30
Jun 14

The Enduring Legacy of Musician Huey “Piano” Smith

As one journalist who covered Huey “Piano” Smith and the Rocking Pneumonia Blues wrote, people may not have heard of Huey, a rock ’n’ roll pioneer and classic rhythm-and-blues artist from New Orleans, yet they certainly have heard his songs.

Those songs include Huey’s 1958 hit “Don’t You Just Know It,” recently featured in a pair of TV commercials, one for an athletic shoe and another for a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles video game. Transcending the decades, Huey’s music stays fun, joyful, infectious. And he’s been a major influence upon generations of songwriters and musicians.

In 2011, Paul Simon told the U.K.’s RadioTimes about the love he developed for music from Louisiana during his youth in New York City. “I didn’t know it was from Louisiana,” Simon said. “But I loved Fats Domino. I loved Huey ‘Piano’ Smith. I liked Frankie Ford.”

Art Garfunkel, Simon’s partner in the folk-rock duo Simon and Garfunkel, loved Huey’s music, too. In a 2014 story that appeared on the U.S.-based MusicRadar website, Garfunkel listed Huey’s “Sea Cruise” at No. 5 among the 10 songs that changed his life. “‘Won’t you let me take you on a sea cruise?’” Garfunkel quoted. “Nothing rocked quite like this record. For me, it was the door opening to rock ’n’ roll. … I also love Huey ‘Piano’ Smith’s ‘Don’t You Just Know.’ It makes you wanna get up and dance.”

In 2011, punk-rock pioneer Sylvain Sylvain, guitarist with the New York Dolls, told the U.K’s The Observer newspaper much the same about “Don’t You Just Know It”: “This is the one I remember knocking me sideways as a little kid,” Sylvain said. “That rocking piano, the dance beat, the audience participation. I was just hooked.”

In 1999, following The Lovin’ Spoonful’s nomination to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, John Sebastian, front man for that 1960s vocal group from New York City, told MTV that he and his Spoonful bandmates were “students” of such rock ’n’ roll pioneers as Fats Domino and Phil Spector, both of whom are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Huey Smith, who is not in the Hall of Fame. Sebastian referred to all three men as “the professors.”

In 1992, Robbie Robertson of The Band — that quintessential roots-rock music band that also featured Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, and Richard Manuel — spoke of his fascination for New Orleans music to then-Crescent City resident John Sinclair for a story in Bomb magazine. Robertson’s lifelong interest in New Orleans music began when he was a 14-year-old novice musician in Toronto, playing in a Huey “Piano” Smith wannabe band called Little Caesar and the Consuls. The leader of the group wanted to be Huey Smith, Robertson recalled. “We played this music,” Robertson remembered, “that made me think, wait a minute, there’s something going on here — there is something about this whole thing that’s different and unique. There’s this mystery, there’s this fun, there is this thing you can’t quite put a finger on.”

John Wirt is the author of the first biography of Smith, Huey “Piano” Smith and the Rocking Pneumonia Blues.

This summer, LSU Press is “Made in Louisiana”! Through July 4th, read local and you will receive 35% off Huey “Piano” Smith and the Rocking Pneumonia Blues and hundreds of other titles by Louisiana authors. Learn more at our website, where you can use offer code 04LALOVE at checkout.


27
Jun 14

Recipe: Pralines

This recipe comes to you from Cynthia Nobles, author of The Delta Queen Cookbook, in honor of our Made in Louisiana sale. Until July 4th, shop books by Louisiana authors or about Louisiana and receive 35% off and free shipping, using the offer code 04LALOVE. And stay tuned every day this week for more authentic Louisiana recipes!

Pralines
Makes 24-36, depending on size. Recipe is by Cynthia Nobles.

Pralines originated in France, where legend has it that the personal chef of sugar industrialist Marshal du Plessis-Praslin (1598-1675) created a sugar-coated almond confection that was named for his boss. It is believed that Ursuline nuns brought the recipe to New Orleans in 1727 and substituted native pecans for almonds. The praline, also known as pecan candy, was popular with both early Acadians and New Orleans Creoles. In Old New Orleans, street vendors selling pecan pralines were called “pralinieres.”

