- My Life with the Journal
Autobiographical reflections now seem acceptable for a presidential address, so I will, with your forbearance, use that format to discuss the history of the Journal of Southern History. Listeners hoping for dramatic developments will be disappointed. Other than almost dying in a chicken stampede when I was eight years old, my life has held few excitements but many moments of joy and fulfillment. Many of these involved my years at Rice University and my thirty-year editorship of the Journal, as I will henceforth refer to it. I want to talk about how this prestigious scholarly publication has changed over time and, by the way, say something about how the profession has changed and the field of southern history has evolved.
I was born in 1943 in Houston, where my father worked in the World War II shipyards and my parents lived, with others from their hometown, in the crowded quarters of an adapted apartment house. After the war my parents returned to Center, Texas, in deep East Texas, where we lived on a small farm and my father had a succession of jobs, from driving one of the town's two taxis to working in a plywood plant to, finally, working for a company that installed equipment in chicken houses. Our farm had a few animals and grew, for a while, cotton and corn. But for most of the time our major concern was growing chickens, so-called broilers, and we raised many thousands of them. When I was older, in high school, my twin brother and I worked summers in a chicken processing plant. I remember pasting labels that read "grown and packed in Colorado" on boxes of processed Texas chicken being loaded onto refrigerated trucks headed for California. I suppose the idea of chickens having drunk pure Rocky Mountain glacier water just seemed tastier to West Coast gourmets. Working in the chicken plant did not squelch my love of fried chicken, but it did convince me that I wanted to go to college.
My parents knew little about colleges, but from their wartime residence in Houston they had learned about the Rice Institute, a locally [End Page 7] renowned academic powerhouse that at that time offered its education free to the students who could get in. My teachers at Center High School were tremendously inspirational to me, and several in particular urged me to apply. Naively, I applied only to Rice in 1961. Luckily, the school admitted me: they had a policy of accepting a few high-risk students each fall, and apparently I qualified. I was thrilled, not only to get a free college education but also to spend four years in Houston. Each year from about the sixth grade on my twin brother and I had spent a week with an aunt and uncle, and their daughter, in Houston, and the city—with movie theaters, museums, tall buildings, a zoo—seemed to me in comparison to our rural farm a veritable Paris and London and New York City rolled into one. I loved coming to Houston. That love affair never faded.
My initial history teacher at Rice, William H. Masterson, was the editor of the Journal of Southern History, which had come to Rice in 1959. I later took a seminar on the American West taught by Andrew Forest Muir, who was the associate editor of the Journal. My tutorial professor for a Western Civilization course proved to be W. W. Abbot, later editor of the Journal and still later of the William and Mary Quarterly. Through consultations with Muir and Abbot, I became aware of the Journal's editorial offices. Then the fall semester of my senior year I took a course on Jeffersonian and Jacksonian democracy taught by Sanford W. Higginbotham, who the following fall became editor of the Journal, a position he held until 1983. His course persuaded me to go to graduate school at the University of Virginia, presumably to study Thomas Jefferson. But there I got sidetracked, wrote on southern religion, which eventually led me to write on slavery, and so on. More important, I met my future wife there...