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Edwin Edwards: Governor of Louisiana

Edwin Edwards: Governor of Louisiana

Автор Leo Honeycutt

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Edwin Edwards: Governor of Louisiana

Автор Leo Honeycutt

1 028 страниц
13 часов
10 февр. 2011 г.


The much anticipated new publication of the authorized biography of Louisiana's controversial former Governor Edwin Edwards has been published by The Lisburn Press, and is now available for purchase. 

Edwin Edwards: The controversy and the facts 

Profiled more times by 60 Minutes than any other governor in history, Edwin Edwards did not run from controversy, he embraced it. The quickest mind in politics, drafted once to run for president, elected governor four times, and friend of nearly every president since John Kennedy, as Louisiana’s fortunes dropped, however, so did those of the Cajun Prince. 

Author Leo Honeycutt has painstakingly recreated the Edwards years and especially his 2000 trial. Was Edwards guilty of corruption or merely arrogance? Honeycutt clears the air with facts, only to expose what really changed Louisiana and is changing America. 

“Leo Honeycutt teaches us more about the most stunningly powerful Louisiana politician of our time. Engaging, well-written, captivating –you won’t put it down.” —Dr. Wayne Parent, LSU Political Science 

“We always knew Edwin would dance with the law but thought he’d outsmart them. Honeycutt tells us we were wrong, after intense research added to the words of an elegant white-haired prisoner.” —Earl Casey, CNN Atlanta

10 февр. 2011 г.

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Copyright © 2009 by Leo Honeycutt

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or

transmitted in any form, or by any means, electronic or mechanical,

including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage

and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher,

except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

For information, address The Lisburn Press.


Visit our website at TheLisburnPress.com

First edition published December 2009

Second Printing January 2010

eBook version August 2010

Cover design by Sarah Powell

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available.

ISBN: 978-0-578-04147-6

For information regarding special discounts for bulk purchases, please

contact The Lisburn Press Special Sales at info@LisburnPress.com.

Printed in Canada

The original book was printed on acid-free paper.

Photo Credits: Unless otherwise credited, all photos are from the author’s

collection or the Edwards family collection.


While research and writing is mostly a lonely process, the accuracy and integrity of this work would not have been possible without the help and support of many, many friends, family, attorneys, historians, political writers, lawmakers and some who wish to remain anonymous. I would like to thank those who helped me glean the massive amount of records, specifically Marjorie Hasten, Ann Wilder, and, from the Louisiana State Library, Marc Wellman and Gary Ferguson. Also the staff in the basement of LSU’s Middleton Library in the Federal Repository Archives remained ready to help with literally hundreds of reels of microfilm. A special thanks also to Governor Edwards’ long-time executive assistant, Ann Davenport, for keeping files and scrapbooks in the first two terms.

After two years immersed in the 1950s though ’90s, came the grueling task of chopping 1,800 pages and 3,000 footnotes by two-thirds. Somewhat exhausted, I relied on professional writing friends who helped edit, namely Avery Miller of ABC News, Jean Kelly, Pam Bordelon, Frank Perez of Ft. Worth’s Tarrant County College, and, yes, my high school English teacher, Ms. Toni Lee. Also, I am deeply grateful to Kim Springfield who whipped the manuscript into book form and to graphic designers Ashley Haley Putnam and Sarah Powell for a myriad of cover designs.

Providing careful and astute legal guidance were attorneys Lewis Unglesby, Terry Irby, Julie Baxter, Jim George and others. But perhaps the greatest fine-tuning of any work so fraught with legal ramifications was provided by a man who’s been the victim of questionable prosecution after a stellar record of public service, James H. Jim Brown. I urge everyone to read his book, Justice Denied, to understand how vulnerable you are to unscrupulous users of the law. Privacy issues are the least of our worries.

Other mentors and advisors who encouraged me through tough sledding were John Spain, Earl Casey, Wayne Parent, Bob Mann, Dave Madden, Michael Trufant, Bob Anderson, Chris Andrews, George Richard, Heath Allen, Sailor Jackson, Kay Williams, Tony Perkins, the Brown family –Si, Virginia and Patrick– Ron and Anne Zappe, Clinton Presidential advisor Alfred Geduldig, and dean of Louisiana political writers, Sam Hanna, who I regret didn’t live to see what he termed the most important Louisiana political book in 40 years. I didn’t agree but he said that to exert pressure as if I didn’t have enough already. His son and daughter, Sam Jr. and Leslie, are carrying on with a great staff at the Concordia Sentinel.

Mr. Sam and I reconnected in large part thanks to former Natchez, Mississippi, Mayor Tony Byrne who hid me at his lake house on beautiful Lake St. John in Concordia Parish. At Sassafras, I watched the cypress trees turn neon green in the spring and blood red in the fall five times while I distilled massive research to reconstruct and understand modern Louisiana history. Without Tony and his hideaway, this book would not have been possible. For diversion, Tony’s brother-in-law, famed local Coach Bobby Marks let me assistant coach his last football season and we won every game where I paced the sidelines. He lost his wife, Neet, to cancer while I was there, and he, daughter Lisa, and I became fixtures at the Duck’s Nest where David and Faye Crews added substantially to my waistline. The Lake St. John enclave welcomed me with open arms, which grew wider with every meal.

My parents, L.B. and Marie Smith Honeycutt, long ago poured the foundation to discern integrity, then provided a sister, Mandy, to ensure follow-through. I am eternally indebted to my late maternal grandmother, Nebraska Bennett Smith, whose life was greatly improved by Huey Long. She became my first observer of the great Louisiana pageant. Part Native American, she endowed her grandchildren with wisdom of the ages.

This poured the foundation to make sense of political chaos which sparked the curiosity that led to journalism, to unravel the complex human heart that changes history. My thanks to Edwin Edwards, a guarded soul, for trying his best to open up and trust somebody long enough to piece together who he is. I will not betray his trust especially on issues that make no difference now. Eternity yawns before each of us and forgiveness is our only hope.

Thanks to Anna, his daughter, for arranging our visits and for telling honestly about life in the fishbowl. Thanks also to David, Stephen and Victoria Edwards for giving as much as they could. Being the children of Edwin Edwards was not easy. Nor was being the wife of Mr. Edwards, so thanks to Elaine and Candy for their willingness to stroll back across memories both good and tragic.

