Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

For those who prefer the fast-paced action of James Patterson, John Grisham or James Lee Burke, In Sullivan’s Shadow isn’t for you.

But if you are a political junkie with an eye for a scholarly work about a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that was key to the simultaneous support of the First Amendment and the American civil rights movement, then you will definitely fine In Sullivan’s Shadow riveting reading.

Author Aimee Edmondson, a native of East Carroll Parish, never really appreciated the stark reality of having grown up sheltered from exposure to blacks, attending as she did, an all-white private school, until she bumped into an African-American student from her home town her freshman year at LSU. Only then did she realize that even in a small town like Lake Providence, they had grown up worlds apart. When she innocently observed that she didn’t attend public school back home, he simply shook his head and said, “No s**t.”

Edmondson, who teaches journalism at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, has crawled back through the legal archives of civil rights litigation to give us a long-awaited examination of SLAPP (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) lawsuits used as weapons against national publications like Time, The New York Times, Look, Life, The Saturday Evening Post, and even The Ladies’ Home Journal and bold local editors who saw resistance to the civil rights movement for what it was: a desperate attempt to keep blacks “in their place” while preserving the comfortable—and separate—lifestyles of whites.

While local television stations in the South would display “Technical Difficulties” on viewers’ screens whenever their networks would air footage of blacks being beaten in Southern bus stations, the national publications—and to a lesser extent, courageous small town editors like Hodding Carter, Buford Boone and Hazel Brannon Smith—were providing graphic coverage that left people like Lester Sullivan, Theophilus Eugene “Bull” Connor, Lawrence A. Rainey, and retired Army Gen. Edwin Walker in a litigious mood.

Sullivan was Commissioner of the Police and Fire Department of Montgomery, Alabama, Connor was Birmingham Police Commissioner, and Rainey was Sheriff of Neshoba County, Mississippi.

In a series of separate SLAPP filings, they launched a full-scale attack on the national publications, CBS News, CBS reporter Howard K. Smith, himself a native of Ferriday, Louisiana, and local newspapers that dared to take a stand against arrests, beatings, arson, and even murders. And of course, black newspapers and civil rights leaders were not exempt from the costly litigation.

Edmondson calls up some familiar names when she describes how the struggle for equality made its way to Baton Rouge. Names like Police Chief Wingate White, U.S. District Court Judge E. Gordon West, 19th Judicial District Court Judge Fred LeBlanc, and District Attorney Sargent Pitcher, Jr., Mayor John Christian, and Rev. Arthur L Jelks surface in her recounting of the volatile struggle.

She even manages to provide us with a brief account of the ongoing battles between blacks and Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal.

But more than just a rehashing of police dogs, fire hoses and clubs, Edmondson’s book focuses more on the legal struggles that came out of the multitude of SLAPP actions brought by Sullivan, Connor, Rainey, and Walker.

In frightening detail, she shows how these lawsuits bullied CBS into a public apology for Smith’s reporting and how editors at The New York Times genuinely feared for the financial existence of the publication should it lose its landmark case brought by Sullivan.

But then, in 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that even if a publication had factual errors in its reporting on a public official, that public official must show that the publication new its story was false and published it anyway, with malice and reckless disregard for the truth.

But then, when Gen. Walker sued over stories that he instigated rioting during the integration of the University of Mississippi, the Supreme Court went a bit further in declaring that Sullivan protected publications from litigation not only from public officials, but from public figures, as well, thus cementing the right of freedom of the press.

In Sullivan’s Shadow is a must-read for political junkies, especially in a time when the adversarial relationship between the media and public officials–particularly on the national stage—is more acrimonious than it’s been since Montgomery, Birmingham and Neshoba County.


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Sales of my latest book, Louisiana’s Rogue Sheriffs: A Culture of Corruption (see image of book cover in column to the right of this post), are progressing at a rather brisk pace.

