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Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

Rather than try to tell you about my most recent book, Louisiana’s Rogue Sheriffs: A Culture of Corruption, I thought I’d let those who have read it and reviewed it on the Amazon website do so for me. Six out of the seven reviewers gave it five out of five stars and the seventh gave it four. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t pretty proud of those endorsements.

I’m also very proud of this book. Drawn from court records, news accounts and interviews, it shows how truly powerful the office of sheriff is—not only in Louisiana, but throughout the U.S.—and how that power is often abused by the one elected official in America who answers to no one. Sheriffs do not answer to the president, congress, the governor, or the legislature. That kind of unchecked autonomy invites not only mismanagement and malfeasance, but outright corruption, physical abuse, and even violations of criminal law up to and including homicide.

The book is not meant as a blanket condemnation of law enforcement. In fact, it’s dedicated to those officers who did not earn a mention in the book.

You can purchase your copy for $30 by clicking on the yellow oval DONATE button in the column to the right of this post and pay by card. It looks like this: Donate Button with Credit Cards .

If you prefer, you may send a check for $30 to:

Tom Aswell

P.O. Box 922

Denham Springs, Louisiana 70727

 

Following are the seven reviews:

 

Bunny

5.0 out of 5 stars Very good book!

Reviewed on October 19, 2019

Since I live in Louisiana I found this book to be very true and factual. Enjoyed reading.

 

Stephen R. Winham

4.0 out of 5 stars A Definitive Work on the Power of Sheriffs

Reviewed on July 20, 2019

This has already become Tom Aswell’s most noted book to date. Those familiar with Aswell’s work will know he is meticulous in his research – For proof, pick up a copy of his earlier book, Louisiana Rocks. In Louisiana’s Rogue Sheriffs Aswell continues the diligence of his encyclopedic volume on rock music history and in his seminal book about our immediate past governor – Bobby Jindal: His Destiny and Obsession, coupling it with the courageous journalism reflected in his LouisianaVoice blog. Despite the serious nature of this book, he manages to work in a little humor and ends with humorous anecdotes from his personal experiences – as you may know, he was once a stand-up comedian.

An honest evaluation of the power used and abused in our justice system requires courage – and focusing on sheriffs is particularly courageous. The late Harry Lee—elected seven times as sheriff of Jefferson Parish once said, “Why would I want to be governor when I can be king?” [Wikipedia]

Aswell notes that sheriffs are uniquely powerful and have been so for centuries. In the United States they are essentially bound only by the state and U. S. constitutions and accountable only to the electorate of their jurisdictions. Sheriffs are not term-limited and generally spend many years in office. Look at your own parish sheriff and his predecessors and you will see there is very little turnover. And while state law provides minimum qualifications for deputy sheriffs, it does not do the same for the “high sheriffs”, so lack of law enforcement experience is not an impediment to election.

Those of us who grew up in Louisiana know that local governments are run by the “courthouse gang” of local elected officials and state politicians still believe they need their support to win elections. Without question, the most powerful and independent member of that group is the sheriff, who is also a member of the most powerful political lobbying group in the state, the Louisiana Sheriffs Association. Not only do sheriffs hold considerable sway with lawmakers, but governors are known to take their recommendations for certain appointments, including the heads of state police and the corrections system. Our current governor comes from a family of sheriffs.

Nineteenth century politician Lord Acton is best known for his statement, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Aswell sets out to see how true that statement is among Louisiana’s sheriffs. Louisiana has 64 criminal sheriffs, one in each parish (county). Aswell does not paint all our sheriffs with a broad brush, but he details things ranging from ignorance of the law through negligence and theft all the way to the worst brutality imaginable among 34 sheriffs’ offices and a handful of non-sheriff law enforcement agencies in our state. As he notes, the office of sheriff has existed as a powerful entity for many centuries here and abroad.

Beginning with the Kefauver Crime Commission in 1951, Aswell traces actions by some sheriffs across our state that would, in the absence of the right connections, net most of us time in a parish jail or a state or federal prison. He details human rights violations, nepotism, favoritism, discrimination, racism, sexism, organized crime connections, ignorance (for a price) of gambling and prostitution, theft of public property and other actions anybody should clearly see as wrong – things that, as Lord Acton’s statement implies, indicate that as power grows, moral senses tend to diminish.