Ingredients

2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 cup evaporated milk
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 tbsp butter
3 cups pecan halves

Instructions

  1. Cover a hard surface with parchment paper.
  2. In a large heavy saucepan combine brown sugar, white sugar, milk, salt, and cream of tartar. Bring to a boil and simmer over medium heat, without stirring, until mixture reaches the soft-ball stage, 238 F. (Recipe works best using a candy thermometer).
  3. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and butter. When butter is melted, add pecans and stir until creamy and cloudy, and pecans are suspended in the mixture.
  4. Using a tablespoon, quickly drop candies onto parchment paper. Cool completely. Can be stored 2 weeks in an airtight container.

26
Jun 14

Recipe: Crawfish Etouffee

This recipe comes to you from Cynthia Nobles, author of The Delta Queen Cookbook, in honor of our Made in Louisiana sale. Until July 4th, shop books by Louisiana authors or about Louisiana and receive 35% off and free shipping, using the offer code 04LALOVE. And stay tuned every day this week for more authentic Louisiana recipes!

Crawfish Etouffee
Makes 4 servings. Recipe is by Cynthia Nobles.

Etouffee is the French word for smothered, and crawfish typifies Cajun food probably more than anything. When this dish was invented in colonial times, butter was scarce in Louisiana, so cooks of the period would have made roux with hog lard or bear fat.

Ingredients

4 tbsp butter
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 cup minced onion
1 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups seafood or chicken stock
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
cayenne pepper to taste
1 lb. crawfish tails, with fat
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup chopped green onions
hot cooked rice for serving

Instructions

  1. In a large heavy skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add flour. Stirring constantly, make a dark brown roux. (Takes 4-5 minutes).
  2. Remove skillet from fire and add onion, bell pepper, and celery and stir until roux stops sizzling. Stir in garlic.
  3. Return skillet to fire and carefully add stock. Stir until well blended. Add tomato paste, salt, black pepper, and cayenne. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cook (uncovered) 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Stir in crawfish, with fat. Cover and simmer 5-10 minutes, depending on size of crawfish.
  5. Stir in parsley and green onions. Serve hot over rice.

25
Jun 14

Recipe: Calas

calasRS

This recipe comes to you from Cynthia Nobles, author of The Delta Queen Cookbook, in honor of our Made in Louisiana sale. Until July 4th, shop books by Louisiana authors or about Louisiana and receive 35% off and free shipping, using the offer code 04LALOVE. And stay tuned every day this week for more authentic Louisiana recipes!

Calas
Makes 2 dozen. Recipe is from The Delta Queen Cookbook (LSU Press, 2012).

In the 1800s and well into the twentieth century, Creoles enjoyed this rice fritter for breakfast with café noir (black coffee) or café au lait (coffee with milk). Originally made with yeast, the batter adapted well to the modern baking powders that became widely available after the mid-1800s.

Ingredients

2/3 cup unbleached flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 large eggs
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 cups cold cooked rice
Vegetable oil for frying
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Instructions

  1. In a medium bowl, sift together flour baking powder, and salt.
  2. Whisk in eggs, sugar, nutmeg, and vanilla. Stir in rice. Refrigerate batter while oil heats.
  3. In a deep fryer or heavy pot, heat 1 1/2 inches oil to 365 F. Drop batter by a rounded tablespoon and fry until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. (Refrigerate batter between batches).
  4. Remove cooked calas from oil, drain, and liberally sprinkle with confectioners/ sugar. Serve hot.

24
Jun 14

Recipe: Sazerac

This recipe comes to you from Cynthia Nobles, author of The Delta Queen Cookbook, in honor of our Made in Louisiana sale. Until July 4th, shop books by Louisiana authors or about Louisiana and receive 35% off and free shipping, using the offer code 04LALOVE. And stay tuned every day this week for more authentic Louisiana recipes!

