Title: I Called Him Grand Dad Author: Thomas T. Fields, Jr. Genre: Biography
Locale: American South
Period: 1883 – 1961
I CALLED HIM GRAN D DAD is the biography of Harvey F ields, an early and
important legal voice in the movement for civil rights in the South – not only for African
Americans, but for the poor – whose life was spent in service to his country, and in the company of illustrious politicians, orators, and leaders of industry.
Conncept: Story: Characters:
Recommendation for Adaptation: Best Medium for Adaptation:
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Brief Summar y:
I CALLED HIM GRAN D DAD is the biography of a highly honorable legal genius named Harvey F ields, whose career spanned some of the most politically charged and rapidly changing times in American history. F ields’ contribution to politics in Louisiana and the United S tates as a whole has gone largely unnoticed until now, because of his humble role in the background behind larger-than- life characters like Huey Long, F DR, and Dick Leche, but his spectacular and admirable life’s work was irreplaceable – and absolutely imperative in order to move progress forward in the realm of civil rights for the poor and disenfranchised.
I CALLED HIM GRAN D DAD opens in 1961, when a young Thomas T. F ields, Jr., loses his granddad. At the time, young Thomas has no idea of the life his grandfather had lived – he only knew him as his kind, loving, unassuming granddad, who had never boasted or bragged of his accomplishments or accolades.
Harvey F ields is born in 1883 in Louisiana, a state he would remain loyal to througho ut his entire life. After graduating from Louisiana Polytechnic Institute, he goes on to
Tulane to receive a law degree and establish a practice in the rural north Louisiana town of Farmerville. This is 1905, the same year he begins his budding political career – a career that coincides with his legal career throughout his life. A steadfast independent, Fields sees firsthand the devastation that Reconstruction has on the poor South and on the African American population, and vows to devote his life to righting what he believes is an inconceivable wrong. Though he is loyal to the Democratic Party his entire life, he always calls himself (rightfully so, as an independent thinker) an Independent.
In 1916, F ields is elected to the Louisiana state senate, and in 1921 he wins the seat of state district attorney. During his tenure as state district attorney, his conviction rate is a remarkable 97 percent. During the early 1920s, F ields is thrust into the national political arena, and he is invigorated by the excitement, the competition, and the potential for real, legitimate progress that can be made when good men work hard together for a cause.
Fields is never afraid of a challenge, and always takes on a case that he believes in – whether or not the defendant has the means to pay for his legal representation. This is exhibited perfectly when he joins the defense of John Scopes in the infamous 1925 “Scopes Monkey Trial” – Tennessee v. Scopes – in which the state of Tennessee tries John Scopes for violating the Butler Act, which states that the teaching of evolution is forbidden in schools. During this trial, F ields and his co-counsel, C larence Darrow, go up against one of America’s most well- known orators and lawyers of all time, William Jennings Bryan, the prosecuting attorney. Though they initially lose the case, the decision is overturned – and Bryan dies five days later.
Fields spends a long and important part of his career as an ardent supporter of Huey Long, first a governor of Louisiana and later a U.S. senator for the state of Louisiana. Long and F ields share the same idealistic, progressive concepts about what changes should be made in the name of democracy and equality. When Long is elected governor of Louisiana in 1928, he names his former law partner, F ields, to fill his unexpired term as head of the Louisiana Public Service Commission. This is the perfect fit for F ields, and he is able to do some of his most important and best work from this seat of importance and power within Louisiana’s state government – especially since he is strongly supported by Governor Long.
While Long is in office, he and F ields are able to achieve many victories in the name of civil rights and equality for the people of Louisiana. They are able to unseat the “O ld Regulars” who have been in power and had kept most of poor Louisiana disenfranchised for decades, and they achieve the unthinkable by deftly changing the way delegates are sent to national conventions – through the brilliant legal maneuvering and research of Fields. F ields and Long do disagree on certain issues, however, such as black voting rights – and F ields refuses to bend to Long’s beliefs, despite his respect and admiration for his friend, political a lly, and legal partner.
From his early days, F ields is brushing elbows with men like Franklin Roosevelt, who m he meets on his way to the 1924 Democratic National Convention in Houston, Texas, when he and Long are trying to find a more fair way to name delegates to the conventions. This starts a long – but ultimately, tumultuous – relationship between FDR and F ields.
When the Great Depression hits in 1929, it hits the South hard, and Long and F ields become dedicated to the cause of redistribution of wealth in the United States, which Long organizes in a committee under the name “S hare O ur Wealth,” which Long is determined to spread as a concept across the United States. With so many people suffering during the Depression – especially in the South, a nd especially in Louisiana – and with all of the incredible strides Long has achieved as governor (free textbooks for children, free education, fighting S tandard O il’s predatory hold on landowners, to name just a few), Long and F ields believe that the nat ion can greatly benefit from these policies, as well – and now, desperately need them.