Judge Edmund Reggie provided great insight into the early Edwards years in Crowley as well as into how and why that life unfolded as it did. But perhaps no one is more responsible for this book than Braxton I. Moody, entrepreneur and gentleman who made it his mission to get to the truth about Edwin Edwards and what he accomplished. He stood ready with whatever resources to separate with factual research what was truth and what was rumor. B.I. Moody wanted to know the truth as much as I did.

Finally, a man is completed by his family. Through our imperfections, somehow relationships last. I am forever indebted to my daughter Danielle and to my son Jarrod for not only helping with research but in taking up the slack when I had nothing left to give. But the person who has endured the most and still apparently loves me is my longsuffering wife, Jackie. She had no idea what she signed up for 30 years ago but she’s risen to the task. All the world’s combined wealth couldn’t buy that kind of affection and, in that respect, I am rich.



My first impressions of Governor Edwin Edwards were contradictions. I didn’t like him but I loved being around him. He stood for so much of what I was against, arrogance, gambling, womanizing, shady dealing, an undercurrent of ruthlessness that seems to define politics at a high level. I know now that in a world of far more needs than solutions, short term politics is a thankless job with few winners. I had to look long term, however, to understand the riddle of Edwin Edwards, back across fifty some odd years of public service.

When former Louisiana Secretary of State, Insurance Commissioner and Senator Jim Brown called me in 2004 to suggest I consider writing Edwin Edwards’ biography, I scoffed, I really don’t care to. Then it hit me that I, too, was arrogant and remembered that Governor Edwards usually treated me kindly from the day I met him in 1973. A freshman at Northeast Louisiana University (now University of Louisiana at Monroe), I was assigned to photograph the new governor and his wife, First Lady Elaine Edwards, at the dedication of the Anna Gray Noe Alumni Center. I was astounded how much taller I was than he, yet when he walked into a room, there was no doubt who was in charge. He was funny, too, peeling off jokes one after another. Chief photographer Billy Heckford and I had so much fun we shadowed the couple through that night’s football game, shooting hundreds of photos we would never use.

As a 1970s cub reporter for KNOE Television in Monroe, I usually interviewed the Governor on the run with a CP-16 film camera on my right shoulder and a microphone in my left hand. He answered questions I didn’t ask while I fumbled with framing and audio levels. Then he would turn to aides and associates and say, This is what we need to do in state government. Leo is the most efficient reporter I know. The love fest didn’t last long. I personally liked Governor Dave Treen, methodical and lethargic as he was, and I defended his honor when Edwards wisecracked, "Dave Treen is so slow it takes him an hour-and-a-half to watch 60 Minutes. Treen was a good man." He was, however, an overly cautious administrator trampled beneath the sheer volume of state business. Edwin Edwards flew at high speeds above the minutiae, deftly delegating to qualified staffers while maintaining mental control.

But if he was so smart, so brilliant, so intelligent, and so quick, why did he wind up in prison? Mystified friends and foes alike answered the same way, I don’t know. He was always honest with me. If Edwin Edwards told you he would support your bill, you could take it to the bank. And if he couldn’t support you, he would usually tell you how to get it passed anyway. When I asked if most governors operated that way, I was laughed off the porch. Political expediency appears uppermost in many administrations according to several current and former legislators, lobbyists and reporters. Edwards was far more unique than I realized.

Edwards also became far more despised than most. It is hard to tell when this occurred because in his first two terms, 1972 to 1980, Governor Edwards whipped the state back into fiscal shape, bolstered programs to help the needy, poured concrete everywhere, befriended Republican Presidents, worked closely with Louisiana’s powerful Congressional delegation and traveled everywhere to seek new business and reduce debt. He could not have been more popular. In fact, the 1979 Legislature tried to draft him as a favorite son candidate for the 1980 Presidential Election. His friend Judge Edmund Reggie seriously tried to pair him with Senator Ted Kennedy in Kennedy’s attempt to wrest the Democratic nomination from President Jimmy Carter.

But the starshine of America’s national stage held little allure for Edwin Edwards. He liked being governor in a state that still thought in European terms of kings and kingdoms. Fleur-de-lis, Mardi Gras, Bourbon Street, Vieux Carre, and Lassez le bon temps roulet (Let the good times roll) were as foreign to the Beltway as France itself. Edwin Edwards was Louisiana through and through, up from the dirt as a sharecropper’s son born smack on the line between French Catholic South Louisiana and English Protestant North Louisiana in a house so divided. From the beginning, instilled in him was the art of negotiation.

All these things I discovered on the journey with him into his past as I strongly admonished him it would serve no purpose to sugarcoat anything, not now. He would look at me from his blue prison jumpsuit, brown eyes as cool as ice cubes, and say, I’m too far from the womb and too close to the tomb for any of it to make any difference now. Still, he protected himself, played his cards close to his vest, assessing to what extent he could trust me. I was no longer the young freckled redneck who tried to distill life into black and white. I soon discovered that in our three-hour sessions, overseen by the Bureau of Prisons, I had to chip away at his mask of cavalier insouciance to get to his heart, if he had one left. He did and eventually, after a year, he could answer in more than soundbites. Yet, Shakespeare was right. Edwards had played the role of governor so long, had so tied up his identity into the office for four terms, that he could scarcely remember anything else.

That was just as well. Knowing we faced an Everest of credibility issues, I ultimately scaled an Everest of research. Even his staunchest supporters peered at him askance as I did so I fell irrevocably back on my journalist instincts and dove into nearly two years of research in the basement of LSU’s Middleton Library and others. This included the dusty file room of The Concordia Sentinel under the watchful eye of Louisiana’s dean of political writers, Sam Hanna. I wanted to know for myself what the truth was about Edwin Edwards and went back to the public record where reporters had captured his tone and tenor decades before. I wanted to see Edwards evolve in real time. This meant reading yellowed pages and thousands of articles on microfilm speeding before me like a picket fence at 80 miles an hour.

