S1: Hi, I’m Chad, too. And welcome to this week’s Sleep Plus bonus episode for Slow Burn Season four, which is covering the political rise of white nationalists. David Duke from 1989 to 1991.
S2: In these bonus episodes, I’ll be chatting with host Josh Levine and producer Christopher Johnson about the making of the series. And we’ll have some exclusive or extended interviews that didn’t make the cut and dive deeper into the season subjects. Today, we have an extended interview with an Levie who you heard from an episode three. She was the Holocaust survivor who confronted Duke in 1989. But first, let’s chat with joshin Christopher. How are you two holding up?
S3: I personally am holding up OK. How are you?
S4: I’m personally holding up OK as well. All things considered.
S2: OK, good. Let’s talk about episodes two and three of the series so far. Episode two covers Dukes College Year at Louisiana State University and his beginnings in the KKK. And it starts out from the perspective of College Temple Junior, who became the first black basketball player at LSU. How did you first learn of him and find him?
S3: I think people that know me from hang up and listen know that I am a big fan of LSU Sports. And so I’ve known about College Temple Junior for a long time. He’s somebody who’s been celebrated as a pioneer because he was the first black player at LSU and a lot of these colleges in the South Tower. You know, these black athletes who are the first scholarship football player, the first basketball player, you know, it’s a celebratory thing and and rightly so that these people did break these barriers. But it’s also, you know, the stories, if you really dig in on them, are really harrowing about what somebody like Temple had to go through and the fact that this was a 1970. It wasn’t that long ago when he was the first black player at LSU. And in reading about him and starting to do research about Duke, I found out that his story intersected with Duke’s in a particular way, that they, you know, ran across each other at free speech alley at LSU. And so I thought the fact that there was that intersection gave us the opportunity to tell both of their stories. But also, I thought it was really useful to contrast the experience of someone like Hollis Temple, who was a black student at LSU at a time when black students weren’t very welcome and when he wasn’t made to feel very welcome vs. the claims of David Duke, who said that it was white people who were the ones who are really suffering. And we’re really the ones being discriminated against. And putting those two stories or those two claims alongside each other, I thought was really useful in kind of showing rather than just telling what the experiences were. Because when you hear college temple story and when you hear him talk about his experience, you have to kind of put yourself in that position and not think about, you know, how things are today. But like, his presence on campus felt very provisional and it felt like maybe things could regress and maybe there wouldn’t be black students anymore at all. A show like this progress wasn’t particularly welcomed. And so when somebody like David Duke is turning up there and arguing against integration, I think there has to be a concern that his viewpoint is going to prevail.
S4: I was just gonna say something more about Colace. And we get at this in the episode where, you know, Kollars says basically my family helped build LSU and kind of build this space. And, you know, he’s pointing specifically at the university. I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but, you know, you sort of expand that out to black America and this sense that black Americans are at this moment in history, also reckoning with the fact that, like, we helped build this country. And this is a moment of reckoning in the late 60s and early 70s, like we’re still getting these messages that we don’t belong here and that we don’t have a right to be here, even though the very land on which you stand was cultivated in part by also by our ancestors. And so, you know, he says that this is the case, that my family made that like it’s about time in a sense. And so I imagine that that’s also part of the tension for him. I don’t know that to be true. And I’m not trying to put thoughts in his head, so to speak. But I know that for a lot of black folks at a moment like this, there is a sort of sense of that. This kind of access is precarious, but it is also something that is long past due.
S3: Yeah, I think that’s totally right. And, you know, there’s just so many layers to the Temple family’s story that we were not able to get into but call us. Temple Junior’s father, a college senior, had been denied admission to LSU. And so that was part of the reason why he wanted to take advantage of this opportunity. He’d earned and that, the family believed rightly, was long overdue. And then colliss children went to school there. Two of his sons actually play basketball at LSU. But one of them is now in the NBA and has been one of the leaders in the league, again, talking about Black Lives Matter and, you know, social justice. And so it’s a very. Powerful, multigenerational story about this family and its push for equality and the environment.
S2: So the episode also had some clips from Dukes tomorrow show appearance. And to me, that seemed a little bit surprising that a KKK member would be showing his face on TV. Is that so strange?
S4: Well, probably to especially to be on a significant television program like that for Duke to go on and kind of to out himself as a Klan leader. I mean, there certainly is footage of Klan leaders leading rallies without, you know, unheeded, unmasked. Right. And so we can see them there. But to go and kind of present yourself outside of your cohort, but it’s pretty consistent with what Duke wanted for his new packaging or repackaging and representing the Klan to the world, which is that we’re gonna be a civil rights organization. You really start to see him teaching a lot of that up at this point in his life.