I’m also informed that the book was the topic of considerable conversation at the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association’s annual training conference this past weekend at L’auberge Casino Resort in Lake Charles.

That’s okay. As Uncle Earl Long was known to say, “There ain’t no bad publicity as long as they spell my name right.”

The book, 350 pages in length explores the shenanigans of a litany of past and present Louisiana sheriffs who didn’t even blink an eye at theft, drug dealing, malfeasance, human rights violations, and even murder. An sample chapter from the book can be found at the bottom of this post.

I will be a guest of Jim Engster on his Louisiana Public Radio program, Talk Louisiana, Friday at 9 a.m. You may listen in by logging onto http://www.jimengster.com/ Friday at 9:00.

On Saturday, I will have my first book signing at Cavalier House Books in Denham Springs. I purposely chose Cavalier’s because that’s where I had my first book signing for my earlier book, Louisiana Rocks: The True Genesis of Rock & Roll.

I’m also scheduled for a biographical profile and review of Louisiana’s Rogue Sheriffs in CENLA FOCUS, an online Alexandria publication.

Of course, no book promotion would be complete without a book signing and lecture at the Louisiana State Library’s 16th annual Louisiana Book Festival, scheduled for Saturday, November 2. Always the highlight of the year for book lovers, last year’s festival attracted more than 26,000 visitors. I will attend the festival’s Authors’ Party the evening of Friday, November 1 and on Saturday, in addition to signing copies of the book, I will give a lecture on some of the more colorful Louisiana sheriffs in the basement of the Louisiana State Capitol.

To obtain your copy of the book, which is not yet in area book stores, you may click on the yellow Donate Button with Credit Cards button also located in the column to the right of this post to pay by credit card. The book sells for $30 and if you order by clicking on the yellow button, be sure to send a separate email to louisianavoice@outlook.com giving me your mailing address.

You may also order the book from Amazon but for some reason, they listed the price at $35. I did not authorize that price and I would recommend purchasing directly from me to save $5. If you prefer not to order by credit card, you may send a check for $30 to Tom Aswell, P.O. Box 922, Denham Springs, LA. 70727.

As promised, here is an excerpt from the book:

Bobby Tardo, Duffy Breaux: Lafourche Parish

Some people take their politics a little more seriously than others.

Take, for example, Cyrus “Bobby” Tardo. Elected sheriff of Lafourche Parish in 1971, he was defeated for reelection by Duffy Breaux in 1975. That he went on to be elected parish president in 1983 was of little consequence to Tardo. Losing in ‘75 to the man he had defeated four years earlier apparently was more than he could stomach. After all, he had given Breaux a job after Breaux, who finished third in that ’71 election, endorsed Tardo over his runoff opponent—only to have Breaux run against him in the very next election.

On December 15, 1988, Breaux and Deputy Daniel Leche were leaving a senior citizen Christmas party at the Thibodaux Civic Center. A grocery bag was on the ground next to Breaux’s vehicle and as he approached it, the sheriff kicked the bag with his foot. As he did so, an explosion rocked the still evening air as shrapnel and nails tore into Breaux’s leg, nearly severing his foot.

Marshall McClendon, 42, a former New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Gonzales police officer who had once worked for Tardo during his one term as sheriff as well as having served as an Ascension Parish sheriff’s deputy, had detonated a bomb by remote control in an attempt on Breaux’s life. Tardo had paid McClendon and John Tullier, Jr. of St. Amant, age 23, $8,000 with the promise of another $12,000 if Breaux died. A third man, former Houma police officer Ralph Bergeron, 42, was also charged with conspiracy to violate and of violation of the Organized Crime Control Act and illegal possession of a destructive device.

Bergeron and Tullier conducted surveillance of Breaux several times before the bombing was actually carried out, the affidavit said.

An informant who admitted his involvement in the attempt on Breaux’s life told federal agents that Tardo had supplied the money to have Breaux murdered, according to a federal affidavit that outlined allegations against the men. The informant said Tardo also gave McClendon an additional $2,000 for his participation in the bombing.