The information was dizzying. There was little that happened in Louisiana for a quarter century without his imprint. So what did the analysis reveal? In this bottom-line society, we need easy answers quickly. That will not be found in these pages. Life is a moving target, people evolve, the public is mercurial. Ask the long line of football coaches at LSU. Facts, like victories, often get blurred as the public turns on their hero.

Therefore, precisely as a reporter and as objectively as I could be, I have stated facts in chronological order as seen through the eyes of those present at the time. I have found that as much maligned as today’s journalists are, America’s free press is still the best in the business and for the most part can be trusted. Since so much was written about Edwin Edwards, triangulating between various reporters usually placed me in the center of the truth.

There will be a few, some rich, some powerful, some politically-connected, who will not like this book. I remind them that all information came entirely out of the public record, previously published but forgotten. I also remind them that, for the finished book, I deleted two-thirds of my exhaustive data out of the original 1,800-page draft. I have a mountain of other information not in these pages. The original draft is safely in an undisclosed bank deposit box.

As for Edwin Edwards, he was man enough to face the inclusion of the most damning evidence against him in the 2000 trial. In fact, he balked at not a single unflattering exposure except when the information tarnished someone else’s reputation and was not material to this work. He only requested the retraction of two items about others.

So, was Edwin Edwards the Cajun Prince –another Huey Long? Was he a crook? Did he help or hurt Louisiana, his friends or himself? The answers are here but you’ll have to determine them for yourself. I can guarantee this: You’ll find out why Louisiana is the way it is and have a far better understanding of how American politics work and don’t work. This is not a game for the faint of heart. As moody as voters are, politics is as complicated as the enigma Edwin Edwards became.

Famed historian T. Harry Williams took fourteen years to research and write Huey Long, concluding of the assassinated Kingfish, In striving to do good he was led on to grasp for more and more power, until finally he could not always distinguish between the method and the goal, the power and the good. His story is a reminder, if we need one, that a great politician may be a figure of tragedy.

Perhaps this is also the story of Edwin Washington Edwards.

Leo B. Honeycutt, III

Riverbend, Baton Rouge

November 2009


By Governor David C. Treen

No one could be more diametrically opposed politically than Governor Edwards and me. He stood for what I considered too much government, too many taxes and too much dependency on the state. I, on the other hand as a Republican in the Ronald Reagan vein, always believed a man pulled himself up by his own bootstraps, relied little on others for help and that big government was generally a bad thing. Neither way is perfect and both ways have opportunities for people to reach their potential. It’s just fortunate that we live in a great democracy where both ideas coexist peacefully.

But while Governor Edwards and I seldom agreed on principles, I always admired his genuine love of Louisiana and his uncanny ability to get many things done to provide for people what he believed they needed. His legislating skills were unmatched by anyone before or since and that’s because, I believe, he had a sixth sense of what would sell and how to sell it so that by the time an issue came up, he knew better than anyone else how to make it work. In riding herd over 144 legislators, each with his own agenda, having that sixth sense is priceless. A governor simply does not have time to ponder each idea. I know. I burned a lot of midnight oil.

I admired Governor Edwards also for his coalition building. He always let the other side talk. But, more importantly, he listened. In the acrimonious politics of today, that’s rare unfortunately. This was the cornerstone to his success because he built lasting friendships and strong alliances. In fact, in looking back, I don’t think he ever legislated as much along party lines as on whether he personally thought someone else simply had a better idea. Like me, he didn’t have to always get the credit. That’s the mark of a great leader.

Now, truthfully, in the one great race where Governor Edwards and I met head-to-head, the Governor’s Race of 1983, he got some digs in that hurt but they were great fun – for him. "Governor Treen is so slow it takes him an hour-and-a-half to watch 60 Minutes" was a classic. I laugh at it today but Dodie, my wife, didn’t think it was funny at the time. But that’s the price you pay if you have the stamina to be in politics. When I look at what his years in the mansion cost him in time lost with his family, in all those hard years of feast and famine in Louisiana’s economy when a governor is consumed by unending problems, Governor Edwards made a major sacrifice indeed.

His wit was certainly unmatched and no one knows that better than I do. But I believe this ultimately made him a target. For whatever reason, Governor Edwards liked to poke fun and sometimes in frustration he said things people didn’t easily forget. Being in politics for 50 years, anyone is going to create enemies but Governor Edwards attracted controversy with his tongue. This is partly the reason I reconnected with him after the sentencing in his 2000 trial. I believe the federal government, and by that I mean Judge Frank Polozola and U.S. attorney Jim Letten, doubled his sentence from the prescribed five years purely out of vindictiveness. They didn’t like him. That’s not a good reason to double someone’s sentence and is, I believe, a misuse of power.

Consequently, I engaged Presidents George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush in an effort to commute Governor Edwards’ sentence. I and others worked for three years to correct this injustice because it was the right thing to do. Even if Governor Edwards were guilty of what he was convicted, he certainly never stole a dime from taxpayers. That’s one of the few things he was never accused of. I’m not even saying he was guilty at all, because the investigation and trial were certainly dubious. So, for all these reasons, I felt his sentence was too long, let alone it just didn’t make sense to keep him locked up at his age.

This tribulation for him, however, did have a silver lining. It made him settle down, think about what his life stood for and put it on paper. Leo Honeycutt has done a masterful job collating half a century of information into a picture of both the man and the state that will be studied and talked about for years. We have a rare gift now in this unvarnished, distilled picture that shows how we’ve evolved as a state, warts and all but with great potential.

Helping Governor Edwards also allowed old foes to reconnect and learn that forgiveness is a wonderful part of life. He and I still don’t agree on some things but we completely agree that giving our lives in service to the state was all worth it. Both of us love Louisiana. It is our home and, as we approach the twilight, we rest assured, hearing the laughter of our children and grandchildren. They may leave Louisiana but Louisiana will never leave them.

David C. Treen

Former governor

State of Louisiana

Mandeville, Louisiana

July 10, 2009

(This heartfelt Foreword was one of Governor Treen’s last public messages.On October 29, 2009, just weeks before publication, Governor Treen died peacefully in New Orleans. He was 81.)

"I was destined, I thought,

when I was born,

to be a king.

And tonight …

I can be."

