NEW ORLEANS - More than three decades' worth of editorials written and delivered by Phil Johnson, who died Monday at 80, document the recent history of the city of New Orleans.
Now housed at the Monroe Library on the Loyola University campus, the editorials cover everything from civil rights and the Riverfront Expressway (a project which Johnson later admitted he was wrong to endorse), to the birth of the Superdome, casino gambling and the administrations of five mayors and seven governors. Lovingly catalogued by archivist Joan Gaulene, here is a sampling of some of the Phil Johnson editorials:
January 10, 1963
And may we be the first to report that the Silly Season has begun in New Orleans and Louisiana.
Gov. Davis officially opened the season statewide when he asked the Louisiana State Museum our Cabildo to lend him several apparently priceless paintings to hang in his new and unnecessary - $1 million mansion.
He was abetted in the seasonal opening here in New Orleans when Mr. Michael Willem, chairman of the museum board, was quoted as saying to the other board members: 'Remember, the Governor is our boss. We can't say no to him.' To which this station says, 'Rubbish. Ridiculous.'
Of course you can say no to him. Gov. Davis is not the boss of the museum.
But if everything has to be done his way, then there is no need for a board. Let him run the museum.
We subscribe to the view expressed so admirably, and unfortunately, so singularly, by Mr. William B. Wisdom, the Secretary of the board. Said Mr. Wisdom, who announced his 'unalterable opposition' to the loan: 'We have a much greater responsibility to the people of Louisiana than to any governor.' Bravo!
These paintings do indeed belong to the people of Louisiana. There is one heroic portrait of William C.C. Claiborne, the state's first Governor. And another that is called Louisiana's most valuable painting, a beautiful picture of the Olivier Plantation by Persac, as it was long ago.
In the Cabildo, they are seen by thousands daily, including school children. How many people will see them in the mansion?
Surely, there must be something left from that $1 million to buy a few paintings. What is more unfortunate is that the Board is sending a delegation to Baton Rouge to prevail upon the Governor to reconsider.
Wouldn't it be so much finer if they just said NO! Now, really, this is like General deGaulle in Paris phoning the director of the Louvre museum and saying, 'Hey, Sam, send over the Mona Lisa, will you?' It just couldn't happen. Why should it happen here?
June 12, 1963 (The Shooting of Medgar Evers)
New Orleans and the nation awoke today to a crime of great and savage violence. In Jackson, Mississippi, a man named Medgar Evers, a Negro, a leader of the NAACP, was shot in the back from ambush and killed.
To some in the South, it was what he deserved. 'He didn't know his place,' they will say. And he dared to rise above his 'place.'
To his people and to his cause, it was a lynching, with the gun and bullet replacing the rope. To others in the South, enlightened, certainly more responsible, it was a tragedy. It is always a tragedy when the rule of the jungle replaces the rule of law. And as we consider this, those three simple words seem to hold the key to this whole sorry situation: the 'rule of law.'
Obviously it was a breakdown in the rule of law which allowed Medgar Evers to be murdered. And in placing the blame for his murder, we must find not only the man who pulled the trigger that's too easy we must find those others, unfortunately, those many others, who contributed, each their share, to the gradual chipping away and ultimate breakdown of the rule of law.
Governor Barnett of Mississippi deplored the killing. He said it was a dastardly act. He urged that the killer be found. And yet, is it not possible that Gov. Barnett directly contributed to this breakdown in the rule of law when, before the nation, he himself defied the law federal law.
Did not Gov. Wallace of Alabama do the exact same thing yesterday in Tuscaloosa? How can we expect the people of a state to obey the law all law when their leaders find it fashionable or is it politically expedient to defy the law?
How can we expect the people of a community to obey the law when their civic leaders, their business leaders, sit quiet and afraid and abdicate their responsibilities and leave their communities to the mob.
The law is something that cannot be turned off and on as it suits our fancy. It is there. We must live by the law. Because without it, we will die.
September 22, 1965
WWL-TV believes it is not too soon to begin correcting the mistakes made before, during, and after Hurricane Betsy. Only by determining what mistakes were made, and correcting for them, can we be sure that they won't be made again.