Sazerac
Makes 1 drink. Recipe is by Cynthia Nobles.

The basic recipe for the Sazerac was created in the 1830s by Antoine Amedie Peychaud, a New Orleans apothecary who immigrated from the West Indies and created his own brand of bitters. The drink was originally made with a cognac named Sazerac de Forge et Fils. On June 23, 2008, the Louisiana Legislature designated the Sazerac as the official cocktail of the City of New Orleans.

Ingredients

2 oz. (4 tbls.) rye whiskey
1 tsp. simple syrup
3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
Big splash Herbsaint
Lemon twist

Instructions

  1. Fill a rocks glass with ice and set aside.
  2. In a separate glass, mix whiskey, simple syrup, and bitters. Add a couple of ice cubes.
  3. Discard ice in chilled rocks glass. Add Herbsaint and swirl around until glass is thoroughly coated. Pour out excess.
  4. Strain whiskey mixture into the chilled and coated glass and garnish with the lemon twist.

23
Jun 14

Creole or Cajun: What Exactly Am I Eating?

Stay tuned every day this week at the LSU Press blog for Louisiana recipes from Cindy Nobles!

Tourists flock to New Orleans for Cajun crawfish, boudin, cracklins and tasso, but the menu availability of these specialties in Louisiana’s largest city is relatively new. Until the 1980s, New Orleans food was strictly Creole (meaning born in the New World). Cajun (of the Acadians) was still relegated to the state’s western swamps and prairies, and really didn’t become popular in New Orleans until Chef Paul Prudhomme introduced it to the world. But together the two cuisines have made Louisiana one of the most heralded food regions in the world. And here’s a primer on how the basic ingredients and techniques for our famous dishes got here in the first place.

We’ll start with the first Louisiana inhabitants, Native Americans. Long before the French arrived, tribes like the Choctaws, Chickasaws, Natchez, Houmas, and Chitimachas had been drying fruit, herbs, and meats, and simmering game and turtle in stews. They also gathered pecans, cultivated sweet potatoes, caught fish and shellfish, pounded sassafras leaves to make the thickener file, and ground corn into grits.

The Catholic French sailed here in the late 17th century, and by 1718 had built the Port of New Orleans. This is important because the port and Catholicism were magnets for future immigrants whose plants, livestock, and cooking techniques combined to create our food.

The French themselves brought memories of classic Parisian cuisine. They had a knowledge of making roux, sauces, and stocks, and of seasoning with herbs and starting many a dish with a mirepoix, a mixture of diced carrots, celery, and onion. The colonial French were also fond of the seafood soup known as bouillabaisse, along with pralines (the French original made with almonds), and imported liqueurs and wine.

Slaves were imported to the region in 1719, and with Africans came black-eyed peas, watermelon, okra, a love of simmered greens, and the knowledge of growing rice. Slaves also knew how to season with spices, and in the kitchens of their masters they continued doing what they had done in their own countries: skillfully stew and fry.

Because slaves were considered too valuable to spend time growing food to sell to locals in New Orleans, in the 1720s Scottish speculator John Law lured in Germans. An industrious group of them settled in what is today St. James and St. Charles parishes, where this industrious group set up the state’s first dairies. They also grew turnips, spinach, cauliflower, artichokes, onions, garlic, cabbage, white potatoes and sweet potatoes, and were prolific bakers and knew how to cure meats, such as the smoked pork sausage we call andouille.

When the Spanish took over the Louisiana colony in 1762, they brought along jamon (ham), chaurice (spicy smoked sausage), tomatoes, and cayenne pepper, along with a love of onions, garlic, and parsley. They also had an affinity for eating beans with rice and for cooking paella, the one-pot ham and rice dish.