S3: Yeah, he wanted to present the Klan as two different things. On the one hand, something that, you know, one shouldn’t be ashamed of belonging to that it’s just this organization with, you know, good white people standing up for their rights and kind of like a lighting the you know, at that point centuries long list of atrocities and terrorism and murder and just horrifying acts committed by the Klan and Klan members. On the other hand, you know, the second piece of it is that he wanted to kind of train on that stuff and draft off of it when it was convenient to him. He wanted the notoriety that comes with being presented as the grand wizard of the KKK. That’s why he was on television, is because Tom Snyder and the people they booked his show thought that this was kind of an old roaring gas. It’s like people would want to watch who like what is the leader of the KKK look like. And so that’s this is the game the Duke was playing in the 70s. He is taking advantage of this kind of curiosity that, you know, audiences might have to see what a leader in the Klan looks like and going, oh, no. Like, you have totally the wrong idea. How could you imagine that? I would condone violence just like totally disingenuous. But this was the game that he was playing and playing it pretty astutely.
S5: Right. You know, some of the reporting that we read about Duke through the 70s and 80s, there’s a class tension with a version of the Klan. He called them the green teeth people. Right. So he sort of in this tension, at least ideologically, with poor whites who may have been a part of the Klan or sort of the rank and file Klan members.
S4: And I think that this was yet another kind of piece of his like, I’m going to put on the suit and put on the tie. I’m going to present this as like a very reasonable but also potentially successful and presentable version of white nationalism.
S3: Yeah, Duke would talk about that in two different ways. Again, like he would mention the green teeth. People kind of as the stereotype, you know, though, there was inaccurate that people had of Klan members. But he also seemed to think that there was some truth to it and wanting that changed that image. And Joe Klein talks about this a bit in that episode about you going to Boston, where Duke, you know, goes there and presenting himself as this guy in the suit who’s, you know, bringing a new kind of attitude, a new kind of audience to these hateful beliefs than the people that are coming out to hear him are not clean cut. It’s like he’s at once kind of energized by the response he gets, but also a little bit repelled. Like the people that are most attracted to him are the kind of people that Duke is saying aren’t the stereotypical normative Klan members as he is trying to change this image.
S2: Right. Relatedly, I think something that struck me in this episode was that it kind of seemed like Duke did what he did by himself. You guys also touched upon this in the interview in our last bonus episode. But it kind of felt like Duke did all of this recruiting for the Klan on his own. Was that the case?
S3: I think there’s some truth to that. And I do want to amend one thing I just said, which is that, you know, when Duke runs for office in nineteen seventy five, you know, I say in the episode that he got 10 times the number of votes and this is in an affluent district as he got people to attend his Klan rally. So I’m not saying that there wasn’t any kind of attraction or a lawyer to, you know, Duke’s message from people who were more middle class or upper class whites. There’s just a distinction between the kinds of people who would go to a Klan rally and the kinds of people who would vote for Duke in the privacy of a voting. I think you see that in his political races, too, like a distinction between the people who had openly, proudly celebrate their support for Duke is a much smaller number than the ones who would vote for him. But back to your question about do kind of being a solo practitioner. I mean, he definitely had know lieutenants in this clan movement, people that were working alongside him and and helping him. But he saw himself as the front man. He saw himself as the advertize man for white supremacy. He wanted to be the leader. He was an egomaniac who not only wanted these ideas to circulate and to become more popular. He wanted to be the one that was doing it.
S2: So I had not known about Duke’s debate with Jesse Jackson before listening to this episode. Do you think that either one of them came out the victor in the end of that?
S5: So I think it sort of depends on how we’re deciding, Victor. Right. Because in a way, they’re kind of talking about two different versions of America. I mean, their argument, their back and forth centers around definitions of what this American project was intended to be. Who’s responsible for building it both in like a sort of conceptual way, but also in a very physical manual labor way. And for Jesse Jackson, he’s talking about an America that’s a sort of democratic, humanistic project. He’s invoking a lot of the values of, frankly, the Enlightenment. Right. And like its promises and its ambitions and its potential as this democracy that would be inclusive of everybody and especially inclusive of the people who literally helped build it, especially black folks and brown folks. Right. Nonwhites. So Duke is also invoking the Enlightenment, but his core argument is about ideas. It’s that Europeans conceived of this idea of America, the American project, and that therefore makes it a fundamentally European or a white thing. It’s this place where nonwhites are going to have a hard time integrating just by virtue of being different people and wanting different things for themselves and for their cultures. And so it’s it’s this idea of America that really is just an idea. And obviously, it’s still to this day a very powerful one. So in some ways, this is a very old debate. It’s about how and whether nonwhites and especially black people fit into the United States of America. It’s a debate that goes back and forth between whites and nonwhites, certainly inside of black communities, about sort of do we belong here? And did we build this place? And does that make us belong or do we not belong? Because it’s a sort of fundamentally white Christian project that will never include us. And so, you know, like who won? I don’t know. In this debate, I will be team Jesse Jackson. But, you know, they both, I think, got what it with a message that they want to get across. I think they both got their message across.