In 1932, Long and F ields throw their support behind FDR – like much of the nation, the last four years under President Hoover has left much to be desired, and Roosevelt wins more than 90 percent of the votes in the state of Louisiana. Long, believing he could do more far-reaching work as a senator in Washington, is elected to the U.S. Senate in 1932, the same year FDR is elected. However, their alliance quickly sours, as F DR finds Long to be an annoyance and disagrees with his policy ideas. Long, for one, despises FDR’s New Deal, and fights against it vehemently. He also sets up what is essentially a puppet government in Louisiana to carry out his concepts while he works in Washington, and frequently returns to the state to ensure that his legislation passes – something that irritates Louisiana (and Washington) greatly.
Fields is named by F DR to several of his New Deal assignments, which F ields quickly uses to attack the government for its inefficiencies and what he considers to be the government’s abuses against the working classes. Not only is the country still in the shackles of the Great Depression, but the South is suffering through a horr ific drought – the worst in recorded history – and Washington doesn’t seem to care. This tension begins to create a rift between FDR and F ields, even though F ields is working for the people – and working for what he believes is right – and is the Federal District Attorney for the state of Louisiana.
Long returns to Louisiana in September 1935 in an attempt to oust a long-time opponent, a Judge Benjamin Pavy, in a gerrymandering plan that is a top priority of Long’s. While he is in the courthouse, an embittered husband of a woman who has been fired as a teacher shoots Long once – and is immediately hit with 62 bullets from Long’s bodyguards, and dies instantly. Long is rushed to the hospital, but dies two days later, only 42 years old.
With FDR’s thorn in his side out of the way, F ields hopes that his relationship with FDR will still remain positive and be mended. However, the next governor of Louisiana proves to be nothing but trouble. Dick Leche starts skimming from the government coffers to line his pockets and live a lavish lifestyle – and is happy to agree with the president on any policy he enacts. Long and F ields are furious – but Leche supports FDR, and supports all of his measures, which suddenly puts Long, F ields, and FDR at odds with one another. However, F ields, now the Federal District Attorney for Louisiana (a placement made by FDR himself), refuses to be bullied, and goes forward with prosecuting the Leche administration in Louisiana. F ields is successful in his prosecution, Leche resigns and is convicted – and F ields is not reappointed as Federal District Attorney for Louisiana, despite many people in FDR’s cabinet supporting his reappointment.
After 1945, F ields’ political life begins to decline. He continues his private law practice and continues forever his fight for the oppressed and against unfair abuses of power, and in 1958, the Louisiana Bar Association presents him with an award for fifty years of continual service. Countless figureheads and notable politicians from around the country recognize him for his service and work for Louisiana and the United States, and all note his dedication, integrity, and hard work.
Harvey F ields passes away from a stroke on May 2, 1961 – to go be with the astronauts, as young Thomas Jr.’s father told him, who had just launched the first manned space flight in history. His passing is noted by dozens who sent telegrams, letters of condolence, and words of remembrance for the brilliant, progressive, and quietly powerful man who had humbly and proudly dedicated his life to serve those less fortunate.
I CALLED HIM GRAN D DAD was truly an enlightening tale of American history that has never been portrayed on screen before. The intensity and idealism of early twentiet h century American politics – with a spotlight on Louisiana – truly shine through in this biography of Harvey F ields, a man of integrity, character, and ethical fortitude.
The main weakness in the book (which can actually be turned into a strength) is that Harvey’s role in politics was generally one in the background – though this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. P laying background to characters like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Huey Long, and William Jennings Bryan, and helping to guide and shape the course of Depression-era Louisiana politics, Harvey was an important political and legal figure, and his story is one that is worthy of being told.
An early, outspoken progressive alongside Huey Long, Harvey stands out even among figures like F DR, because he held strong to his personal ethical beliefs even when they opposed those of his friends and allies – and always opposed corruption, even when it could potentially hurt his career down the road.
Opening strongly with the Scopes Monkey Trial, I CALLED HIM GRAN D DAD was an exciting read from start to finish. The strongest section was definitely from 1925 – 1941, culminating in Huey Long’s assassination, and ending with The Louisiana Scandals and Harvey not being reappointed to Federal District Attorney by F DR in retaliation for successfully prosecuting Governor Leche for corruption. F ields’ entire life would make for an incredible biopic – from his beginnings as a star law student at Tulane, to butting heads with FDR, to being a loud outspoken critic of General Patton during World War II– but the meatiest years are 1925 – 1941.
Harvey F ields was a man of outstanding character who appears to have been relegated to footnotes and endnotes in history books, and he deserves to be thrust into the spotlight for the quiet but devoted and ethical life he lived during a time when few men stood up to abuses of power and injustices in the world.