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A giant walks among us.

In the ever-shrinking roster of investigative reporting, Stanley Nelson towers over the rest of the field.

Who is Stanley Nelson, you ask?

He is the editor of that shining beacon of dogged, undeterred journalism, the 4,700-circulation Concordia Sentinel in Ferriday.

Before you laugh, Nelson holds the singular distinction of being named as one of three finalists for the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for his decade of seeking the truth behind the racial killings in and around the Ferriday-Vidalia-Natchez area during the Jim Crow South’s Ku Klux Klan-led resistance to being pulled against its will by the growing riptide of desegregation—and, some would contend, civilization itself.

Among all the political leaders of the South (Orval Faubus, Ross Barnett, George Wallace, Herman Talmadge, Strom Thurmond, et al), only Louisiana Gov. Earl Long had the political acumen to understand the writing on the wall. He was resigned to the inevitable. It was Long who, when a New Orleans delegation approached him to ask for a public university in New Orleans, said he would do it on one condition: that the new school be fully integrated. Thus did the University of New Orleans come into existence.

But in the decade of the 1960s, hatred among the races was fanned by the KKK and condoned by then-Sheriff Noah Cross and his chief deputy, Frank DeLaughter. DeLaughter, in fact, was a KKK member and remains a suspect in the heinous murder of a shoe repair shop owner, Frank Morris, who in December 1964 was burned alive when his shop was incinerated in a gasoline-fueled fire set by a gang of whites who held a gun on Morris to keep him from escaping the flames.

Both Cross and DeLaughter would go to prison for corruption, but not for the murders and beatings of blacks.

When Morris’s name appeared on an FBI list of cold case murders, Nelson went to work.

No “outsider stirring up trouble,” Nelson is a native of nearby Sicily Island and a proud graduate of Louisiana Tech University’s fine journalism school headed up by the late Wiley Hilburn, himself an advocate of fairness and justice for all human beings.

Whether influenced by Hilburn or by his own code of ethics and integrity, Nelson began digging into Concordia Parish’s dark history, a history local whites would’ve just soon he leave alone.

The blood-soaked trail he happened upon led to other KKK-sanctioned killings. It is those killings—seven blacks and one white KKK member who, it was feared, had discovered a conscience and was about to name names.

His discoveries, written about in some 190 stories over seven years (and supported wholeheartedly by the Sentinel’s owners, the Hanna family), have led to an extraordinary, if sometimes difficult to follow by the necessary phalanx of names, times and places, book.

Devils Walking: Klan Murders along the Mississippi in the 1960s (LSU Press, 280 pages) is anything but a “delightful” book; it is disturbing, at its best. And it should be.

To say that Nelson has done an exhaustive job would be understating the obvious. Along the way, he realized he needed help. Enter the LSU Manship School of Mass Communications, Syracuse University, Emory University, the Center for Investigative Reporting and others too numerous to include here. Student interns, as obsessed as Nelson, plunged into the project with a zeal that only young bodies and minds could call up.

At the end of it all, Nelson freely expressed his frustration with the FBI for its failure to follow through on leads but at the same time praises the efforts of two FBI agents in particular who infiltrated a dangerous subsect of the KKK, the Silver Dollar Group, which actually carried out much of the carnage inflicted on innocent blacks.

Nelson’s reporting instincts, fueled by a burning curiosity and unimaginable courage, cast him as a hero of unmatched integrity and compassion in the chronicling of one of the most shameful chapters of Louisiana—and American—history.

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Sometimes we just need a break.

This is the time of year, of course, when all the stores pipe in seasonal music in an effort to subliminally force the Christmas spirit on us in the hopes that like a guilt trip, it will motivate us to spend lots and lots of cash on cards and gifts for everyone from the landscape contractor to kids and grandkids.

Nothing like a little not-so-subtle advertising to put us in the mood, right? I mean, who wouldn’t be stirred down to our very souls by such a deeply moving Christmas carol like Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer? (by the way, I make it a personal objective every year to make it through the Christmas season without being subjected to that awful song.)