- Edwin W. Edwards

January 21, 1984

Palace of Versailles

Hall of Mirrors

of King Louis XIV,

namesake of Louisiana


Into a Land of Extremes

Edwin Edwards arrived like a rock star at the Russell B. Long Federal Courthouse in Baton Rouge amid flashbulbs and shouts. He was there to hear the verdict – his verdict. Would he be found guilty of extortion? Would he be exonerated? Was his testimony clear enough or did the government overwhelm the fragile jury with too many facts and figures? And the wiretaps, always the wiretaps, tape recorded testimony that prosecutors had shaved and fashioned and wheedled until his voice said anything and everything. Or, was he a pathological liar and was that trait a prerequisite for all successful politicians?

On May 9, 2000, after 50 years of public service, at 73, calm and unemotional by nature, Edwin Edwards found little to worry about. Life amused him. Controversy was fun. One side of him reached down to the little guy with bricks, mortar, and hope. The other loved to gamble with money, women, and with life. Anathema to conservatives, his unabashed candor was the stuff of comedies. He flaunted impropriety in the funniest ways, like a mischievous boy so that even those who despised him loved him. And at the end of it, his official policies benefited them all. Was his final recklessness a sign of aberrant character flaws or the result of years of idealism soured by an unappreciative, insatiable public? At what point did a once-beloved, landslide-winning governor with no equal in humor, party bridging, and public debate fall so far in so many estimations?

Only in America could a four-term governor who’d known every United States president since John Kennedy be indicted and tried as if he was a Mafia kingpin, accused of making millionaires and NFL owners kowtow with cash. Only in America could the subject of three 60 Minutes profiles maintain such an iconic status that he could be reelected to a fifth term no matter what the verdict. Just like Huey Long decades before, Edwin Edwards stood for what the little guy wanted to be, a victor over the establishment that hammered him into the background. Also just like Huey, some thought perhaps he’d gotten careless in his old age and thought himself above the law.

Once, he even eyeballed the Presidency of the United States, himself a frequent visitor to the Oval Office where he courted and was courted by the most powerful men on earth. He advised them, helped elect them, and helped unelect one.

But he abhorred hypocrisy and was unwilling to hide for the sake of political gain. His was a test of transparency, whether a public official could advance by being totally honest, blatantly so, and of how much public sensibilities could take. His whole life, Edwin questioned how much truth voters could stomach. So far, he’d won every round.

Eight years before, he laughed at presidential candidate Bill Clinton as both rode to a Baton Rouge press conference the day Gennifer Flowers announced she had had a 12-year-long torrid love affair with the Arkansas governor. What am I going to tell the press? one governor fretfully asked the other governor.

I know what I’d tell them but I doubt you will, Edwin replied. Clinton stared, waiting. I’d tell them there is no such thing as a ‘12-year-long torrid love affair.’ Twelve days or 12 weeks, maybe, but not 12 years! The joke broke Clinton’s fever but he couldn’t muster the courage to crack what the master could get away with.

Eight years later as President Clinton bestowed the Commander-in-Chief Trophy at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado, Edwin was far from the ear of any president. May 9, 2000, a long and relentless chase by the feds would at last be over, one way or another. Debonair as always in his blue suit and red tie, his silver hair coiffed perfectly, he flashed his trademark poker smile to the usual horde of reporters, cameras, and lights.

May 9th was the final crescendo to more than four months of an intense and agonizing trial in which so-called friends accused Edwin of extorting them. Three friends accused him of extorting millions of dollars in exchange for his plugging them in to Louisiana’s lucrative gambling sweepstakes. But all three were offered generous plea bargains that included immunity, no jail time, and the ability to keep their vast multi-million dollar fortunes. For still more Louisianans, after thirty years of allegations, they didn’t care who was lying. They were weary of Edwin Edwards and the feds.

A year earlier when his 29-count indictment came down, Edwin quipped, At least I’m not charged with the Oklahoma City bombing. Noting he faced 350 years in prison if convicted, he replied, If I get the maximum sentence, I can truthfully say I don’t intend to serve. He was still chuckling on May 9, 2000. Reporters defied a severe gag order, yelling questions, as the former governor, his young wife, and daughters plowed through to the courthouse doors. He knew each press member by name, whom they worked for, for how long, why, and each one’s degree of cynicism. Through sixteen years as governor – some said more like 30 including defacto – he joked, commiserated with, and criticized each one to their faces. Suspicious all, they still liked him.

Above the din, black spidery arms of ancient oaks formed cathedral-like fingers, praying benediction over the courthouse entrance beyond which lay the destinies of many. The time of truth had come for Edwin Edwards. Behind his smile beat the throb of mortality and everyone knew it. Sometimes a man doesn’t have to die to die.

Now as then, Baton Rouge was his grandest stage. Revered and reviled, Edwin walked proudly in the populist shadow of Huey Pierce Long. As a boy, Edwin stared at the motionless brass eyes of Huey’s likeness staring down Louisiana’s capitol. Those same eyes stared back at Edwin on his inauguration as Acadiana’s first governor. A new generation of teeming masses celebrated below, not unlike their ancestors, needy and dependent and as fickle as children. A throwback to the Old Country, Louisiana needed a king and Huey and Edwin were willing to sacrifice themselves, pandering and proliferating ideas that all men are created equal, for the government deems it so.

Huey was assassinated for such thoughts and the same fate visited Edwin Edwards, though his came over time as if a slow-motion bullet took thirty years to find its target. It was not a bad way to go, Edwin reasoned, for Huey and John Kennedy remained in hearts and minds not so much for what was as for what might have been. Romantic ruins, like the Old South, always echoed a stylized version of the truth. Edwin’s only hope was that time would bury his past.

His entire life had been star-crossed, having seen the fire-breathing Kingfish with his own two eyes; having squired around Jack and Jackie Kennedy who embraced French Catholic Acadians so deep in poverty they hardly had names. Edwin had been embraced by the crude Texan and then by a nervous Nixon only days after the break-in. He predicted Carter’s defeat over energy, met Clinton and Bush Senior during cataclysmic storms, and admonished Bill to laugh off his troubles. Clinton would become the first Democratic president to win reelection since Truman and the second one impeached.