We agree, therefore, with Orleans Civil Defense Director Charles Erdmann, that a thorough study should be made of communications and transportation in this area. So that if we ever are faced with another Hurricane like Betsy, we can be better prepared to receive her. Erdmann announced today that he had requested federal Civil Defense headquarters to make a study of all emergency communications in this area.
The idea being, we assume, that an ideal emergency network can be established, self-contained and self-powered, dependent upon no public utility for anything. Such a network, with wind-proof transmission towers, would have kept Civil Defense on the air throughout Hurricane Betsy and perhaps averted some hardship in Eastern New Orleans due to delayed efforts at evacuation. Because of the communications breakdown, Civil Defense did not learn of the rising water until early Friday morning, hours after the Hurricane passed.
The breakdown was made more complete, Erdmann pointed out, because two of three Police radio channels broke down, as well as the Weather Bureau power and taxi company radios, which had been counted on for information and transportation.
Erdmann also pointed out that emergency transportation must also be obtained if any future evacuations must be made on any mass scale. In the past, we could always count on the Army 'ducks' at Camp Leroy Johnson. But now the camp is closed and these vehicles are gone. Gen. Wise, Louisiana's adjutant general, said it would be advantageous for the state to provide storage for several hundred ducks which the Army is now storing at a Midwest depot. The vehicles could be moved to Louisiana and be available for rescue operations like that which followed Betsy.
These plans are all good. It is unfortunate they were not in readiness before Betsy. But it is good that we can take advantage of the bitter lessons we learned from Betsy.
March 2, 1967(Following the arrest of Clay Shaw in an alleged plot to assassinate President John F. Kennedy)
The big question throughout all of New Orleans these days indeed, throughout all of the world, has to be: What does Jim Garrison know? He has said openly, before millions on television, that he has solved the conspiracy behind the Kennedy assassination.
He says he knows who the conspirators were. He says they know he knows. And he says that arrests will be made as the case progresses.
And then, yesterday, like a thunderclap, he announces the arrest of one of the biggest men in New Orleans, Mr. Clay Shaw, the former managing director of the International Trade Mart. And he says Mr. Shaw was involved in a criminal conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy.
Immediately afterwards, an announcement from Washington says that the FBI doesn't think Mr. Shaw had anything at all to do with it. And the U.S. Attorney General says that he knows what Garrison's case involves. But doesn't think it is valid. It's confusing indeed.
Mr. Garrison, of course, doesn't at all agree with either the FBI or the Justice Department. He has maintained all along that he has the whole thing solved. Right now, he's asked for a preliminary hearing on his case against Mr. Shaw. Perhaps, at that hearing, we might learn the extent of his solution to the crime of the century.
August 24, 1967(an early editorial on the birth of the Superdome)
It is good to know that at long last we are going ahead full force with our domed stadium. This, apparently, was the week that was. The stadium commission met this week. And out of that meeting emerged a beaming Governor McKeithen, given carte blanche to buy the 64 acre site at Loyola and Poydras at the best possible price.
He seemed confident of getting a good price. And right now, the quoted prices vary from the $12.6 million recommended by the research firm which picked the downtown site, to the $29 million which the railroads who own the land are supposed to be asking.
Somewhere between those two figures between 12 and 29 million lies the true value. And this is what the Governor will try and determine.
As he put it, 'This will be the greatest real estate deal in the history of Louisiana.' Quite obviously he envisions an awful lot of money being made by constructing not only a stadium, but an entire complex, with parking garages and perhaps even office buildings on the fringes of the site.
We hope so.
The vote to put the stadium in downtown New Orleans was opposed by three members of the commission those from Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes. This is understandable. They wanted it where it could do their parishes some good.
As we said months ago, however, the downtown site is much preferable, not only because of its central location but because of the good it will do in further strengthening the city's core.
It was also heartening to see that the Commission felt that reports of the death of baseball as outlined recently by executive secretary Dave Dixon were exaggerated. And it voted unanimously to include plans for baseball in the overall design.
Now, we hope all the talk about our domed stadium has ended. What we need from here on out is action.
May 2, 1978(Inauguration of Ernest 'Dutch' Morial as Mayor of New Orleans)
Mayor Ernest Morial, quite fittingly, said it best yesterday in his address following his inauguration.