S3: But, Christopher, there’s an argument meant to be made. Right. That even if Jesse Jackson, quote unquote, won the debate, he still lost by virtue of being onstage across from David Duke in the first place. You know, there’s a kind of concession here that these are, if not two men of the same stature, that these are two sides of an argument that both deserve to be heard. And Jackson has a really good answer when asked why you did this. And he uses the phrase economic anxiety, which I thought was kind of modern coinage. And so it’s fascinating to hear him say this in 1977. You know, he talks about the need to address Duke’s followers directly and that, you know, I think that’s a reasonable case to be made. But I also think you could make a very reasonable argument on the other side that he lost by virtue of agreeing to do this in the first place.
S5: Yeah, I mean, I think that he does say and you hear this in the episode, Jackson says, you know, he addresses Steve Edwards and says, I agreed to come on this because when people are feeling this economic anxiety and he’s asked especially, I think, talking about low income by folks like when people are feeling like their economic backs are against the wall, that makes them vulnerable to the logic of people like David Duke. This thing that he’s talking about, about economic interests, like I kind of shared economic interest between black folks, white folks and other folks, needs to be the primary focus and not this sort of racial turn. And so I don’t know. I guess part of the question is like, does winning mean that you got your message across and that you were able to make a kind of case for a particular vision of America? If Jesse said that I agree to do this because he’s Jesse Jackson at this point, like he is at in some ways the kind of peak of his game in a lot of ways. And so he went on, he said to make that point, he made the point. And I think that he did it. Without getting too sucked in. One of the things about David Duke that is pretty impressive as a debater is that he has this sort of tractor beam when he’s debating people, that he manages to pull you into his world of logic. And Jesse falls prey to that a couple times in the debate, but mainly manages to kind of stay on course. Another piece of the debate that’s sort of interesting to me is the way that they they go back and forth about the Christian vision of America and the way that Christianity Jesse, of course, being a reverend and David Duke being a Christian, as far as I know, he says he’s a Christian. And so having this argument around Christianity as a kind of moral orientation inside of this American project and David Duke doesn’t really bite on that. But it is an interesting kind of tack that Jesse takes. And I think he knows that he’s you know, David Duke really can’t find any traction in that because he’s only going up against Reverend Jesse Jackson, defeating the Bible and Christianity. So he I think he knows where he’s not going to win. But I don’t know. I don’t know that I feel like Jesse Jackson lost. I know you. I take your point, Josh, but he lost.
S3: Yeah. I think that one thing that I can say with confidence about Jesse Jackson in this debate is that he was somebody who was criticized by a lot of his contemporaries in the civil rights movement, somebody who just really wanted attention. Right. And in this case, you know, in this episode, we hear the Tom Snyder interview and we hear the Jesse Jackson debate and the person who really is out for attention and comes off as very arrogant as Tom Snyder. Snyder is the one who I think feels like, oh, this guy is just like a white supremacist. He’s wrong. And I can just, like, kind of go in there. I need to prepare and I’ll just, like, walk over this guy. And Duke is the one who walks all over him because Duke’s been thinking about this stuff and talking about this stuff his entire life. And Snyder is unprepared. And I think makes a really big mistake in giving Duke this platform without understanding what he was doing. Jackson clearly knows what he’s doing and clearly has a plan. You might disagree with the plan, but he’s not unprepared. He is not naive. And, you know, you can’t argue with the results honestly. Like, if you kind of follow them for a few years after this, Jackson kind of soars and becomes a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination. So it’s not like you can say that, you know, Jackson gifts Duke this platform and Duke just kind of takes it and runs with it. I just think it’s a really interesting debate about when you give somebody like David Duke a platform. Yeah. And attention. And it’s it’s really complicated.