As those Edwin befriended marched into the pages of history, a sphere of influence remarkable in whom it contained, at the end of his own rope there was no one to advise him. That was just fine. What tortured others, Edwin Edwards never thought twice about. Depending on the verdict, unlike Huey, he might live to see his enemies finally win. No romance. No bronze statues.

The doors of the courtroom locked with the loud twist of deadbolts sounding like two rifles cocking. With every eye in the courtroom on him, hundreds more watching by closed-circuit television, thousands more watching local and national television news cut-ins via satellite, as Edwin Edwards sat at the defendants’ table, calm eyes watched the jury’s verdict form pass from foreman to bailiff to judge. No one breathed. United States District Judge Frank Polozola shuffled pages like giant sheets of sandpaper.

If Edwin Edwards ever prayed, he prayed for forgiveness at that moment, silent, stone-faced. If God heard him, only God knew, for God was one of those childhood ideals from long, long ago.


1927 was a rough and tumble year in tiny Marksville, Louisiana, when cousins and cousins’ cousins showed up with all their worldly possessions in just two hands, begging for one square of dry land. The Mississippi River had taken home, land, livestock and hope in the Great Flood. Cloudbursts across the Ohio and Central Mississippi Valleys began in the summer of 1926, far surpassing Noah’s 40 days. On New Year’s Day 1927, Nashville flooded. As gravity drew the rampage southward, slipshod levees broke in 145 places, flooding 27,000 square miles to a depth of thirty feet in some areas. Below Memphis, the Mississippi River spanned 60 miles in width, displacing 700,000. They were the lucky ones as 246 in seven states drowned.

Clarence Boboy Edwards and his wife Agnes lived on a high ridge along the Red River just outside Marksville, the northernmost enclave of French Catholic Acadians butting up against English Protestants. Starting May 2 with levee breaks on the swollen Red River at Vick, Ben Routh and Bayou Des Glaises, Marksville became an island. Families, cows, chickens, horses, wagons, a rare automobile, and feed for both man and animal doubled the population with a new tent city. Crawfish moved up with the water’s edge, scooped up for meals. God sent both flood and food to those who could improvise.

Boboy and Agnes didn’t see him but President Calvin Coolidge came down under protest, insisting his appearance would do no good. Then Coolidge fought legislation for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build stronger levees, saying property owners should bear the cost. Coolidge’s insensitivity flung open the doors to America’s first savior-dictator, Huey Kingfish Long.

Smack on the line between Cajun and redneck, Marksville’s polarity challenged all candidates. Huey was first to bridge the gap, providing high theatre for Boboy and Agnes. One of the Kingfish’s favorite boasts to Cajun audiences was as a boy he would hitch up the family mule and take his Catholic grandparents to Mass, then pick up his Baptist grandparents for church. After first hearing the story, a naïve aide gushed, Mr. Long, I didn’t know you had Catholic grandparents! The Kingfish spat into the dust cloud as his big black car peeled away. Hell, boy, we didn’t even have the mule!

As hot August began, the Great Flood receded, the Kingfish swept in and Agnes neared full-term with her third child. She and Boboy already had a daughter, Audrey, and a son, Allan, tucked away on their meager sharecropper farm six miles northeast of town in the community of Johnson. Agnes and Boboy were as different as daylight and dark, he brooding and quiet, she vivacious and outgoing. They had fallen in love at a baseball game when Boboy offered Agnes a ride home. Agnes Brouillette’s family was prominent French Catholic, not to be confused with French Acadian or Cajun. Her particular strain of Brouillettes emigrated directly from Paris. Yet, in Marksville, all French were considered Cajun, mattering not if their lineage traced back to the Great 1756 Deportment of Acadians from Nova Scotia.

Clarence Edwards’ lineage reached to Wales and, as such, he was as independent and Protestant as they came. When Boboy was 13 years old, his father died, leaving him the eldest son in charge of a family of five children, two of whom were blind, and a pregnant mother, Nora Bordelone Edwards. Nora soon delivered twins. Clarence dropped out of the third grade and began a life of never-ending toil to keep house and home together, first for his siblings then for his own family. Boboy kept this up for a lifetime, but somewhere in his sixties he stood up one day and remarked to Agnes matter-of-factly, I’m going out for a little while. Where? she asked. Don’t know, he said. He was gone two months, hitchhiking out west and up through the Great Northwest.

Possibly bitter at having left his classmates and childhood behind, Boboy Edwards developed a reputation as being a quiet, hard man, rigid and unyielding. He had a younger brother Charles who did well in New Orleans upholstering automobile seats for the Ford Automobile assembly plant that opened in 1923. Boboy wasn’t as industrious as Charles or as Agnes’ father Alfred Brouillette had hoped he would be.

The Brouillettes owned a general store and blacksmith shop near town where Agnes and her twelve brothers and sisters were expected to work. Like all fathers, Alfred felt his daughter was too good for the country bumpkin Edwards, even if the boy had nobly sacrificed himself for his family. There was little in Clarence Edwards but an overworked kid to give Mr. Brouillette any indication he could support his daughter.

But there was no stopping the two. As opposites attract, the French Catholic girl could not resist marrying the Welsh Protestant boy. They could not, however, marry in the Catholic Church because Boboy was non-Catholic. The split in eternal philosophies later challenged the children. Even though Clarence was an avowed Protestant, he didn’t practice religion but, if pushed, he would argue the finer points of Christ’s mission which in his estimation was not the Church of Rome. His widowed mother Nora, a Bordelon, was a devout member of the Church of the Nazarene, a peculiarly strict sect of Protestantism in which nearly everything fun or worldly was considered a sin, even how one dressed. They were eyed by Catholics as two-headed heretics. Yet, Agnes and Boboy bridged the chasm between devout and strict with their love, finding each other not blasphemers after all. Ultimately, the Edwardses felt man’s divisions missed the whole point of love and inclusion so Agnes pulled back from strict teachings and Boboy quieted still more, leaving the Edwards kids to draw whatever conclusions they wished.

To ease off the farm, Boboy and Agnes opened a general store with the help of Alfred. They built a small house on the backside of the store hardly big enough for the four. In this unpainted, clapboard shack Edwin Washington Edwards came screaming into the world on the sultry night of August 7, 1927, his mother laboring in a tiny, unadorned bedroom lit only by a kerosene lamp and cooled by an open window.

