UNITED STATES—You to be over 50. By then you know tempus fugit; time flies like an arrow and fruit flies like a banana. Sam Delaney, unlike so many of his corporate peers, always saw himself more in the worker role than in management, more in the striver than the Kingfish. The Kingfish was an entrepreneur and organizer, more outspoken and domineering than the more placid and soft-spoken Andy, sidekick of Amos the Kingfish on the radio show where Willy Long found a nickname sure to repercuss among his faithful constituents.
Gazing at the crowds of unemployed, men and veterans, and families who gave their children a fairy tale (“We’re here camping”), Sam saw himself and his risk. If the dice landed a different way, if the switchman affected by the sleeping, sleep and the ripes turned brown and ended up in Memphis instead of Biloxi. What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself said Abraham Lincoln.
Sam helped draft the codes to pay farmers to leave fields fallow, which awoke much ire among folk who were hungry and restless. He was unofficial, so nobody say him and that was perfectly to Sam’s liking. He was close to President Roosevelt and come Christmas he got that token of gratitude, a pair of Tiffany cufflinks at the New Orleans White House.
Sam had a way of speaking truth. He never lost it. He spoke directly to Roosevelt:
“I like the New Deal,” Sam said. “I think you’re doing too little, too slow.”
Sam Delaney had one hell of an angel looking after him. One day down at Jackson Square, he was voluble and ran into old Machine Gun Bill Kelly, and Bill brought it up. He was talking about the same thing everybody was, just it took Bill to bring it out into the open. Doing something about the King Fisher, Willy Long. The chubby, apple-cheeked hick in overalls and later in fine tailored suits with gaudy ties, but whip smart. And when it came to the Fat Cat’s, Sam Delaney was Willy Long’s piñata of choice.
Willy Long was one of these guys who took the bar exam after cracking the books on his own. He never even finished high school, dropped out by his junior year. Then he studied all the law, done took it all out of the library and locked himself up in a hotel room in New Orleans, devoured the Code Napoleon, adopted by Louisiana four years before it became a state in 1808. Unlike any other state in the Union it allowed for a magistrate having having a direct interpretation of the law, unlike the common law methodology where you can bring in precedent.
Anyhow, Willy locked himself in the Storyville room, with some jugs of water and saltine crackers and he was boned up as regards the law. He bucked the system, did it his way again. You had to be a high school graduate. He took his cause to the Louisiana Supreme court, like 17 years old. It was one of the shortest cases ever in the history of the Louisiana Supreme Court:
“If you pass the test, you pass the test and it shows the proper fluency in the law. Let my bar exam speak for itself. Gentlemen of the Supreme Court, I rest my case.”
It is pertinent to include that in 1968 Duncan V. Louisiana it went to the highest court where are man convicted of assault and battery punishable for two years imprisonment and a $300 fine was denied plaintiffs request for trial by jury. Till then Louisiana limited capital punishment cases and life in prison. The Supreme Court sided with Mr. Duncan that the punishment made it a serious crime.
Willy hailed from Winn Parish, Louisiana, which had voted against secession from the Union. At the convention held in Baton Rouge, the young attorney pledged to represent that folks back in Winn Parish refused to change his “no” vote to a yes, and a few other holdouts. When coerced by the Governor, the attorney wouldn’t back down, and during the Civil War, Winn Parish became something of a sanctuary for the abolitionists and absentees. This was the paradoxical petri dish that produced the enigma of Willy Long.
To be continued…
Graydon Miller is the Wizard of Fiction.