S5: Definitely. We were talking about free speech, Ali, earlier, and we talked about this a lot in making the show the kind of behind the scenes about free speech, Ali. And these earlier moments in Duke’s life as this training ground for him being able to and getting used to getting up in front of people on a soapbox or otherwise. And basically he’s getting the reps in. Yep. Yeah. And training. Exactly. And just having everything thrown at him, literally and figuratively, so that by the time he sits down with, like Jesse Jackson or any of these folks, like, his muscles are tight, he’s very ready. And they’re just they just can’t nobody can fight with him in that way.
S3: I don’t know if we’ll get into this later in the series, but he apparently loved when people heckled him during his political career that he just got off on that. Right.
S2: Okay. So in episode three, you talk about some of the opposition that happened after Duke won the housey in 1989. And it focuses the law and Betha Rickey, who was a Republican who wanted to stop Duke and then got to know him pretty well. I found her story really interesting. So what did you know about her going into the series?
S3: I had never heard of her. But as soon as I started reading and interviewing people, her name came up over and over again. The folks who were in the anti Duke movement cite her as a very key figure in that movement. And she was also somebody who, frankly, just did a lot of interviews. And so you’re going to run across her name and her comments when you start reading about David Duke and that period. And so, you know, when you’re trying to figure out a way to tell this really big story where, you know, we have a lot of room to work with here, a lot of kind of terrain. But you’re trying to tell a really long and deep and complicated story that takes place over many years with a huge number of people involved. You’re looking for people who are interesting in and of themselves, but also where you can kind of use their story to tell a bigger story, one that kind of capture some of the themes. You’re trying to explore in the series and Beth Ricky, I think, is the prime example of that in the series so far. As somebody who has this really fascinating journey, but also is a part of this more macro issue of how does the Republican Party respond to a problem like David Duke? I think we’re really grateful to have this contemporaneous material of her because, you know, part of the challenge of telling these stories and what we tried to do in slow burn is to really capture what it was like to be in these moments. And we love doing interviews with folks today, 30 years later, who can get us back in a moment. But, you know, when we hear about Ricky on these tapes, she’s living through them right then. She’s like very recently gone to the Chinese restaurant. Right with David Duke. She’s very recently suffered the, you know, very kind of personal hurt of being insulted and rejected by the state Republican Party. And you can hear that in the audio. And, you know, it’s powerful to hear people relive that stuff and and it can be extremely moving in an evocative. But I’m really glad that we had the ability to broadcast this stuff. So, you know, listeners can understand how she was feeling in 1990, 1991.
S5: Right. And you can hear in her tone and at the end of the episode, Josh points directly to that. But you can hear in these various interviews and TV news report appearances, these bites of her, you can hear her working through her feelings that are probably very, very present for her in in real time. As Josh was saying, you can hear she’s toggling and sorting it. She’s obviously extremely intelligent woman and very thoughtful about a lot of this stuff. And that’s what makes it that much more kind of palpable when she’s like sort of stuttering in a way in her tone. And at the end of the episode, you know, you hear in her conversation this with Corvino, right? He asks her a question. I won’t spoil it if you haven’t listened yet. But she takes a long time to sort of consider the question. And we let the pause in there so that you really, as Josh was just saying, you feel it very much in real time, her considering the weight of this thing. She’s just been asked and my God, like some of the stories that she on spools about her experience with David Duke is clearly too complicated. I think it’s fair to say it was a complicated connection, that they had a complicated, dynamic relationship. Maybe, I don’t know.
S3: But it’s very strange. I mean, it’s not what you would anticipate, somebody who is very anti Duke, you know, what she describes as their interactions and her feelings toward him. It’s you know, I could say that it’s very human, but I don’t think it’s necessarily the way that all people or most people or many people would react. But she is her own person. And so, again, you have this balance of wanting to tell this individual person’s story and finding that representative in some way, but also acknowledging that she is idiosyncratic and that things unspoiled the way that they did not because she is representative, but just because she’s this individual and Duke is this individual. And they kind of bounced off each other in this way that maybe two other people wouldn’t have.
S5: Yeah, it’s a really hard thing to do. And it just makes me that much more impressed with the writing that you did, Josh. And like, it’s one thing to tell the kind of tick tock of a story that we have plenty of facts for to support and, you know, supplemental information and other interviews and what we can piece together the kind of thread of this story, the plot thread of this story. It’s a whole other undertaking to try to carefully capture the twists and turns and nuances of feelings and emotions and thoughts and those sorts of things, and to try to glean that and both present it, but also not overstep. Right. That’s really, really hard to do. Fortunately, we have so much tape of her that it made it that much easier. But, you know, I’ve I’ve tried to do that in the past, and I don’t know that I’ve succeeded. And so it’s really, I think, impressive the way that Josh writes the script in a way that takes us there so we can feel it without feeling like you’re telling us what happened when you don’t really know. Like we didn’t get to interview her ourselves.