EWE: My mother suffered the pains of childbirth in that small bedroom attended only by her mother, Josephine LaBorde Brouillette, who was a self-taught midwife. My grandmother gave birth to 13 children attended only by her mother. It was the custom of the area and of the times.¹

Edwin’s sister Audrey was the eldest by four years and became a mother figure to the rest of the Edwards children. Brother Allan preceded Edwin by three years but he was distant and aloof. Audrey stood outside the door as Edwin was born while Clarence shoved 3-year-old Allan outside and was told to go someplace.² In the heat of summer into a waterlogged land, the Edwards family welcomed another baby boy. While no one in memory had the echo name of Edwin Edwards, Agnes decided to break it with the noble middle name of Washington.

And so it was that her son, the future four-time governor of the Great State of Louisiana, started life on the quiet outer fringe of civilization, born into a family of extremes and birthed where those polar opposites converged – north versus south, rich versus poor, Catholic versus Protestant, French versus English, black versus white. Even the times were extreme for when Huey Long launched his career toward the White House by blaming the greedy rich, America itself crossed over the threshold into an extremism never seen before or since, one that would leave Louisiana forever changed and pave the way to power for a sharecropper’s son.


Why Doesn’t the Bus

Pick Up the Black Kids?


Early Life, Love and Liberty

EWE:One of my favorite memories was, when I was 9 years old, my mother with some neighbors hired an old school bus to take us all to the Texas Centennial [1936]. As my mother and I walked through the show and circus grounds, I saw another boy eating cotton candy which I had never seen before. I wanted some but my mother, having to pinch pennies, would not buy any. I was unhappy and begged, so she finally went to the boy and asked him for a bite so that I could taste what cotton candy tasted like. I will never forget the sad look on her face as she realized she could not buy the candy for me. And I loved her more because she demeaned herself to ask a strange little boy for some of his cotton candy so that I could have just the one taste.³

From the beginning, Edwin Edwards felt deeply the pangs of poverty, the hungering for a better world that seemed just beyond his reach. It was a different, livelier world, enticing yet as simple as cotton candy. His bosom burned early to cross the wide gulf that separated his father’s dirt farm from the glamour and prosperity of everywhere but Marksville. He saw Dad struggling daily, as he had since his own father died, with always the tired look, the defeat, the furrowed brow, and only rare bursts of energetic laughter. Life was harsh and serious and had made Boboy Edwards severely pragmatic.

EWE: When I was about 10 years old, I stuck a fish hook in my left middle finger. I still have the scar. I walked home from the fishing lake and showed it to my father. The hook had entered the finger and the shank would not allow it to come out. My father looked at me with pain in his eyes and said he would have to drive me to the doctor in Marksville to have it cut out. ‘Or,’ he said, ‘it will cost $2.00 for the doctor but if you wish, I’ll cut it out and give you the money.’ I said, ‘OK,’ and with great concern and anguish on his face, he took a razor blade, cut the finger along the hook and extracted it. It was the look of hurt and anguish on his face that I never forgot. That affected me much more than the pain, so much so I refused to take the $2.00.

Edwin Washington Edwards was born into floods and turmoil, and the chaos only continued. As he turned two years old in 1929, fate delivered another one-two punch to Louisiana of the same magnitude as Civil War and Reconstruction. The Great Flood dried up just in time for the Great Depression. On Tuesday, October 29, 1929, stock prices on the New York Stock Exchange came crashing down like glass, vaporizing assets, closing banks, and shutting down world commerce. Millions tried to tear into banks to grab their savings but the vast majority lost everything. Presidents Coolidge and Hoover had ignored imminent danger signs because millionaire bankers, stock brokers, and speculators refused regulation. Insider trading was not only normal, it was legal. Millionaires Bernard Baruch, John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, and Joseph P. Kennedy saw the crash coming and started it. When Kennedy’s shoeshine boy gave him a stock tip, he later told others, That’s when I knew it was time to get out.

In Louisiana, Governor Huey Long shouted first from stumps then from radio that the pain of the poor was always caused by the greed of the rich. Across America, they heard him as world riots broke out for food, water and essentials. In Russia, the stock market crash was proof capitalism did not work. In Germany, a thin man with a thin moustache roused barroom crowds against the American Capitalists and Jewish bankers.

Fast-talking, evangelical Huey Long had seen it all coming. From due north of Marksville, Huey hailed from quirky Winnfield, the only town in Louisiana to secede from the Confederacy because townsfolk considered the Civil War a rich man’s war. Sixty years later, Huey still fought that battle but this time he had a mandate. As governor, he manhandled the Depression like he did everything else, summarily and with crushing power. Standard Oil Company two decades earlier invaded the Bayou State, punching holes for easy oil as fast as they could get drill bits, then built the world’s largest refinery in Baton Rouge. Like Louisiana’s 19th Century pirate king Jean Lafitte, Long raided the new controlling colonialist by taxing every barrel of oil to come out of the ground. In Marksville, the Edwards kids suddenly got free school books and free lunches, a tremendous relief for Boboy and Agnes. New hospitals went up, new roads were paved, new bridges replaced ferries; everything was new. And Huey’s magnum opus, in the midst of the Great Depression, was Louisiana’s gleaming state capitol; America’s tallest, replete with marble, brass, and chandeliers for 34 stories. The Bourbon aristocracy of cotton and sugar had finally been vanquished after 130 years.

While Boboy Edwards liked Huey’s championing the little guy, he couldn’t abide Huey’s bluster. He and Agnes were quiet, plain people and when the Governor of New York, Franklin D. Roosevelt, spoke on someone’s radio, Governor Roosevelt made a lot more calm sense than did Governor Long. Boboy looked at his five babies, worrying of their futures and whether he should move them to a more sedate state.