The Acadians arrived in New Orleans in 1785 and ended up isolated west of the City in the uncultivated prairies and marshes, where they foraged for just about anything that flew, crawled, climbed, or swam. Although they’d been living in Nova Scotia, Louisiana’s first Acadians were still partial to the one-pot meals of peasant France. This displaced population was also totally unfamiliar with Louisiana ingredients and consequently adopted cooking techniques from established residents. Over time they morphed what they learned into their own hearty “Cajun” cuisine, including robust roux-based versions of gumbo and jambalalya (as compared to the delicately-seasoned tomato-based recipes from New Orleans). In time, the Acadians became experts at cattle ranching and smoking meats, and are now the state’s leading rice growers.

Although Jesuit priests had brought the first sugar to Louisiana in 1751, Etienne de Bore didn’t grow the first successful crop until 1795. Commercial salt production in the state started in 1790, and the arrival of Saint-Domingue refugees in 1809 brought a variety of hot peppers and Creolized dishes such as bouilli, courtbouillon, étouffée, and meunière.

By the 1840s, New Orleans, had become the second largest importer of coffee in the U.S. Also during the 1840s, commercial sales of oysters, fish, and shrimp got a big boost with the arrival of seasoned Croatian fishermen. These former sailors from the Adriatic Sea lived on Louisiana’s coast south of New Orleans, and started the state’s oyster cultivation.

Chicory is common in France, and during the Civil War the blockaded French in New Orleans began using this ground up root as a coffee extender. The mirliton arrived around 1870, likely from Mexico or the Caribbean, and bananas didn’t arrive in New Orleans until the 1880s, the same time as waves of Sicilians, who brought with them a passion for bread, wine, pasta and tomatoes. Louisiana’s Italians took to truck farming almost immediately, growing vegetables like zucchini, spinach, garlic, lemons, eggplant, fennel, figs, leeks and cucumbers. In many cases, traditional Italian dishes melded with Creole dishes, and the resulting recipes are known locally as Creole-Italian.

The word “Creole” became an icon in the late nineteenth century and was fashionably attached to all sorts of foods, including vegetables, eggs, and coffee. And although the line of distinction between “fancy” Creole cooking and rustic Cajun cooking has over the years been blurred, Chef John Folse makes the distinction eloquently: “Creole…is that melange of artistry and talent, developed and made possible by the nations and cultures who settled in and around New Orleans.” And Cajun is “the mirror image of [the Cajun] unique history…a cooking style that reflects their ingenuity, creativity, adaptability, and survival.”

So there you have it, a quick history lesson on the beginnings of Creole and Cajun food. And next time you pick up a menu in New Orleans and you can’t remember who created what, don’t worry – it’s all delicious, and it’s all reflective of a state historically culturally diverse as its food.

Cynthia LeJeune Nobles is the author of The Delta Queen Cookbook: The History and Recipes of the Legendary Steamboat. She lives in Baton Rouge.

This summer, LSU Press is “Made in Louisiana”! Through July 4th, read local and you will receive 35% off The Delta Queen Cookbook and hundreds of other Louisiana titles. Check them out at our website, and use offer code 04LALOVE at checkout.


19
Jun 14

Today in History: 19 June 1964

After an 83-day filibuster in the Senate, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed the Senate on June 19th of that year. The act outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or country of origin, and forbade prejudicial application of voter registration requirements. In his book When Freedom Would Triumph, Robert Mann quotes President Lyndon B. Johnson on his memory of the passage of that historic act: “I knew . . . that to the extent Negroes were free, really free, so was I. And so was my country.”

When Freedom Would Triumph recalls the most significant and inspiring legislative battle of the twentieth century–the two decades of struggle in the halls of Congress that resulted in civil rights for the descendants of American slaves. Robert Mann’s comprehensive analysis shows how political leaders in Washington–Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, John F. Kennedy, and others–transformed the ardent passion for freedom–the protests, marches, and creative nonviolence of the civil rights movement–into concrete progress for justice. A story of heroism and cowardice, statesmanship and political calculation, vision and blindness, When Freedom Would Triumph, an abridged and updated version of Mann’s The Walls of Jericho: Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Richard Russell, and the Struggle for Civil Rights, is a captivating, thought-provoking reminder of the need for more effective government.

