Not the Villain

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Cephas Love Wilson, Jr. Source: State Archives of Florida.

Cephas Love Wilson, Jr. Source: State Archives of Florida.

Am I going soft on Emmett’s womanizing older brother, Cephas Love Wilson?

A friend who had read this recent essay on Cephas asked me the other day if I had changed my mind about Cephas — did I now view him as less of an antagonist?

I told her it wasn’t so much that as I’ve come to understand him better after studying him for three years.

This doesn’t mean the same thing as agreeing with or liking the guy. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a huge fan of Ceph. He cast a long shadow, had a huge ego, and never let Emmett forget who was the senior partner during their tenure as Wilson and Wilson, Attorneys-at-Law.

From where I sit, the brothers worked well together, but there were epic power struggles between them, with Emmett often landing on the losing side of the battles, and Cephas doing the equivalent of a Gilded-Age head noogie on Emmett more often than not.

But — as I’ve discovered over the past three years of research — Cephas wasn’t always a complete jackass to Emmett. He was also known to be downright generous, kind, and unselfish to his younger brother, when given the opportunity.

A few weeks ago, I was going through my file collection for Emmett’s post-Stetson chapter, and I came across this:

Emmett sworn in mid-June, 1904. But he had already been sworn in the day after he graduated law school back in May, in Jacksonville. What gives? Source: Jackson County (FL) Courthouse

Emmett sworn in at the Jackson County Courthouse, June 14, 1904. But he had already been sworn in the day after he graduated law school back in May. What gives? Source: Jackson County (FL) Courthouse

According to the court record for June 14, 1904, Emmett was sworn in by Judge Charles B. Parkhill ‘to practice law in this Circuit and inferior Courts of the State of Florida.’

Judge James W. Locke. An appointee of President U.S. Grant. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_William_Locke

Judge James W. Locke.Source: Wikipedia

But wait — I knew Emmett and his fellow law school graduates friends left Stetson University the day after graduation (May 25, 1904), took the train to Jacksonville, and were sworn in to the Florida bar upon presentation of their diplomas to the court by Judge James W. Locke.

According to the Stetson University Law School Bulletin for 1904, that was all an aspiring lawyer had to do in order to hang up his shingle — and — I knew that Emmett’s swearing-in in Jacksonville with his fellow graduates is on the record in the Duval County Archives, too.

Emmett presented his diploma to Judge Locke in Jacksonville and was duly sworn in. Source: Stetson University archives.

Emmett presented his diploma to Judge Locke in Jacksonville and was duly sworn in. Source: Stetson University archives.

Did a man have to petition every county in which he wanted to practice law? And if so, wouldn’t that be incredibly inefficient?

I posed this question (and showed the court archive record) to my colleague, the excellent Sue Tindel of the Jackson County (FL) Court Archives. It turns out that all Emmett needed to do was to be sworn in once. What happened in the Jackson County Courtroom that day was something special:

“Actually, the entry read circuit and inferior courts in the State of Florida – not just the Jackson County Bar.  It almost sounds redundant for Emmett to gain admission to the Bar in Duval County and then come to Jackson County and do it again.  Wonder if Cephas had a hand in it and made a big deal about it.

“It would have been a grand kind of thing for him to have his little brother acknowledged by the legal elite – which is what sounds like happened.”

I mention this because I think this would have been something Cephas would have done for Emmett, especially because no one from the Wilson family was on hand to attend Emmett’s graduation ceremony from Stetson University. I haven’t found out why — I do think it is odd, particularly since Emmett was the valedictorian.

Regardless, Cephas and the Wilsons were proud of Emmett’s accomplishments, and I believe this special acknowledgement went far to mend whatever disappointment Emmett may have felt.

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