Department of History

Wesley Newton

Wesley Phillips Newton Jr., professor emeritus of Auburn University's History Department, passed away on January 30, 2012. The eighty-six-year-old is survived by his wife Merlin, three children, and two grandchildren. "Wes was a superb scholar and a fine colleague, and those of us who were close to him will miss him," William Trimble said when sharing the news with the department.

Wes served in the Army during World War II, eventually winning a Purple Heart and spending time as a POW. He joined the history department as a Latin Americanist in 1964 and taught a variety of courses (his wife Merlin also taught in the department for some years). In 1965 the department's first Phi Alpha Theta chapter was formed under Wes' guidance, and he encouraged the society's growth throughout the state. Fellow professor Robert R. Rea called him a "crusader in the American Association of University Professors" who could be found at the "forefront of any cause engaging professorial rights or personal liberties."

Although Wes continued to teach Latin American History, he had a great interest in aviation history and was instrumental in encouraging the growth of the field in the department. His book The Perilous Sky: U.S. Aviation Diplomacy and Latin America, 1919-1931, was published in 1978, and Early Commercial Aviation, coauthored with W. David Lewis and William M. Leary, was published in 1979. He coauthored with Lewis an official history of Delta Airlines--Delta: The History of an Airline--also published in 1979. Wes retired from the department in 1987.

Retirement was not the end of his scholarship, however. Wes was an active participant in the Alabama Historical Association, serving on its Board of Directors, and wrote articles and book reviews for magazines and journals, including Alabama Heritage and The Alabama Review (he also served on the Review's editorial board). He published or contributed to several other books after retirement, including

  • A History of the Church of St. Bede the Venerable, 1925-1990 (published by the church in 1990)
  • To Command the Sky: The Battle for Air Superiority over Germany, 1942-1944, coauthored with Stephen L. McFarland (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991)
  • The Wisdom of Eagles: A History of Maxwell Air Force Base, with Jerome A. Ennels (Black Belt Press, 1997)
  • Montgomery in the Good War: Portrait of a Southern City, 1939-1946 (University of Alabama Press, 2000)

A memorial service will be held on Saturday, February 18, 2012, at 2:00 p.m. at the Renaissance Montgomery Hotel at the Convention Center. The department extends its condolences to Wes' family and all who were touched by his scholarship, his enthusiasm for history, and his friendship.

Last Updated: May 23, 2019