'History will someday record,' he said, 'that today a quiet revolution took place in New Orleans when for the first time a black man assumed the office of Mayor.'
But he said more: 'But the election of a black Mayor means nothing, unless there is tangible advancement for all people.'
And that became the theme of his inauguration his efforts, his administration, will be for all the people.
'It will neither be a black administration or a white administration,' he said. 'It will be an administration of all the people.'
The tone, the touch, the very bearing of the new Mayor was most impressive. And later, when he addressed the newly-sworn City Council, he was all business. He talked of reordering the city's financial structure, of improving city services. He talked of the possibility of new taxes to pay for all this. One thing is certain, he does not hide behind rhetoric. He knows what must be done. And he says it.
That is good. Mr. Morial gave the impression of a man who has finally arrived an idea whose time has come.
February 20, 1979 (in advance of the Police strike which cancelled Mardi Gras)
It must be obvious by now that the police union has seriously underestimated the resolve of the city administration concerning the strike and Mardi Gras.
The union timed its strike for the weeks preceding Mardi Gras, feeling that the city would be 'under the gun' so to speak. And would settle quickly so as not to lose the millions of tourist dollars that would result from a cancellation of Mardi Gras.
Well the city did not cave in. And we're canceling Mardi Gras, parade by parade. And it appears certain that if the strike does continue, we will lose those millions of tourist dollars... dollars of tax money that would go to help pay the increases already granted by the police.
So Mardi Gras is now a moot issue as far as the strike is concerned. It doesn't figure in the negotiations at all. The federal mediator said as much yesterday. And today a new Channel 4 poll shows that public support of the police strike is now at an all-time low. It's almost a case of 'us' the citizens of this city against 'them' the police. And that's not good.
We believe the police union could prove its concern for the people and the community by calling a truce, a moratorium. By telling this community, 'We want Mardi Gras too.' And going back to work so we can have a Mardi Gras. And then by the time of the first shift on Ash Wednesday, go back on strike. And stay out until an agreement can be reached.
People can understand and appreciate that kind of dedication.
March 9, 1979 - NOPDStrike
Well, the Police strike is fast fading into history. They are still trying to find out what amnesty really means. And the union is trying desperately to regroup and get a new start.
For us, here at Channel 4, it was a learning experience. We learned, for example, that we were used used by both sides, used and abused.
We were lectured to and we were lied to. You were lied to. Both sides tried to present their case in the best possible light. Both sides tried to make the opposition look bad. You, and we, were caught in the middle.
Our reporters had to sort out the fact from the fiction, oftentimes live, under near impossible conditions. Many times one side or another didn't want to make things clear. They were striving for confusion. And confusion they got. Apparently, this is the way the game is played when the public is involved.
They want your opinion, and on their side. Next time we'll know what to expect. But God willing, there won't be a next time.
August 9, 1993 (in advance of casino gambling's arrival in Louisiana)
There are times when living in New Orleans is like Alice going through the looking glass. It is, indeed, a visit to wonderland.
Only today we got a pointed reminder of what a wonderland we have here. Case in point: the gambling casino situation. And how we go about it.
It is reported this week that the state Casino Board will finally go about its task of picking an operator for the casino.
And get this after the operator is chosen, anointed is the better description, after the operator is picked, the Board will go about the business of checking him out, running background checks, looking into the character of all partners concerned, making sure that these operators are financially and ethically and morally straight.
We don't want no bad guys around here.
Sounds great, doesn't it?
Except that it's backward. They get the license first, then they get investigated. Shouldn't it be the other way around? I mean, isn't it that obvious to everyone? Couldn't your six-year-old figure that one out?
First you investigate, you probe, you determine if everything and everybody is okay. Then, and only then, you consider approval for a license. And now they are saying the investigation will be only a cursory one... not thorough, not even meaningful.
We want to get the casino open and running, they say. We want to get the money into the state treasury. What a joke. They could have been investigating everybody for the past year. The main players were known.
But instead of doing the logical thing, they're going to do a hurry up job. Some might even say a whitewash.
What a travesty. It is like wonderland... up is down, night is day.
Only wonderland is make believe. This is all too real.