And of course, there are the mind-numbing TV Christmas specials, paid for by an endless array of commercials hawking everything from cars to diamonds to toys and appliances.

And that is precisely why I am offering a little respite from the routine, the routine of writing about politics and the routine of being ground down by an annual Christmas season that long ago stopped being about Christmas, co-opted by a mindset of commercialism bordering on outright profiteering.

The way I cope with this is by reading. If I’m not writing, I’m usually reading. (Yeah, I know, that doesn’t speak much to my neglect of cardiovascular exercise. I’m starting to get those Aretha Franklin upper arms and my stomach makes a handy table for my laptop.)

But reading is my passion and I want to tell you about a delightful book I just read.

Anyone who loves baseball (and who doesn’t, after that thrilling seventh game of this year’s World Series?), will thoroughly enjoy Uncle Drew and the Bat Dodger by Thomas Cochran.

UNCLE DREW AND THE BAT DODGER epub Edition

It’s not about politics, there are no spies, no murders and no sex. Just baseball. And better yet, it’s set in Claiborne Parish, up in north Louisiana where I traipsed around as a much younger man, in the fictional town of Oil Camp.

It mentions such exotic getaways as Minden in Webster Parish and Arcadia in Bienville, where my old sandlot team, the Ruston Ramblers played some hard-fought games against Emmett Woodard’s Arcadia Aces.

We finished as runner-up to Arcadia several years in a row but never beat them for the title. They even beat us in the championship game one year with only seven players. They were that good. (It was against Arcadia, however, that I got my one and only run batted in—the game-winning RBI, no less—in my 10 years as the Ramblers manager and occasional player. That I ever got to play at all is attributable solely to the fact that I owned the team. But I still hold to the opinion that I could have been a good baseball player except for the unfortunate inability to hit, run, catch or throw.)

But back to our story. It’s listed as juvenile fiction by the book’s publisher, Pelican Publishing of Gretna, but I would recommend it for youngsters of all ages. I’m 73 and I loved it. I’m not sure where author Cochran is from, but I’d bet my old glove he’s from north Louisiana.

The story is told through the voice of nine-year-old (soon to be 10) Teddy Caldwell who meets his elderly neighbor, Drew Weems, by hitting a baseball through the old man’s window. A friendship quickly forms between the two. When Teddy mentions that Derek Jeter is his favorite player, Drew, Uncle Drew, snorts in derision. He confides that his all-time favorite is Cantrell “Bopeep” Shines, hands-down.

Uncle Drew, it turns out as the story unfolds, was a 14-year-old farm boy when a bus broke down in Claiborne Parish near the pond where he was fishing. The passengers were members of an all-black barnstorming baseball team of the old Negro Leagues which existed before Jackie Robinson broke the major league’s color barrier.

Shines, the team’s star pitcher, was fed up of not being paid and walks away on foot, trailed by the curious Drew. Eventually they hook up and Drew fries the fish he has caught for Shines who confides in the white boy his plans to make “real money.”

Drew decides to throw in with Shines and the two strike out on their own barnstorming tour across the South and even into Texas where Shines, with Drew serving as his catcher and bookkeeper, takes on all comers in one-on-one encounters, challenging would-be hitters to bat against him. The bets range from a few cents all the way up to an eye-popping $500 bet with, of all people, retired Detroit Tiger Ty Cobb, owner of the all-time high major league career batting average.

I won’t tell you how that face-off ended, but along the way, Shines picks up the name Bat Dodger. (He called himself Bopeep because he herded hitters “like sheeps.” He used banter with hitters to his advantage by getting into their heads much like we imagine Satchel Paige might have done in his prime.

Drew decides to mentor the underachieving right fielder Teddy and teaches him to use the same windup employed by Shines. Of course, when he goes out for the team, the coach automatically assigns him to right field, the position generally played by the last player chosen, though in real baseball, from college on up to the majors, the strong arm of the right fielder is an important commodity.

