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Sherman Houston Jr. Wins Inaugural MLA Thesis Award

January 29, 2019

By Dr. Elisabeth Liebert

As a young child, Sherman Houston Jr. fell in love with Mahalia Jackson's music. That love carried him into the Master of Liberal Arts Program, where he had the opportunity to develop his knowledge of Mahalia as he wrote his thesis.

He discovered that she was more than an extraordinary singer: she was also a key figure in the Civil Rights movement. 

"I was surprised to learn that she had such deep involvement in the movement. I didn't know her home was like a headquarters for the movement in Chicago," Houston, who now teaches as an Adjunct Instructor of History at Southern University in Shreveport, admits. "I was amazed to see how she spoke out so passionately about these issues at her concerts and how she tirelessly raised money to support the cause."

Now Houston's thesis, Moving on up a Little Higher: Mahalia Jackson, Champion of Freedom through Song, has been selected as the inaugural winner of the MLA Thesis Award. Houston will receive a $500 cash prize and will be guided through the process of editing his thesis to publish it as a book.

Many people think of Mahalia primarily - or only - as a soulful voice. But her role in the Civil Rights Movement went far beyond her singing at events like the March on Washington. Houston's work helps redefine her legacy for a new generation. Once his book is published, he will give a series of public talks and readings through the Shreveport-Bossier community. 

"I believe my thesis was chosen [for the award] because it is one that needs to reach this generation," says Houston. "I think that it offers the wider community a chance to see what you can achieve if you speak out. There are so many issues in today's world such as water for Flint, literacy rates, Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, poverty, the Border wall issue. If Mahalia were alive today, I believe she would speak out about all these topics."

A schedule of readings will be announced later in the spring. The Thesis Award is sponsored by an LSUS Faculty Research and Development Grant and by the Noel Foundation.

For more information on the MLA Thesis Award, contact Dr. Elisabeth Liebert at

Media Contact: Wendell Riley, Director of Media and Public Relations 318-797-5108

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