S3: Yeah. Thanks a lot. I appreciate that. Because in some ways, the biggest challenge in doing something like this or like a big book project is picking and choosing. Christopher, we can count how many hours of archive we have and we use one percent of it to two percent of it. And so there’s a lot of weight on those individual choices. Both you want to grab things that people are going to find. And transporting and transfixing. But you also don’t want to distort the story, and exactly if you’re only picking one percent of the stuff you have, then you have to leave a lot of stuff out. And so these are the kinds of conversations that we have and decisions that we make as a team about what to pack, what points we’re trying to illustrate and how best to illustrate them.
S2: Yeah, I think Episode three was like more emotional or more about the feelings of that time than the other episodes have been. This episode also featured an levie. Josh, you said that she was a family friend of yours. But when did you realize or learned that she had this personal interaction with Duke himself?
S3: I knew that just from growing up around her and her family. Mm hmm. I didn’t know the details of it until I was older. And then I hadn’t read Larry Powles book Troubled Memory until embarking on the research phase of this project. It’s a really incredible piece of scholarship where Larry, who is a two lane history professor who is also involved in Louisiana Coalition Against Racism, Naziism was close with Beth Rickey, but he uses as kind of a primary source and then expands out from there. A journal that was capped by and leave his mother during the Holocaust and writes a magisterial history of this family’s journey, but also of the Holocaust. And then it’s also framed by and leave his interactions with David Duke. That was, you know, the way in which I really got into knowing the details and then just be able to speak with an doing a long interview with her was obviously very important and very moving.
S4: So what she’d like. I mean, you do describe her in the episode, but I’m just kind of I never got to meet her. I just kind of curious what she’s like.
S3: She describes herself as being I think the quote is a very in the back person. And she describes and people that know her and are close to her describe there being a kind of before and after that this Duke moment, this confrontation really did change her life in a profound way. And I kind of knew her as this Holocaust educator, as somebody who would. Oh, yeah. That’s and, you know, she talks to schoolchildren around the state about her experience in the Holocaust. And that’s what she does. That’s her persona. But that was just like not at all who she was or what she did before this happened. She was like kind of moving in that direction a little bit. But this really gave her the push to do that. And so the only way that I knew and that I heard about was the kind of more open and activist and educator and Levie. So I can’t personally speak to that shift. But based on what Larry Powell writes, based on what end, you know, says about herself, it was this kind of rare, I think, instance where you can draw a bright line and say, you know, I was like this. And then I was like that.
S5: Yeah. I mean, the reason I’m asking is because having Beth Rickey in my ear was one kind of experience, but having an levie in my ear, producing the episode and really listening to her tape and especially listening to her tell the story of confronting Duke at the exhibition, I feel this moment of the empowerment happening, not to overstate it, but it’s like in every, you know, Masters of the Universe cartoon, he man raises his sword and gets the power of Grayskull. It is this sort of moment of transformation for her, which she did. The power really sort of moves to her. And she may have been afraid, who knows? But like, she’s driven by something that is like sort of literally in some ways, like in her bones. Right. Like an experience. And I’ve lived experience in a kind of a force that is in her. And, you know, I don’t know, there’s just something about her presence in this episode that is so it really captures kind of all of the different ways that David Duke has done damage. And this woman taking him on in this way and facing him in this space, not trying to get him kicked out of anything or take him to court or any of those is just like this. Just me and you. What are you doing here? It’s pretty beautiful at this.
S3: Well, she was ready to meet that moment, even if she didn’t understand it consciously at the time. Sure. And the thing that I’m often thinking about in narrative storytelling is like you don’t want to exaggerate. You want the reader, the listener to be able to trust you when you say. Say that this thing was important or that this was a momentous thing, and I think there can be a risk sometimes of overdramatising that you know it when you hear it or or read it, that maybe it seems like they’re laying it on a little too thick because, like, did it really happen that way? I was did this really change everything, quote unquote? But, you know, Beth Rickey was helpful in this regard because she gave her papers to the American Jewish Committee. And there’s a cover letter included in these papers where she describes the sequence of events exactly as we described them in the episode. And Levie did this thing. She was very courageous. It inspired me to do what I then did. And so it felt totally earned and called for to present these events in the way that we presented them, which was gratifying because that was kind of my belief and understanding and what I had come to think. But to see it in Ricky’s own words, it felt like, you know, this was momentous for an Levie. This was momentous for the anti-drug movement and the slike sequence of events happened. And so it’s like dramatically interesting, but also true to life.
