The Earl of Louisiana

Here are a few excerpts from A. J. Liebling’s marvelous profile, The Earl of Louisiana, which I highly recommend reading if you have any interest in Louisiana, politics, racism, or fabulous writing… WOW!


When the new Charity Hospital was built here, some Negro politicians came to Huey and said it was a shame there were no Negro nurses, when more than half the patients were colored. Huey said he’d fix it for them, but they wouldn’t like his method. He went around to visit the hospital and pretended to be surprised when he found white nurses waiting on colored men. He blew high as a buzzard can fly, saying it wasn’t fit for white women to be so humiliated. It was the most racist talk you ever heard, but the result was he got the white nurses out and the colored nurses in, and they’ve had the jobs ever since. (reporter Tom Sancton, quoted in A.J. Liebling, The Earl of Louisiana, 1960)

“After all this over, he’ll [Rainach, Long’s primary opponent] probably go up there to Summerfield, get up on his front porch, take off his shoes, wash his feet, look at the moon, and get close to God.” Then the old man, changing pace, shouted in Rainach’s direction, “And when you do, you got to recognize that niggers is human beings!” (A.J. Liebling, The Earl of Louisiana, 1960)

The Deep South has gone on for a hundred visible years since the Civil War bemoaning the twenty-five years of its own total history that preceded. In this submerged fifth of its past, according to the legend, great “floating palaces” went up the majestic rivers (since sullied forever by Yankees washing their feet in them) to thriving cities (like the Alick of 1854). Short-order aristocrats, rich from cotton made on new land by prime Negroes, built the great houses, and elegance busted out all over.

From the beginning of the rush for cotton lands, in the 1830s, to the beginning of the War, in 1861, was a span shorter than separates us from the administrations of Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Walker. This included the Caliban beginnings, the making of the money, the achievement of elegance, and the historic split-second left for the elegance to harden–like a quick cake icing. This knockabout-comedy turn in history has furnished forth the brooding squashy ancestral memories of a hundred Faulknerian heroes, echt and ersatz.

It is as if, in 2029, the whole nation should blame all intervening misfortunes on the stock-market crash of 1929, and think of the few years of money-making — for atypical people — that preceded 1929 as a thousand-year Reich of Stutz Bearcats for Everybody. I opened my mind to my friend when we got on the road again, and he, since he was from New Orleans, took no offense. In New Orleans a planter was always a figure of fun, a pigeon to pluck.

“The South doesn’t believe the story,” he said, “except when it seems useful to pretend to believe it. That’s why I can’t read Faulkner. And one of the bonds between Earl Long and his audiences is that he doesn’t believe it, and they don’t believe it, and it’s a kind of private joke between them, like two kids in Sunday School that don’t believe in God.” (A.J. Liebling, The Earl of Louisiana, 1960)

In its passion for politics, the Gret Stet of Loosiana, as southern Louisianians refer to it, resembles most closely the Arab republic of Lebanon, but in its economy it is closer akin to the Arab sheikdoms of the Persian Gulf. The Gret Stet floats on oil, like a drunkard’s teeth on whiskey.  (A.J. Liebling, The Earl of Louisiana, 1960)

The Mediterraneans who settled the shores of the interrupted sea scurried across the gap between the Azores and Puerto Rico like a woman crossing a drafty hall in a sheer nightgown to get to a warm bed with a man in it. (A.J. Liebling, The Earl of Louisiana, 1960)

“Fellas like Faubus and Rainach and Leander Perez and da rest of da White Citizens and Southern Gentlemen in dis state want to go back behind Lincoln,” he said. “And between us, gentlemen, as we sit here among ourselves,” he said, arresting a chunk of fried steak in mid-air and leaning forward to give his statement more impetus, “we got to admit dat Lincoln was a fine man and dat he was right.”

Then, as he turned back to the steak, skewering it against a piece of ham before swallowing both, he caught my look of astonishment and cried, too late, “But don’t quote me on dat!” (p.138)