The affidavit released at a press conference by U.S. Attorney John Volz said Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) agents monitored a conversation between Tardo and the informant. It was during that meeting that Tardo affirmed his knowledge of the bombing, admitted to paying McClendon the extra $2,000, gave the confidential source $100 to help him get out of town, and admitted that he, Tardo, had entered into an agreement with McClendon that called for McClendon to maintain silence if arrested.

Tardo, a retired state trooper who was working as a private investigator and an insurance agent at the time the bombing was carried out, was sentenced to 29 years, five-months in prison but served less than three years of that sentence. He died of heart failure on April 30, 1992, in the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri where he had been transferred after becoming ill. He never left federal custody following his February 2, 1989 arrest. He was only 61 at the time of his death.

Tullier was sentenced to 19 years, eight months while McClendon was given a 24-year sentence and Bergeron was sentenced to 11 years imprisonment.

Breaux, meanwhile, would go on to serve as sheriff for 16 years, until 1992, when he, too, ran afoul of the law.

Breaux, who began his career in law enforcement as a dispatcher for the sheriff’s office, pleaded guilty in 1993 to mail fraud, conspiracy and obstruction of justice for deals in which he was involved while sheriff. At the center of the charges was a scheme to defraud Lafourche Parish of more than $100,000 through Shield Land, a company owned by Breaux and his Chief Deputy, Eddie Duet. The sheriff’s office contracted with local banks which paid for the storage of mobile homes. Because Breaux and Duet owned the land where the trailers were stored, they profited directly from the transactions.

Breaux served more than four years in federal prison in Montgomery, Alabama, and was released in 1997. He died eight years later, on December 13, 2005, of complications from pneumonia. He was 77.

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As far back as 1973, he learned how easily he could manipulate the media with a proven formula for winning attention: tap into white fears and frustrations by seizing on hot-button issues and relying on the media to publicize his views and activities.

It didn’t matter if he exaggerated or embellished his accomplishments so long as it got him the attention he needed and craved.

His followers were adamant in saying they were “more interested in what he’ll do than what he’s done in the past. It wouldn’t influence me one bit what he did in the past.”

Television became all-important for him. His sound bites came across particularly well as television news began airing stories on his campaign virtually every night.

“If I can do it, with the political machine against me now, with my character savaged for weeks on end…if I can overcome tremendous spending by the opposition, you, ladies and gentlemen, can do the same thing.”

He was at his best when tapping into whites’ frustration by denouncing special interests and a government more concerned with helping undeserving people on welfare than with the “hard-working, taxpaying middle-class.” Once in office, however, he found it more difficult to actually put his ideas into law.

“The greatest problem we face in this country is the rising welfare class,” he said at every rally.

“He says in public what we all talk about in private,” said one supporter. They echoed that thought repeatedly throughout the campaign. But his rallies had a darker side. His followers were angry and when he pushed hot-button issues, they thrust their fists in the air, stomped their feet and chanted his name over and over.

Even though his crowds were huge, he felt a need to make them even larger, so he fudged the numbers unrealistically upward.

A lawmaker said he was all about polarization and driving a wedge but he insisted he was the only candidate speaking to the anxieties of voters.

Voters’ first response to the truth about his past activities was defensive. To admit he was a fraud and a racist was to admit that they were being misled or were bigots themselves. When a mirror was held up to the electorate, they were being shown that they and their candidate were one and the same.

In one focus group setting during the campaign, a moderator asked a series of questions about a hypothetical candidate. “What would you think of a candidate who evaded the draft during the Vietnam War and lied about it later?”

“I can’t imagine a man who wouldn’t serve his country,” said one respondent.

“What would you think of a candidate who hadn’t paid his taxes?”

“I pay my taxes,” a woman replied, “and I expect a politician to.”

