An Unlikely Yet Profound Kinship

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Although Congress had been back in session since December 4, 1916, Emmett was still in Pensacola, with no plans to return to D.C. Emmett still had four months remaining in his term as Congressman from the Third Congressional District, but it is damn near impossible to be present when one’s already checked out — mentally, physically, emotionally.

Emmett nearly died exactly two years earlier in Washington. His kidneys completely shut down thanks to full-blown cirrhosis.

He was told to stop drinking or he’d die. You are bigger than booze, they said. It can be done, they said.

Emmett may have said: It’s impossible. I don’t know how to help myself.

Yeah, you do, they said. Look at Frank Clark. If he can do it, you can do it.


Meet Frank Clark.

Frank Clark, Florida Congressman, well-known racist.

Frank Clark, Florida Congressman for the Second Congressional District from 1905-1925. Source: LOC.

Meet Frank Clark, U.S. Representative from Florida’s Second Congressional District. Clark served from 1905 to 1925.

The official congressional bio and the Wikipedia page (which I don’t consider ‘official’ anything) does not go in depth about him; for a guy with such a long history of public service to Floridians, that was surprising. There is no substantial biography on Frank Clark, other than a Master’s thesis by Tom Cox in the Manatee (County) Public Library in Bradenton. The kind, helpful, and professional archivists at the Manatee Public Library photocopied the document and mailed it to me, gratis, after I asked to borrow it via InterLibrary Loan. [Thank you again, MPL archive team!]

According to Cox’s research, there were two career high points:

  • Chairman of the Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds, 63rd through 65th congress (1913-1919); and
  • In 1911, proposed H. R. 2582: “To prohibit the intermarriage of persons of the white and Negro races within the District of Columbia; to declare such contracts of marriage null and void; to prescribe punishments for violations and attempts to violate its provisions.” [Congress (1911), Congressional Record, 47 (1), Congressional Printing Office, retrieved 2017-01-09]

“I had no idea Clark was such a racist,” said the MPL archivist who had copied the manuscript for me. “Incredible.”

Cox mentions that Clark was outspoken, a bit brash, impatient, and had a bad temper — quite the opposite of Emmett, who was quiet, retiring, agonizingly slow at making personal (and some professional) decisions. The do not appear to have interacted very much during their congressional service, and had very little in common.

Or so I thought.

There was something else in the thesis that got my attention: Cox mentioned that Clark reportedly was an alcoholic who managed to sober up on his own — an incredible feat and example of self-mastery over 100 years ago, and even today.

The original information came from William T. Cash’s History of the Democratic Party of Florida (published in 1936). I checked out the book via InterLibrary Loan, and found the source of Cox’s information on page 99:

Cash, W. Thomas. (1936). History of the Democratic party in Florida: including biographical sketches of prominent Florida democrats. Tallahassee: Florida Democratic Historical Foundation.

Cash, W. Thomas. (1936). History of the Democratic party in Florida: including biographical sketches of prominent Florida democrats. Tallahassee: Florida Democratic Historical Foundation.

Also, on page 100:

This is on page 99. Source: Cash, W. Thomas. (1936). History of the Democratic party in Florida: including biographical sketches of prominent Florida democrats. Tallahassee: Florida Democratic Historical Foundation.

This is on page 99. Source: Cash, W. Thomas. (1936). History of the Democratic party in Florida: including biographical sketches of prominent Florida democrats. Tallahassee: Florida Democratic Historical Foundation.

Unfortunately, there is no bibliography or list of interviews, or other references in the back of Cash’s text. I would have loved to checked those sources, as I feel certain that Cash spoke and worked with primary sources to put his book together.

So, we don’t really know if Frank Clark ‘… had overcome his weakness…”, nor do we know if he was truly living a sober life, but Cox’s thesis indicates that Clark lived the rest of his life primarily ‘on the beam’, as we say in the program.

By the time Emmett arrived in Congress in 1913, Clark was probably considered 99.9 percent sober by those who knew him best.

And, Clark probably understood Emmett better than anyone else ever could among the Florida legislative cohort. Because when it became obvious that Emmett’s congressional career was done, it was Frank Clark who spoke up for him.

From Congressional Record for December 6, 1916:

“By unanimous consent, leaves of absence were granted as follows: To Mr. Wilson of Florida, on request of Mr. Clark of Florida, indefinitely, on account of important business.” (Italics mine.) Cong. Rec. 6 Dec. 1916: Proquest Congressional Publications. Web. 12 January 2014.

Frank Clark understood better than anyone else what it was like to be a prisoner of alcohol addiction.

Frank and Emmett were not exactly close, nor were they buddies, but they shared a kinship that only they truly understood — which is why I found it interesting and touching that Clark spoke for Emmett before his fellow legislators in Washington.

I have no doubt that Frank knew why Emmett was spending most of his last congressional year back in Pensacola instead of Washington, but it was important to leave the best possible impression one could. Emmett was sick. No doubt. Frank probably counseled that the record should state ‘important business.’ It was the truth; there’s nothing more important than trying to save one’s own life, which is what it was with Emmett in December, 1916.

 

 

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