EWE: My parents were not Huey Long people. FDR was their hero. Daddy was not much into politics anyway. Grandpa Alfred Brouillette was completely apolitical. He had no education whatsoever. He encouraged me constantly to go to school, get an education and go to college. He was always harping ‘Get an education!’However, while he was a stern man, he was an energetic man who ran a blacksmith shop, a country store and had thirteen children, one of them being my mother Agnes. He was very serious, very private and not civic minded. He never held an office and never wanted to and was very, very conservative. He pinched pennies so much that he would actually save string. Grandpa Alfred would go around picking up pieces of string to tie up the brown paper grocery bags he’d put customers’ groceries in. He was that tight. I had an uncle, Herbie Brouillette, who was the Mayor of Belleville, Texas, and while I was impressed with the fact that he was Mayor, we never talked politics. In fact we never talked about much of anything. Those were the days when children were to be seen and not heard. So Uncle Herbie never discussed, at least around us, anything about campaigns or elections.

Edwin’s world was far from politics in Baton Rouge and Washington. The Edwards and Brouillette families were Democrats like everyone else in the South. When Edwin was seven, Agnes and Boboy hauled the kids to Marksville for a rare town outing to hear the Kingfish. Edwin has vague memories of a large white-suited man shouting and flailing his arms, but politics was for the rich. Agnes and Boboy were just trying to survive on a farm, far from the mainstream.

EWE: Dad and Mom were very close but not intimate at all in our presence. There was never any violence or serious arguments and my mother respected and abided by the farming and business decisions my father made. He allowed her to run the household and supervise the children. My siblings and I had two different relationships. Audrey, the only girl and the eldest, was a mother figure to us and helped Mother supervise and care for the three youngest. Allan, the oldest son, always seemed older and aloof. Marion, eleven months my junior, and Nolan, two years younger, being about the same ages and size, we three played and worked together. We went to school together and we all slept in the same room together. We were pretty much inseparable. The first four years of my schooling were in a one-room school house without electricity or running water. We had an outdoor privy common in those days. We had one teacher who taught four grades in one room. So I had to sit through lessons from the first to fourth grades four times. We walked the short distance to the school house until I went to the fifth grade. At that time, a school bus picked us up and drove us the seven miles to Marksville Elementary School. Air conditioning then was called windows.

Life on the farm was never easy but it was simple. Boboy Edwards worked hard and demanded the same of those around him. Only with the help of his merchant father-in-law did he begin to break out of the sharecropper’s cycle of work and poverty.

EWE: I recall the Depression of the 1930s but not the Crash of 1929. We were very poor in material things but Dad was a great provider and with vegetables, animals and farm produce, we were always fed. We lived off the land, raising cattle, chickens, hogs, geese, and we always had a large vegetable garden. We had no running water, no electricity, no indoor privy, very little furniture and only a few clothes. Unlike the areas of the Dust Bowl, land in our area remained fertile. We grew corn, beans, cotton, sugar cane, potatoes and vegetables. We canned in jars berries, peaches, tomatoes, and pickles. We butchered hogs in the fall and winter, made cracklings, sausage and cured meat in smoke houses and in brine in five-gallon crock jars. We made and ate hog lard and made soap from lard and lye. My father ran a syrup mill and made syrup from sugar cane grown on the farm. He also made syrup for neighbors. We had and used very little cash and, while my father had no money in banks, our relatives and neighbors did. When the banks failed, they lost their money. That caused Dad to distrust banks for many years. We dealt in cash only and that is a habit I have kept all my life, not out of fear or distrust of banks but out of that fear instilled by my father.

As a child, Edwin was expected to pull his weight when it came to the many farm chores but very early he set his own limits, much to the chagrin of elder brother Allan. When Allan enlisted Edwin’s help to pick ears of corn from the corn patch, Edwin dutifully followed him but balked at the ominous soybean field they had to traverse.

Allan Edwards: When we got down there, the soybeans were about four feet high. Edwin said, ‘I ain’t going in there.’ And I said, ‘Yes, you are. You’re going to help me. You’re going to hold the sack and I’ll break them.’ And he said, ‘No, I ain’t going in’ and he would not go in those soybeans. I imagine just because the soybeans were so tall and thick.

Boboy paid his sons to pick their cotton, paying by each pound they could stuff into burlap bags as they plucked one boll at a time down half-mile rows. One afternoon the boys trotted to the furrows unsupervised and in no mood to start the tedious work.

Allan Edwards: Marion, Edwin and me - Nolan was too little - got to the cotton patch late. We got to throwing balls at the swallows and messed around all afternoon. Daddy would pay us so much for the cotton we picked, but we didn’t have very much picked. So we were going to sneak in to the barn [where picked cotton was stored], fill up our sacks and go weigh them at the store. To head home, you had to cross the creek, go down the hill, come out of the woods, go up the hill and there was the house. Edwin and Marion had a little cart they made and it squeaked. I said, ‘You’d better leave that cart here or Daddy will hear us coming.’ So Marion stands it up against the last tree coming out of the woods, looks up and there’s Daddy up there just standing, looking. He doesn’t say a word. Directly, Daddy jumps down, no word, just takes off and goes to the house. He had heard every word about how we were going to sneak in, fill up our sacks and go weigh them. When we got to the house, Momma whipped the daylights out of all of us! But Daddy didn’t do it.

As quickly as Edwin developed acute tolerances, he also adopted the unusual compulsion, for a boy, for fastidiousness. Whatever dingy grime around the farm reviled him no one knows, but Edwin became obsessive about personal hygiene. He once took his own plate, knife, fork and glass to a friend’s birthday party to the abhorrence of the host. He would, however, pluck fruit from anywhere. Each spring, the Edwards kids picked washtubs full of blackberries from which Agnes would make sweet jellies, jams and fresh berry cobblers. Edwin helped oversee the operation because bossing Marion and Nolan carried particular delight. This applied whether he was showing them how to make wagon wheels out of cut logs or conspiring with them to smoke cigarettes.