Then, with a second focus group, the same questions were asked but the candidate was named this time.

When asked about the draft evasion, one man said, “Everybody of that generation was trying to evade the draft. I went to Vietnam, but I would have evaded going there if I could have.”

What about his not paying taxes?

“Only dumb people pay taxes,” a woman said. “Politicians and millionaires don’t because they’re smart. He must be smart.”

What had been unacceptable character flaws in an anonymous candidate were suddenly acceptable when the candidate’s name was revealed.

Voters were faced with a difficult decision in the election: who was worse, a bigot or a crook? While that prospect paralyzed many voters, it energized others.

He did not like strategy sessions. He cared more about ideas than tactics. He figured his approach was succeeding thus far, so why change?

One observer said he thought that if the candidate won, the (nation) would be set adrift.

Of his supporters, one veteran political observer said, “They’re educated people. They’re not hicks. But they’re mad as hell, they’re saying, ‘Screw the establishment. Throw the bums out.’ That’s what he stands for.”

Another political insider said he had an “enduring faith” in the basic wisdom and decency of the American people. But the anger and hate in one female supporter’s voice scared him.

He would make such outrageous claims during the debates that opponents had no way to prepare responses.

He attacked his opponents for selling out the hard-pressed middle class by raising taxes.

At the same time, he also pushed two other hot-button issues, calling for a clampdown on illegal immigration and advocating “fair trade,” not “free trade,” with Mexico.

His call for an “America First” position became his mantra throughout his campaign.

There was a “cult-like figure aspect” to the candidate, one opponent said. “That only lasts a short time, until people catch on to the reality,” he said.

He skillfully tapped into the grievances of frustrated white voters, voters described as “very dissatisfied with the political system in this country,” said one pollster. “I think it’s about half racist and half ‘I’m just hacked off, and how can I send a message?’”

Nearly half the people who voted for his opponent did so because they did not want him elected.

Think you recognize the candidate described here?

Nope, it’s not Trump.

It’s Louisiana’s very own neo-Nazi David Duke as described in several passages throughout Tyler Bridges’s frighteningly insightful book, The Rise and Fall of David Duke.

Bridges has done an incredibly thorough job of researching the political odyssey of Duke and laying out his dangerous philosophy. I recommend the book to anyone and everyone who truly loves this country and is concerned with the nasty mood of those who hold themselves to be somehow better than others because of the color of their skin.

Oddly enough, Bridges notes, Duke wasn’t nearly as obsessed with African Americans as he was and continues to be with Jews. The fact is, he simply hates Jews and idolizes Adolf Hitler.

I purchased the book from Bridges at last November’s Louisiana State Library Book Fair and it’s a volume that will occupy a special place in my library. I don’t want to ever forget exactly what this guy stands for because his ideas are dangerous and, well, sick.

Bridges did devote a passing reference to Trump that is especially telling. “Non-traditional conservatives, however, found him candid, authentic and refreshing. Duke saw something of himself in Trump’s approach.”

Later, Bridges quotes Duke as saying, “I do support his (Trump’s) candidacy, and I support voting for him as a strategic action.”

A few pages further, there is this: “Andrew Anglin, editor of the Daily Stormer, a popular website among neo-Nazis, said, ‘Virtually every alt-right Nazi I know is volunteering for the Trump campaign.'”

Following the Charlottesville white supremacist rally attended by Duke and led by Richard Spencer (complete with his “Hail Trump” salute) at which white supremacist James Fields plowed his Dodge Charger into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer, Trump couldn’t bring himself to condemn the Nazis. Instead, he made reference to “violence on many sides. On many sides.”

Stephanie Grace, a writer for the New Orleans Advocate, weighed in. “As for those, like Trump, who still can’t or choose not to see what’s right in front of them, here’s a handy rule of thumb that might help sort through the ‘many sides’ confusion: If David Duke is on one side, you belong on the other.”


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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.


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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