Robert Mann is the author of Daisy Petals and Mushroom Clouds: LBJ, Barry Goldwater, and the Ad That Changed American Politics; When Freedom Would Triumph: The Civil Rights Struggle in Congress, 1954–1968; and many other books. He is also a political columnist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

This summer, LSU Press is “Made in Louisiana”! Through July 4th, read local and you will receive 35% off When Freedom Would Triumph and hundreds of other titles by Louisiana authors. Shop the sale at our website, using offer code 04LALOVE at checkout.


16
Jun 14

A Writer’s Journey: Danny Heitman on Researching Audubon in Louisiana

When I began following John James Audubon in 2006, I didn’t realize how long he’d follow me. Eight years later, Audubon continues to be a regular part of my life, thanks to an LSU Press book that I published about the world’s most famous bird artist, A Summer of Birds: John James Audubon at Oakley House.

John James Audubon (1785–1851) was depressed, destitute, and down on his luck when he came to Louisiana in 1821 to gather material for The Birds of America, his ambitious pictorial record of the nation’s ornithological bounty. He’d been an artist by avocation and a dry goods merchant by profession, and the failure of his Kentucky store and mill operation in 1819 had persuaded Audubon to pursue his art full-time.

New Orleans, then one of the wealthiest and most cultured cities in America, seemed like a good place to find patrons. Audubon hoped to hire himself out as a portrait painter, but find a little time for his bird project, too. Things didn’t go well at first, and Audubon was about to give up when he was hired as a tutor at Oakley House Plantation in nearby St. Francisville. Audubon’s summer at Oakley changed his art, enabling him to become the genius we now celebrate.

I thought the story of that season might make a book, and LSU Press agreed. I researched the story in 2006, completed a manuscript in 2007, and saw it released in 2008. In my primary work as a journalist, I handle a dozen topics a week, quickly tucking them away before moving on to something else. I assumed that Audubon’s presence in my life would be temporary, too, quickly evaporating after the book was published.

But I’ve been surprised—and delighted—to discover how many people are interested in Audubon. Invitations to speak about him came from all over, including a request that I lecture at a sprawling wildlife refuge outside of Vicksburg, Mississippi. It rained buckets that day, flooding the road into the refuge and forcing me to enter from atop a levee populated by grazing cows. They were in no mood to stop their lunch and allow me passage, and as I honked the horn to nudge them along, it occurred to me that this wasn’t the book tour I expected.

Other adventures ensued. In 2009, Louisiana Public Broadcasting produced a documentary version of my book, and the film featured some historical reenactments, including a scene where Audubon visits the deathbed of an Oakley neighbor. When no actor could be found to play the corpse, I was dressed in period garb and pressed into action—or, I should say, non-action. After a lengthy recline with my eyes closed, I almost started snoring, a problem in convincingly playing a dead man.

LPB’s production, steered to completion by gifted filmmaker Christina Melton, aired statewide and in many other places across the country. It still resurfaces in repeats here and elsewhere, leading to interesting emails from viewers.

A Summer of Birds opened other doors for me. I attended two National Endowment for the Humanities symposiums aimed at teaching elementary and high school teachers how to use Audubon’s writing, art and scientific observations across the school curriculum. At one of the symposium sessions at Indiana University in Bloomington, participants from around the United States watched the Summer of Birds documentary, their jaws dropping in wonder at the beauty of Louisiana. Sitting in the back and watching their reaction, my eyes welled with tears of pride for my home state – a place that Audubon called his favorite state in the nation.

Filmmakers still call and ask me to participate in Audubon projects. Two other documentaries about the artist are in the works.

A Wall Street Journal editor read my book and noticed its mention of Audubon Day at LSU’s Hill Memorial Library, an annual affair in which patrons get to see the library’s vintage Birds of America volume, a priceless treasure, turned page by page. Intrigued, he dispatched a feature writer to cover the event, leading to national attention for Hill.