S5: Right. It’s also super poignant, you know, and making it episode, producing it in Pro Tools here in my apartment in Bedsore di Brooklyn. And hearing the protests and marches around me. We talked about this in the last conversation. It had me anyway, thinking about especially the women who are at the forefront of a lot of these protest campaigns and marches and movements and getting up. And in many instances, unfortunate, risking their lives to say what needs to be said. And so many people have said to us so far that this series is very timely. This is yet one more way that I feel like it’s super timely in that it’s talking about protest and taking on something that may feel so much bigger than you, but doing it nonetheless because you feel like it has to be done.
S2: Yeah, I think that’s a really good point. So today’s minus content. We’ll hear more of that extended interview with Josh and Levie. And so she talked a little bit more about, you know, that era when she met. You can hear feelings during that time. And she also talks about a letter that she wrote. Can you tell us a little bit more about all of that, Josh?
S3: Yeah, it may not be clear in the main episode episode that you have heard with and Levie that this was just the beginning for her, that she continued to be an anti-drug activist after that first encounter at the state capital, that you would actually hear that he was making a radio appearance somewhere and she would go to the station and try to question him and would just be a constant presence and a reminder of who Duke was and that she was very impassioned about that. And a lot of people took notice of her in that role. The letter that you alluded to, Chow, is one that she wrote and that was published in the Times-Picayune after Duke made it into the gubernatorial runoff in 1990. Once that’s two years after the events that you hear in this main episode and in which an Levie is issuing a warning to her fellow citizens, fellow residents of New Orleans that, you know, you should be aware of who Duke is and what he represents and that it’s frightening to think that he’s made it this far, that he’s at the stage where he could be that governor.
S6: Let’s listen to the interview. So do you remember the first time that you heard about who David Duke was?
S7: Well, I heard about him when he was here addressing a rally here that they won. So or once a week they had a free speech or I don’t remember the name of it. Well, that was a, you know. Right. And the students would gather outside and listen to speakers. And I heard that he was going to be here. So I came. Do you remember what he said that first time or it was the same way that he spoke, which gave the wrong impression of what he stood for when we all knew what he stood for? You know, we knew that he was a bigot. When you heard that he was anti-Semitic, when you heard that he celebrated Hitler’s birthday every year. That was enough for me.
S6: So when you confronted him in Baton Rouge, kind of where were you in that moment? As far as your own journey around speaking about the Holocaust?
S7: Well, you know, I thought I put all that behind us. You have to realize that when we came here as survivors, it was like, okay, forget what you experienced in Poland. Forget the four years that you experience in Germany waiting to immigrate to the United States. And you put up this shade and you start a whole new life. So all these things were in back of my mind. Nobody ever asked me what I remembered. Nobody ever asked me what my experiences were. It was like, you forget that life and you go on with the new one in New Orleans. And that’s what happened. So for all those years, even while being in high school, you know, having children, you didn’t talk about your experiences. It was a moment that hit me. What is this man talking about? I went through this. I couldn’t understand that someone like him was so free to spout what he was against.
S6: When you’re going through all of that time not speaking about what had happened to you. Are you thinking about it or are you able to kind of a it from your from your mind?
S7: First of all, being at that, except, of course, brought back what I saw with my own eyes as a child. And those are things that you don’t forget. You put it aside, you try to not think about it. But seeing that exhibit, of course, it brought back memories. And for the sake of my children and grandchildren at that particular moment, I thought I had to speak up, not that I was looking for it because I wasn’t. It took off on my body and I just had to do it.
S6: So I remember when I was a kid seeing all that David Duke signs and finding it scary and not understanding how the people that were living in our community could support them and feeling like it was just so obvious that he was a horrible person and kind of seeing his rise and seeing the signs. Did it surprise you that this was happening in the place where you were living?
S8: Very much so. You know, what I remember is you never knew who was your next door neighbor. Was there David Duke fan or even standing in a grocery store? Who was standing in front of you behind you? Yes, it was a scary time. Well, there’s also comfortable here that when that came out, the hate, you know, him speaking about the blacks, the Jews. It hit back. I guess that’s what it all came down to. It just brought too many memories back.
S6: Yeah, well, my dad’s here. So a thing that I remember and thinking about as so we used to go to R.A. and Bucktown, that restaurant, and they had the slike biggest David Duke sign I’ve ever seen anywhere on their roof. And then also, you know, one of our favorite things of the family is LSU football. And I remember I don’t remember if you know exactly what game it was, but seeing David Duke and the stadium or campaigning for me, it wasn’t just like, oh, it might be this person or that person. It actually took the things that you liked or thought were like a important part of your life and actually made it so that you didn’t like them anymore. Didn’t know if you could trust the things that you grew up with.