I recommend this book to anybody seeking insight into our justice system, particularly the law enforcement side and specifically sheriffs. It represents years of work and documentation of facts and experts’ opinions. It is exhaustive and hard to absorb in one or two sittings. I recommend you read 3 – 5 chapters at a time to get the full effect.
It is sometimes hard to figure why people continue to re-elect some of the more corrupt of our sheriffs, but not hard to see how open opposition is limited by the power vested in the office.

I have always said the best approach to our system of justice

 

Bob M

5.0 out of 5 stars Eye Opening – Fascinating – Factual – Funny

Reviewed on August 20, 2019

I loved the book and it is worth the investment. First there are many parishes that do things honorably, correctly and focus on helping citizens. Louisiana has 64 parishes and almost 50% are comprised of bad-guys. Count the parishes in the book for the true data. I was born in New Iberia and lived there until age 19. It is hard to believe that the peculiarity of sheriffs’ department corruption, viciousness, dishonesty, and ignorance of the law, remains the same. Often things are much worse than the shenanigans of the 1950s. One sheriff has racked up almost $8 million in payments for settlements and associated legal fees. Currently this department has five open lawsuits. Some deputies take pride in killing friendly family dogs. One case was settled for $70,000.

This should be required reading for attorneys in the state. Bottom line; the book would be extremely helpful to individuals and companies considering relocation to Louisiana.

 

McCoy

5.0 out of 5 stars Get it. Read it. SHARE it.

Reviewed on September 11, 2019

Once again, Tom Aswell demonstrates how meticulous research combined with fine writing can produce a book that’s almost impossible to put down.  I say “almost” because one has to get in a few hours of sleep to be functional.  Readers don’t need to be from Louisiana or even care much about shady dealings in law enforcement to find Rogue Sheriffs a compelling read.  The sheer hubris of some of these men who were given too much power (they still are) boggles the mind.  Most of the “bent coppers” the author describes in such minute detail were more contemptible than the worst criminals and should have spent most of their adult lives behind bars getting a daily taste of prison justice.  

To be clear, I’m not implying that the subjects of this revealing book typify Louisiana law enforcement officials because that is certainly not the case.  However…a relatively few bad apples tend to spoil the whole barrel, at least in the public’s opinion, so I believe Mr. Aswell’s book should be required reading for concerned citizens, all law enforcement trainees and rookies, as well as criminology and law school classes not only throughout Louisiana, but across the country.  Rogue Sheriffs illustrates in jaw-dropping detail just how dangerous too much power in the hands of the wrong people can be.  I hope it is widely-read, shared and recommended and that it will motivate voters to make informed decisions when they use their own power at election time.

 

Cajun Joe

5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing story

Reviewed on August 20, 2019

As disturbing as it is to learn of the level of corruption and lawlessness of Louisiana Sheriffs, it can’t and shouldn’t be dismissed or denied. Tom has third-party documented his findings so completely that no one can dispute what he has reported that has been done by the Sheriffs as a group. They operate like a gangland crime family with impunity. It appears doubtful that as a group the Louisiana Sheriffs will become respectable due to the general populace turning a blind eye to and a permissive acceptance of their behavior.

 

Sher68

5.0 out of 5 stars Louisiana Sheriffs Need Term Limits

Reviewed on August 20, 2019

I recommend this book to anybody seeking insight into our justice system, particularly the law enforcement side and specifically sheriffs. Mr. Aswell meticulously researched his topic. Sadly, there is little oversight in Louisiana over sheriffs, other than the ballot box. Once in office, it is difficult to find someone to run against an incumbent Louisiana sheriff. Term limits are needed on such powerful offices.

 

Johnny Armstrong

5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant!

Reviewed on August 23, 2019

It takes a crack shot investigative journalist like Tom Aswell to put together such an enlightening and fascinating work of Louisiana history as is Louisiana’s Rogue Sheriffs: A Culture of Corruption. Eye opening, sadly humorous and highly informative in its hard lessons from our colorful but sometimes ugly past, this book is a must-read for all Louisianans.

 

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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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