In the years since A Summer of Birds appeared, I’ve gotten dozens of Audubon-related writing assignments because of my profile as a student of his work. One Thanksgiving, for example, the Wall Street Journal asked me to write an essay on Audubon’s turkey. I’ve written a magazine piece about Audubon’s prose style, a review of a new Library of America edition, and numerous op-eds about what Audubon can teach us about our lives today. As I’ve frequently said, I’ve probably written more about Audubon beyond A Summer of Birds than within its pages.

Audubon belongs to the world, which is why my little book has, happily, found readers beyond Louisiana. But A Summer of Birds came into being because LSU Press believed in it, and local readers helped push it out the nest so that it could fly.

That’s why the LSU Press “Made in Louisiana” campaign is so welcome. The campaign reminds us that the best way to give writers a national—and international—platform is to support them at home.

Danny Heitman, a columnist for The Advocate and a frequent essayist for national publications, is the author of A Summer of Birds: John James Audubon at Oakley House.

This summer, LSU Press is “Made in Louisiana”! Through July 4th, read local and you will receive 35% off A Summer of Birds and hundreds of other Louisiana titles. Check them out at our website, and use offer code 04LALOVE at checkout.


10
Jun 14

Discovering Louisiana: Mulatto Bend, resting place of Slim Harpo, John Allen, and Ophelia Jackson

My buddy Clarke and I turned down the wrong way on Mulatto Bend road, frantically scanning the side streets for a cemetery but hit the levee. There was a boarded up tavern at the corner with River Road: Brown’s Riverview Bar & Lounge. I hopped out to grab a picture of its yellowed plastic sign defying the ravages of business, a bubbly cartoon cocktail emblazoned on it staring down the levee wall. I was transfixed a little. I thought: This would be a more fitting place to wind up looking for Slim Harpo’s grave. Go to the places where he made his life, not to where his death makes him a monument.

Brown's Riverview Bar & Lounge

Photo courtesy of Alex V. Cook

I feel funny about graveyards. A person spends bodily an eternity in a place that he or she only hesitantly visited when alive, if ever. If you believe in such things, their spirit is elsewhere, everywhere maybe. So why a graveyard?

I was so swept up in life and death that I failed to notice an older man sitting under the mane of a willow as I was snapping photos. How long had he been there? I started to ask in my selfish rudeness if he knew where the graveyard was, but then noticed he was on the phone. “…and then he pulled a gun on him,” he said in calm tones to the other party, so I felt it best to leave him to his business.

Mulatto Bend stretches for a few blocks across US 190 (known as Ronald Reagan Highway to Google Maps and no one else) in the flats of West Baton Rouge Parish. At the terminus of the south section lies the Benevolent Society Cemetery. On this thin lane of graves wedged between two fields, the first thing I see is an angel statue in ecstatic prayer, sitting alone before a barbed wire fence and weeds beyond that. I’d just binge-watched the whole season of HBO’s True Detective. This little angel would have fit nicely into their artful opening montage.

Praying angel

Photo courtesy of Alex V. Cook

We walked the full stretch of the graveyard looking for Slim’s final rest. “It’s supposed to be covered with harmonicas,” Clarke said, but we couldn’t find it. What I did find was the grave of Ophelia Jackson. I know this because her name was hand painted in black paint against the gleaming white stone. I pictured whoever she was being the Ophelia in the song by the Band, and will now forever.

There was a woman with one pink grave sitting among a sea of white. That is how you honor a final request! I pictured buckets of pink paint in some man’s garage that he cracked open once a year to touch up his mama’s grave.

Photo courtesy of Alex V. Cook

Photo courtesy of Alex V. Cook

A lacquered wooden sign before a tidy, picket-fenced family plot reads in elegant handwriting:

John Allen
This section of the cemetery was restored in memory of John Allen. He was a straw boss on a plantation. Some of John’s sons lived in Mulatto Bend.

It was while contemplating this sign and what cut of man it takes to be a plantation straw boss, and listening to the irregular beat of hunting rifles in the woods not far away, that I saw a blue harmonica on a white grave by the fence.