S8: Exactly. Exactly. I think that was the first time that we experienced that here. He had such a big following. And that was the scary part that so many people followed his thoughts and what he believed in. So I remember when Edwards was running for office, I said, I’m not going to live in this state. Was Edwards for governor again? And here I turn around the night before the election. Being on the phone bank, calling people to vote for him because of the choice was so full. He almost, you know, made it a lot of people voted for him.
S6: Yeah, well, and a lot of people, they voted for him are still living here. If now he’s David Duke is no longer at all.
S8: But he’s still around. He’s still around. He’s still around. And you hear his name a once in a while you.
S6: Before we’d circle back to Duke. One thing that you mentioned when you first came here, a thing that you saw an experienced was racism against black people and prejudice against blacks. And seeing, you know, it’s signs on on buses. Can you describe what that felt like?
S8: I thought reverse the other day. You know, when we were brought up, we were always told to give a seat to the elderly person. And when I was riding the bus and I saw an older black person getting on a bus, I wasn’t allowed to give her that seat because I was sitting in front and that sign was behind me. That was a hard thing to deal with. I mean, think about it. I was a new American. What they called us the new Americans. Right. And I had more privileges of rights than that black person that got on the bus. Always a person, younger person. That wasn’t right, but there was another scene there, we had to learn what was going on, what was happening here. I had never seen that black person before in my life till we were on a boat coming to the United States. And I was very sick. So they put me in infirmary seasick. And I remember opening my eyes and this black face was in my face. He was a nurse. And I screamed because I didn’t know who he was. I never saw a black person before next to me. So coming to New Orleans, it was another lesson of what I had to do. Even though I would stand up, I would move that sign. You know, I couldn’t give the seat, but I would stand.
S6: Did that make you feel kind of that, whether it was America? Or just the south third, did that give you a sense that Americans were hypocritical or that the country was being honest about its prejudices?
S8: I paid attention to it when I was on the bus, on the other hand. I lived in no all white neighborhood. I went to an all white school. You know, I saw black people, but I didn’t participate. The only time I ever did was when the Red Cross went to a black school and I went with. But I didn’t have any interaction. I didn’t think it was right, but I had to learn history. And the more I learned history, Neymar disliked it, you know, so it was a learning experience for me.
S6: OK. So back to Duke after you confront him in Baton Rouge. Then what happened next? What happened after that?
S8: After that, he started going around the city. You know, he’d be on the radio. And I remember I was in the car driving from the grocery store and I pulled up in front of our store and I told him I walked in and I said Stan Getz was on a radio. They were doing some radio and he turned arises. Okay, go. Yeah. And so I went where he was speaking. And have. The funny part of it is I was sitting in the audience and as he came down, he nodded to me to say hello, evidentally I look familiar. And I said, I’d like to talk to you afterwards. But he ignored me again. He left. He didn’t want any part of me. He was afraid of you or he didn’t want the confrontation again. You know, to me, when I think about it, had he been smart, maybe he would have sat down and asked a few questions. Why was I following him?
S6: But he didn’t want any part of it, because at that time in his life and trying to be a politician, he was very actively trying to conceal what his beliefs were. And what has passed was a new kind of this reminder of who he really was.
S8: Well, there was the whole idea. You know, he was portraying himself as one thing and we knew his history as something totally different. How could you get him to get away with that? A lot of people spoke out. I never thought I’d made such a big impression, but I guess I did before Duke beat Roemer and ended up being in the runoff.
S6: The Times-Picayune was kind of criticized for not taking Duke seriously enough, for not really focusing on his past and just kind of treating him as an ordinary politician. No, no. The Times-Picayune in particular. But do you feel like he was just kind of being normalised and people weren’t really taking him seriously enough?
S8: I think there were a lot of people that didn’t want to get involved and expose him. I guess they have to worry about their readership. But people needed to come out more forcefully. You know, finally, people did you have to give credit to the community in Louisiana that got together and we did win the war with him. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have. You know, I wish today we could get together the way we did before and be one unit and not that we all have to think alike, but if we see someone like him, that more people would speak up.
S6: Do you think people supported him because they weren’t educated, because they didn’t know who he really was? Or do you think that a lot of people just legitimately liked him and what he stood for?