But Teddy and Drew have other ideas. Teddy asks to try out for pitcher.

To learn what happens to Drew, Shines and Teddy’s tryout for pitcher, you’ll just have order the book from PELICAN.

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Recently I wrote about friend and former co-worker O.K. “Buddy” Davis who suffered a disabling stroke a few years back but who continues to cover sports for The Ruston Daily Leader.

Today’s post is about another friend of both Buddy’s and mine. And while we never worked together at the same time, we did work for the same newspapers at different times in our career.

Nico Van Thyn, like Buddy and me, is a graduate of the Louisiana Tech University School of Journalism and like yours truly, he has an Internet blog. While my writing efforts are generally dedicated to the misdeeds of various politicos, he concentrates on writing in Once a Knight primarily about graduates of Woodlawn High School in Shreveport. People like Terry Bradshaw, Trey Prather, Joe Ferguson and Tommy Spinks.

But again, like yours truly, he often writes about other topics and that is the reason for this post.

Nico’s story is quite unique and we’re the better for his having written about it. It’s a story we should never allow ourselves to forget. Ever.

You see, Nico’s parents were Jewish victims of Hitler’s concentration camps. Unlike six million others, however, they were fortunate to have survived the Holocaust. And they carried the numbers the Nazis tattooed on their left forearms for the remainder of their respective lives to prove it.

(How anyone can deny the Holocaust simply defies all logic.)

Encouraged and goaded by friends to combine the individual posts about his parents into a single volume, he at first resisted but finally relented and the result is his wonderful—and poignant—book, A tribute to Survivors: 62511, 70726.

Of his book, Van Thyn says it is available through the self-publishing company, CreateSpace, and it is listed on Amazon. “The title is the story of my parents and their lives before and after they were Holocaust survivors,” he says. “The numbers in the title are the numbers the Nazis tattooed on their left forearms.”

As much as it is Rose and Louis Van Thyn’s stories, it is also the story of Nico and sister Elsa and their journey from Amsterdam to the United States.

Anyone who has followed Nico’s blog for the past five years probably has already seen much of the material in the book. But it has been a while since the early chapters, and you might not have seen many of the photos in the book.

“Doing this has been a labor of love,” Nico says, “and several people encouraged me to do it. And it also has been a labor.

“Trying to do it on my own two years ago, I failed miserably because I am not that technical savvy. It was driving me more nuts than I already am—and it also was driving someone who lives with me a little battier than she already is. So I dropped the idea. But as I kept writing about my parents’ stories on this blog, people kept telling me I should put it together in a book.

“There are a couple of heroes responsible for it finally happening. Tom Johanningmeier, deputy sports editor of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (my journalism home for a final decade of work), formatted the whole thing, really put it together. Janet Glaspie, who lived down the street from my parents in Shreveport for years and helped care for them, proofread the pages and made many good suggestions and necessary fixes.

“Without them, I am not a published author,” he said.

“I never had great desire to write a book, but as I state  in the introduction to the book, I wanted my parents’ stories in one place for their many friends and mostly for our family, for the generations.

“And here’s what else; it can’t be said enough: The Holocaust was real, and the threat of oppression and genocide remains ever-present. There are people out there who deny the Holocaust, who excuse what happened, who say it is fictional history.

“They are so wrong, wrong, wrong. Often loud wrong. I knew two people who lived through it, and who told their stories.

“And I’ve retold those stories.”

To order the book (the list price is $15, plus shipping charges):

https://www.createspace.com/6486186 (this is the preferable option, although you might have to create a free CreateSpace account to place an order)

https://www.amazon.com/Survivors-Holocaust-stories-Amsterdam-Auschwitz/dp/153698308X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1476637062&sr=1-1

Kindle: (price $2.99, no photos) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MF8CYKV

(Personal note to Nico: Thanks so much. While we love our sports, your parents are the real heroes. We agree completely with all those who commented on your Facebook page: this is a story that begged to be told because it’s so important that we never forget.)

rose-van-thyn-memorial

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For those who live in the Baton Rouge area and don’t yet have a copy (and for those who wouldn’t mind driving a few miles), I will be signing my book, Bobby Jindal: His Destiny and Obsession, at the Perkins Rowe Barnes and Noble Booksellers from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. this Saturday (Aug. 6).

