I also wanted to focus on the concept of the long — accent on the long — Black freedom struggle. When people talk about the civil rights movement, they often focus on the period from the Brown v. Board of Education decision or the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1954, and stop with the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. But in recent years, historians have emphasized the fact that the movement began quite a bit before that and continued after '68. Austin’s life and advocacy kind of exemplifies that because he took over the paper in late 1920s and became a major advocate for Black voter registration. He was involved in the first lawsuit to try to desegregate a Southern White university.
I wanted to stretch the timeline of the study of the civil rights movement. I wanted to shine a light on the movement in North Carolina — there hasn’t been a book that focuses on the state of North Carolina with regard to the civil rights movement — and just bring attention to the incredibly courageous advocacy and life of Louis Austin himself.
DTH: This is your second book. Did you find it easier to write this book the second time around?
JG: That’s a good question. I guess it was different because my first book was based on my dissertation. Most academic historians’ first book is based on their dissertation. When you’re working on your dissertation, you have your advisor who is very helpful. I did my PhD at UNC under Jim Leloudis, who is still there, and of course he was very helpful. When you have a dissertation and it’s in pretty good shape, you can move forward to a book. I was fortunate and I was able to get a book contract almost immediately after I completed my dissertation.
Back in 2011, I was on a program at UNC related to Pauli Murray. There were a number of people on the panel and when I was introduced, the host introduced me as someone who was writing a book on Louis Austin, and at the time I wasn’t planning that. I guess if someone said I was writing a book, I was.
DTH: Now a seasoned writer, what advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time to when you were writing your first book?
JG: The thing about writing is you have to be very disciplined and try to write as often as you can. People say you should write every day. But the problem with that is that writing isn’t my only job. I’m a teacher — I would say number one. It’s difficult sometimes to find the time to do the research and the writing. I always think you need to do as much research as possible and look at a number of different perspectives.
DTH: What advice would you offer to students who might want to write history books one day?
JG: You need to read widely in the literature of whatever you’re going to write about. To be able to write well on a topic, you have to know the material very well, and not just the narrow topic that you’re doing. To write about Louis Austin and the Carolina Times, I needed to know about the history of the Black press in the United States, and also to some extent the history of the white press in the United States. I needed to know about the history of the civil rights movement. You need to know the larger context.
I always advise students not to wait to start writing until after you’ve done the research, but as you’re doing the research, start writing. As you write, you’ll start to realize what else you need to research.