S8: You know, I think a majority of the people that supported him believed in the same things. And so they supported him. Yes, there was a small minority. Maybe they didn’t know what he stood for and voted for him. But on the whole, he was exposed. He was talked about. His history was being exposed. His bookstore was being exposed. So anybody that listened and wanted to learn could learn. It’s same old thing. Ignorance is bliss. Yeah. And in that case, those people just believed in him.
S6: Yeah. I mean, I think what the campaign against him dead was less important for convincing people who are his supporters and more about activating people who might have been apathetic.
S8: Exactly. If those people wouldn’t have stood out and made their voices heard, it would have been a different outcome.
S6: So, Larry, I don’t know if he was quoting somebody or these were his words. He described you as being consumed by Dick and you being consumed by his presence.
S8: I know I didn’t want to be consumed by him. It just happened. I hate to say this, but because of him, my mother’s dream came true. And the book was written. Those were fantastic things that we could leave for our children and grandchildren. And Larry did a beautiful job of writing that book. I don’t want it to sound like I’m obsessed with him. I no longer am. I think we’ve put him to rest. I think I was only obsessed was the person that stood for the things he stood for. Not him. You know, it’s what he stood for, what he preached that I felt compelled to speak against.
S6: Did you ever try to think about what motivated him or what? Did you ever think about. Does he actually believe these things or is he just an egomaniac? Was that something that you ever cared about?
S8: Well, I think he had a big ego at number one. I think we all knew that there was a way of making a living by writing his books and being out there because he collected money not only from people in Louisiana. He collected money from all over the country. His name became famous all over the country and that his support came from all over the country. And that’s how he was able to get all this money. I think that was the scary part that it could happen here. Yes. Louisiana’s politics. But it could happen anywhere. If a person like him becomes charismatic, says the right, you know, things that they believe in can happen. You know, that’s why we have to be so vigilant of who is speaking and what they’re speaking about and learn about the history of that person, what they stand for.
S6: This is a big question, but how do you feel like David Duke and your experience with. How did that change your life? Like, how has your life been different since then versus before?
S8: It has changed a lot. I was this meek very in the back. Person that didn’t speak up. I didn’t share any of my experiences. And it really changed my life just by being more sure of myself. I feel that I did the right thing. As I said before, I never thought it would be combat big, but it changed because in a way, my children look at me differently because I did speak up.
S6: I was wondering if I could get you to read the letter you sent to the Times Picayune in nineteen ninety one right before the election. OK. So this was written right before the runoff between Dukan. Edwards, before you start reading. Can you just kind of describe. Do you remember like what you were feeling and the that kind of week before the election and what might have inspired you to write those four hour before? Like you’re writing this at a moment when it’s not clear what the outcome is going to be.
S8: Scared. Afraid that the wrong person would get elected. We did everything we could for that not to happen. So I think everybody was apprehensive because we didn’t we weren’t sure how that would turn out. All right.
S9: Yeah, you know, I read since the election Saturday night, my feeling of despair and sorrow are overwhelming. I realize more and more than many Louisianans do not understand the peril that is at hand. If David Duke, God forbid, becomes our governor when you are born in the best country in the world. You cannot imagine that your freedom could ever be taken from you. Well, let me remind your readers that the well educated and well informed Germans in the 1930s were influenced by a charismatic fanatic. The population was angry because of the oppression and no jobs remembered the ideas that blond, blue eyed Aryan people were better than Hmong girls of mixed blood who were depriving the Aryan Germans. David Duke always professes or ends his speeches with I’m a Good Christian and makes everyone who is not a white Christian feels that we do not belong or do not exist in Louisiana. This man is still the same Nazi he was in his college days. He’s playing on people’s hate’s and pulverizes one group at a time. The country is ripe for a Hitler and David Duke would love to start here and go nationally. Louisianians. Please wake up and get your friends to vote against the threat. Republicans, as repugnant as it is to vote for Edwards. We have no choice but to vote for him. If you stay at home and do not vote, you will put a more profoundly dangerous man in office. I hope that local leaders and the clergy get their people out because our future as a city and state is in peril. I’m not an alarmist, but I lived through that kind of hatred. So I am speaking from experience as I see history of hatred and racism repeat itself. We must stop it now, right now before it gets more out of hand.
S6: In that letter, you compare Duke to Hitler explicitly. Was there any kind of concern about people being like, oh, that’s an exaggeration. He’s not really that bad?
S8: Well, I think a lot of people felt like that. You know, my only reason was because that one experience I had when he was watching these posters, the first time I saw him was that he had the same mannerism as Hitler’s henchmen. And that’s what stayed in my mind. And that’s what came to my mind. You know, we vote for leaders where we have to be careful who you vote for.
S1: And we had our first experience right here in Louisiana.