In case you haven’t been keeping up, this book is not a puff piece promoting Jindal. Instead, it is an accurate account of the eight years of wanton destruction he inflicted upon this state as governor in absentia and wannabe Republican presidential candidate.

The book, which includes chapters written by such notables as:

  • Former Director of the Louisiana Budget Office Stephen Winham (“Jindal’s Policies: Fiscal Failure or Mission Accomplished?”);
  • Director of Admissions at a Louisiana university Bridget Jacobs (“Bobby Jindal and Louisiana’s Higher Education”);
  • CenLamar blogger, recent law school graduate and political consultant Lamar White (“Jindal’s Fool’s Gold Standard: Why Ethics Reform Failed in Louisiana”);
  • Former Department of Education employee, former candidate for the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and education blogger Jason France, aka Crazy Crawfish (“Smoke and Mirrors: Education Reform under Jindal”), and
  • New Orleans Gambit Chairman and Political Editor Clancy Dubos: (“Jindal’s F-Word Tour”).

Of course there also are about 40 chapters written by yours truly, none of which can be considered complimentary of the one once praised by the likes of Rush Limbaugh but whose once-shining political light was snuffed out by his own blundering economic, education, ethics, and political ineptness.

I am also extending an invitation to those named above who so graciously agreed to write chapters—and to whom I will be forever grateful—to come by and also sign copies of the book.

Besides writing their respective chapters, they are also valuable resources for information and policy on whom I have called many times for assistance and advice.

And even if you already have a copy of the book, come on by and say hello. I always love to meet and hear from readers of LouisianaVoice.

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Three book signings have be set for my latest book, Bobby Jindal: His Destiny and Obsession.

Our first book signing will be this Saturday at 2 p.m. at Cavalier House Books in Denham Springs’ Antique Village. It’s the same store where I held my first book signing for my first book, Louisiana Rocks: The True Genesis of Rock & Roll.

Also on hand for this Saturday’s signing will be Del Hahn, author of Smuggler’s End: The Life and Death of Barry Seal. Hahn is the retired FBI agent who successfully pursued Seal. I had a small hand in the book as editor.

Before we go any further, it might be worthwhile to point out that my book about Jindal is not a powderpuff book in the mold of the two books by Jindal which probably resulted in his dislocating his shoulder from repeatedly patting himself on the back.

Please know that this book was undertaken and written in its entirety with zero collaboration or cooperation from anyone in the Jindal camp.

It’s the kind of book that result in my being removed from Jindal’s Christmas card list—had we ever been on that list, which we certainly were not.

This 294-page book is an examination that addresses several issues:

  • How did Jindal become a multi-millionaire after only three years in Congress?
  • Jindal’s claims of a new high standard of ethics are debunked by his own actions as governor.
  • Jindal’s claim of transparency is also belied by his penchant for secrecy.
  • His vindictive nature in firing or demoting anyone and everyone who dared disagree with him.
  • His awarding of prestigious board and commission memberships to big contributors.
  • His sorry record in protecting the state’s environment and the state’s coastline.
  • His mysterious deal to sell state hospitals via a contract containing 50 blank pages.
  • His single-handed destruction of higher education and health care.
  • His near-comical, yet pathetic candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination.

There is much, much more, of course, but you will have to get the book to read it.

Here is the current schedule for upcoming book signings:

  • Cavalier House Books in Denham Springs: Saturday, May 14, at 2 p.m.
  • The Winn Parish Library in Winnfield: Thursday, May 19, at 2 p.m.
  • Barnes and Noble Bookstore in Mandeville, Saturday, June 18, from 2 to 4 p.m.

This schedule will be updated as additional signings are scheduled.

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