Slim Harpo, his Christian name being James Moore, was a blues harmonica player, but much more than that. It was his spare stripped down songs recorded at J.D. Miller’s studio in Crowley, songs like “King Bee” and “Shake Your Hips,” that reverberate a half century later in the heads of all that hear them. The British Invasion artists — the Kinks, Them, the Yardbirds, The Rolling Stones — all felt that reverberation and included Slim Harpo songs in their catalogs.

Harmonicas circle the headstone like a train loaded up to trek across country, to blow that whistle that so many blues songs invoke. I thought I should have brought a harmonica, then thought, Where do I get off putting a harmonica on his grave?

Photo courtesy of Alex V. Cook

Photo courtesy of Alex V. Cook

Maybe this is why we visit graveyards. They put a thud beat in our song, one that shakes our sense of who we are and who we think other people were. Are we dust to dust, a name, a lifetime of mementos, a swath of pink paint or the dutiful swathing of that paint? Is it just that graves pose those kinds of questions, dropping pebbles in the still waters?

I said bye to Ophelia on my walk out, dragging it out like Levon Helm does in the song, and I waved at the sweet angel of the weeds, a benevolence vibrating in my heart.

Alex V. Cook is the author of Louisiana Saturday Night, an experiential guidebook to some of the Gumbo State’s most unique blues, Cajun, and zydeco clubs. You can follow Alex on Twitter (@cookalexv).

This summer, LSU Press is “Made in Louisiana”! Through July 4th, receive 35% off Louisiana Saturday Night and hundreds of other Louisiana titles at our website, using offer code 04LALOVE.


30
May 14

Today in History: The Lincoln Memorial

The dedication of the Lincoln Memorial took place on 30 May 1922, presided over by former president William Taft, with Lincoln’s only surviving son, Robert Todd Lincoln, in attendance. But not everyone was thrilled about the new memorial and its glorification of the sixteen president.

Graphite sketch of the proposed Memorial by architect Henry Bacon (Library of Congress / Prints and Photographs Division)

In a July editorial following the statue’s dedication, historian and civil rights activist W. E. B. DuBois wrote:

Abraham Lincoln was . . . poorly educated and unusually ugly, awkward, ill-dressed. . . . At the crisis [Civil War] he was big enough to be inconsistent — cruel, merciful; peaceloving, a fighter; despising Negroes and letting them fight and vote; protecting slavery and freeing slaves. He was a man — a big, inconsistent, brave man.

Frustrating as DuBois found Lincoln’s inadequate devotion to the abolitionist cause, other writers of the time disliked him for just the opposite reason. Lexington writer Mary Scrugham published a substantial article attacking Lincoln in response to the dedication of the Lincoln memorial. Describing Reconstruction as a “hideous crime against white womanhood,” she decried Lincoln’s reelection as illegitimate:

The glory bestowed upon Abraham Lincoln for saving the American Union is a strange paradox, for he did not save the union. The fact is, he came very near to destroying it. . . . A union based on force and a union based on consent are as different as day and night, whether in government or matrimony. Force is force; and the mailed fist is the mailed fist, whether it is raised on the field of Flanders, by the streams of Ireland, or on a “march through Georgia.”

Similarly, Richmond writer Langbourne Williams wrote that the mercilessness and brutality of the Union troops meant that

in the interest of truth, and the honor of the U.S., the Lincoln memorial at Washington should be taken down and converted into some charitable institution.

While most Americans count Abraham Lincoln among the most beloved and admired former presidents, a dedicated minority has long viewed him as not only the worst president in the country’s history, but also as a criminal who defied the Constitution and advanced federal power and the idea of racial equality. Intrigued? Learn more in John McKee Barr’s book Loathing Lincoln, the first ever panoramic study of Lincoln’s critics.

Now through June 6th, you can get 45% off Loathing Lincoln and hundreds of other LSU Press titles, using the offer code 04MILHIS. Shop our military history sale today!