they are also a great communal engineering feat due to the massive amounts of soil they had to move to create the earthworks.

There is also no rock at Poverty Point. None. The objects found at the location were created from stone and ore that was imported from the Ouachita and Ozark Mountains, the Ohio and Tennessee River valleys, the Appalachian foothills of northern Alabama and Georgia, and other distant places in the eastern United States. Which indicates that this complex society also had a sophisticated trade network.

Recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 2014, Poverty Point’s historical significance resonates not only on a regional level, but nationally and internationally as well.

Now the truly interesting thing to me is how this book is a conversation between artist and archaeologist. Jenny Ellerbe was drawn to the beauty of the place and her black-and-white photographs can attest to that. Diana M. Greenlee discusses the most recent archaeological findings and their significance. The way the two work together creates such a unique vision for the reader. Below are a few images from the book so you can see for yourself. But I strongly suggest picking up a copy of your own and then visiting the site. You won’t be disappointed.

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Sep 15

Around the Press in 80 Books: Louisiana Saturday Night

In celebration of LSUP’s 80th anniversary the staff selected 80 of our most memorable titles. Adding to our “Around the Press in 80 Books” blog series, Copy and Publicity Coordinator Jenny Keegan writes about Louisiana Saturday Night.

Louisiana Saturday Night

If you’re like me, your Saturday nights are spoken for from now until the end of football season (with the exception of our bye week before we crush Alabama at the start of November). But for the non-football fans out there — or those of you who have already started wondering how you’re going to fill the long empty Saturdays of the 2016 offseason — Alex Cook’s wonderful Louisiana Saturday Night is here to help you out.

An exuberant and experienced writer and traveler, Alex Cook is the perfect tour guide for the backwoods bars and dance halls of the state of Louisiana. He captures the atmosphere of each venue with enthusiasm and affection, from the decorations (Christmas lights strung across ceilings, concert posters from the 1970s) to the food (it’s enough to make your mouth water, especially if you’re reading it near lunchtime) to the type of crowd you’re likely to find (Cajun French speakers celebrating their shared heritage, uptight city folks who won’t even dance if there’s an accordion playing).

Louisiana is justly famous for its enthusiastic culture of music and booze, and Louisiana Saturday Night offers a guide to visitors and Louisianians alike who want to party like the locals.

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Sep 15

Around the Press in 80 Books: Trail of Bones

In celebration of LSUP’s 80th anniversary the staff selected 80 of our most memorable titles. Adding to our “Around the Press in 80 Books” blog series, Assistant Marketing Manager Kate Barton writes about Trail of Bones.

For many years Mary Manhein’s official title was director of the Forensic Anthropology and Computer Enhancement Services (FACES) Laboratory at LSU, but most people know her as “The Bone Lady.” The name originated from the many phone calls received over the years at the geography and anthropology department at LSU from various law enforcement officials who hadn’t yet learned her name. It is such a simple name for someone who has done so much in her career to help solve cold cases and establish the database for unidentified and missing persons in Louisiana.

Like many others, I enjoy watching crime shows on television, so the behind-the-scenes stories told in Trail of Bones captivated me. Many of Manhein’s stories stem from those phone calls from law enforcement where remains are found and they need help identifying the victims so they can piece together what happened. Through forensic science, she is able to give a voice to the victims. I find the facial reconstruction cases, like the identification of Precious Doe, fascinating. It is remarkable how they are able to use a skull and other basic information about age and race to piece together an accurate facial reconstruction. Although there are many aspects of her work that involve measurable data from science, scans, and DNA, it is the human aspect of each story that makes this book so interesting. Every set of bones of them has a story and loved ones who care. Manhein makes you feel as if you are with her for each case, going through all of the trial and error to figure out the identity of each person. This book offers a revealing look at an intriguing profession.

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Sep 15

Around the Press in 80 Books: The Louisiana Field Guide

In celebration of LSUP’s 80th anniversary the staff selected 80 of our most memorable titles. Adding to our “Around the Press in 80 Books” blog series, Marketing Manager Erin Rolfs writes about The Louisiana Field Guide.

The Louisiana Field Guide

I think it is still common in elementary schools nationwide to assign U.S. State project reports to students. In my day the task usually required a pristine plastic report cover containing hand-drawn versions of the state flower, the state motto, the state flag, and, if you were lucky enough to get assigned Louisiana, a rendition of the state song, “You Are My Sunshine.” You might also get a chance to mention the state dog, the Catahoula Cur; the seemingly innumerable nicknames (Gumbo State, Bayou State, Pelican State, Sportsman’s Paradise); and take a swing at explaining why Louisiana’s laws are still subject to the Napoleonic Code.

Even this novice effort, when taken on by some ambitious fifth grader with a penchant for spicy food and jazz music, is an arduous task. So when LSU Press agreed to publish The Louisiana Field Guide, hoping to offer a travel book that went beyond the surface level characteristics of the state and smartly delved into Louisiana’s culture and landscape, I was ready to be impressed by the outcome. With Wayne Parent and Ryan Orgera at the helm, the contributors proved up to the challenge. Covering nearly every recognizable facet of Louisiana – food, music, language, arts, film, sports, politics and the stunning but often stressed natural assets—this book accomplished what so many others about the state fail to do: offer an engaging and entertaining read without reducing Louisiana down to a caricature of itself.

In a world guided by analytically driven Google searches and anonymous Wikipedia entries, the chapters in The Louisiana Field Guide include personal and informed perspectives written by people who have experienced the subject matter firsthand or spent a lifetime studying it. In a place where back roads, pirogues, and basic French are required to reach many of the most rewarding experiences Louisiana has to offer, it is invaluable (or at least worth the retail price of $35.00 before tax) to have real experts at your fingertips.

Buy this book now for 20% off and get free shipping on all orders over $50; use code 0480FAV at checkout.