EWE: "We had a general store and after my mother closed up one weekend, she went to a neighbor’s house. Marion and I pushed Nolan, who was about six, through an open window just enough so he could reach in and grab some cigarettes from near the cash register. Just about the time he was inside the window, here came my mother and the neighbor down the gravel road. We had planned beforehand that if Mom or any adult came by and looked at us suspiciously before Nolan could get back out again, Marion and I would start singing, ‘She’ll Be Comin’ Around the Mountain.’ Well, we started singing, ‘She’ll be comin’ around the mountain when she comes, OH, she’s comin’ around the mountain when she comes!’ But Nolan couldn’t get out in time. Mom knew instantly that something was up since we weren’t big singers. ‘Where’s your brother?’ We sheepishly shook our heads but when Nolan started crying, the jig was up. First we got a whipping from Mother then one from Dad."¹⁰

Edwin, Marion and Nolan became inseparable. Close in age, they liked the same games, the same adventures, the same mischief, but there was never any doubt who the leader was. Marion grew slightly taller and appeared older but Edwin was still the boss. The trio decided to become pirates once and navigate the Red River in an old wooden box they dug out of the sandy river bank. The boys watched many paddle across in bateaus barely big enough for one so when they found the box they set about to sail on the high seas. Fortunately, neighbor Tommy Clark spied them from the other shore, rowed his boat across, and marched them home where Agnes and Boboy nearly fainted.

Usually the boys’ mischief didn’t compromise safety. They often played three-man baseball as pitcher, batter and outfield and to see who could throw highest.

Allan Edwards: Marion and Edwin were always in trouble, just mischievous, them. One time Edwin threw the ball up in the air, Marion went to catch it, missed and it hit him in the face. He said, ‘You son of a gun, you did that on purpose!’ BOW! He hits Edwin and Edwin laughing, just dying laughing.¹¹

Boboy Edwards didn’t like violence and didn’t promote it in his boys. But he did stress abstinence from the many vices of the day, which itself created allure.

EWE: Dad’s most repeated advice was not to waste anything and to avoid tobacco, alcohol and gambling. He also wanted us to always respect and treat others fairly and with kindness. I took his advice without fail except in later years I gambled some but always where it was legal and within my means. As a practicing attorney, I did play poker sometimes to keep food on the table and I shot dice on occasion but I was never even nearly addicted and gambled only when I could afford it. Certainly, I never gambled out of any compunction to regain losses. I just liked it.¹²

After Edwin, Marion and Nolan were thrashed for attempting to steal cigarettes from the family store, a friend of Edwin’s showed up one day with a cigar. The two boys sneaked around the barn and lit up. As the puffs of tobacco smoke curled into the air, Edwin almost immediately became nauseous. At just that point, Boboy rounded the corner and caught them. Boboy whipped Edwin again but the sickness lasting two days broke him forever from learning to smoke. The same kind of vertigo he experienced with tobacco equated in brief alcohol experimentation so Edwin quickly dropped that as well and remains a teetotaler. The instances underscored for him his preference of remaining in control at all times, often telling associates he is disgusted by drunks.

The lasting part of his father’s teachings, however, centered not around personal vices as much as around corporate vice. Edwin quickly grew to question hypocrisy because he found many institutions in 1930s society nonsensical and incongruent, such as how church-going folks espoused loving others while letting the poor starve.

In the North, states maintained dual school systems, one rich, one poor; one Catholic, one Protestant. In the South, states maintained dual school systems, one white, one black. Edwin noticed on the six-mile school bus ride to Marksville, his bus passed the turnoff to the rickety old school black children attended. Every morning, with many vacant seats on board as they bounced over potholes, the bus would pass several black children walking to school. Rain or shine, the bus driver deliberately passed them. Some mornings, winter showers poured down but the bus sloshed on without stopping.

EWE: I asked my father why the bus did not pick them up since their school was on the way to ours. I remember his words, ‘That is one of the many unfair things about life that will be changed someday and maybe in your lifetime and maybe with your help.’ He was right. Everyone talked about fairness and equality but when it came to Negroes, no one talked of fairness and equality. I felt sorry for those kids and felt worse for being on the bus. I vowed then that I would not deal in the hypocrisy I saw all around me. Those images stick in my head to this day. We worked with and dealt with colored folks, called that at the time, in the fields and in our little country store which my father operated in the late 1930s and 40s. Those events and my father’s compassion had a large influence on my life, attitude and political career.¹³

In Edwin’s innocent but challenging mind, he could not reconcile the overt mistreatment of black people with the Christian pledge of treating one’s fellow man as one wished to be treated. He slowly realized Negroes weren’t considered fellow men.

EWE: There were Negroes throughout Avoyelles Parish south of the Red River but not on the north side. Farmers needing Negro farm labor came in stake trucks to our side and drove them to the other side to work. But they were required to get them back before dark. Those of us who were poor whites got along with blacks but contact was limited to daylight hours and we did not go into each others’ houses. However, it was remarkable that there was respect and good feeling in spite of the need to stay separate. Nevertheless, I had Negro boyhood friends and always felt it wrong that we were so segregated except when we were in the fields working. We ate in the fields and worked together but went our separate ways after work. If a Negro came to our home to get something, he or she always stood at the porch and whatever they needed was brought out to them by one of us.¹⁴

This separation of two peoples who lived, worked and shared life side-by-side, separated only by a conditioned prejudice, became an everlasting quandary to young Edwin. This made for a difficult transition into adulthood where racism was not just considered acceptable, it was encouraged. No white individually was racist yet total segregation existed. He began to see widespread duplicity from politics to pulpits.

As Edwin pondered inconsistencies, 1936 threatened to repeat the floods of 1927. The Red River swelled again to a mile of Edwin’s home, bringing his first paying job.

EWE: "My first job was a water boy with the government bringing water to the men working on the levees. I was paid 15 cents an hour and was paid at the end of the week in cash contained in a small envelope. At 9 years old, I thought I was rich. I had earned my own money. I have no recollection what I spent it on, only that I had earned it. The work at home was harder. I was up before dawn, helped Father milk the cows, then I drove the cows by myself two miles to the day pasture and came back to catch the school bus. When I got home in the afternoon, I changed into work clothes, walked back and drove the cows back home. In the summertime, I helped care for the livestock, fowl, and worked in the fields. I spent many a hot day picking cotton. The fields were worked by me, my siblings and neighborhood children including the colored kids who worked side-by-side with us and sat on the turn rows at noon to eat a cold lunch. Usually, for lunch we had a baloney sandwich, a sweet potato or cornbread and syrup in a tin bucket Mother would pack for us. I still love sweet potatoes, corn bread and syrup. It was in the fields that I realized how we

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