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Chapter 179: Whirlwind

May 9, 1912
Pensacola, Florida

Source: The Pensacola Journal, May 9, 1912, page one, via

And so, the race begins again. Three weeks of nonstop activity. Live speeches in fourteen counties.

It will be the most compressed, pressured project ever undertaken, and I cannot let on how damned tired I am, nor how my stomach turns over in knots whenever I have to speak, nor how much I have to wear a mask wherever I go, hiding the frustration and fatigue, and impatience at having to be around so many people all the time….

Cephas Wilson, 1898. Source:

…I know. It is what I signed up for, so I have to accept it, learn to deal with it. That’s what my brother Cephas said to me several nights ago, after I finally made it home to Jennie and Walter’s house, after the first Emmett Wilson Club meeting.

Of course I know this.

I’ve been surrounded by politics and politicians my entire life. I’ve seen and heard the stories many times. I’ve sat on the porches of my father, my brothers, my grandfather, even, breathing in the cigar smoke, inhaling the stale whisky odors wafting from side tables covered with used drinkware, the remnants of the booze still in the bottom of the glasses. The laughing, the dirty stories; the war stories about what really goes on behind the scenes at Tallahassee, at Washington.

But I was on the outside. Always on the outside.

Even though I was allowed into the inner sancti, I had nothing to contribute to the sacramental exchange of information, of critical details among the men seated on the porches or around tables. I was rarely asked a question, or asked an opinion, and never about anything as critical as lawmaking. I could only listen.

I told myself during those days that I would follow along, stay quiet, listen and absorb what I could.

What is different is that I never slogged it out in a political race before. I’ve never had to battle another student or assistant in a law office for a cherished apprenticeship or clerkship. I’ve not had to scrap or connive to get the jobs I’ve had, and for so long, I looked down on my brothers, especially Cephas, who didn’t go to law school. I had a credential; it was an elite thing. And yet, Cephas reminded me (jealously, I think, but still, he spoke the truth) that I would have to learn how to fight dirty, to scrap and connive to make it in politics. Especially to survive Washington.

I’ve resisted that almost my entire life; the one or two times I’ve fought dirty, someone in my circle got hurt. When Cephas talks about fighting like to survive, then coming back later to make it right, I think about Pearl Spaulding. That can never be made right. It still hurts to think about it.

I told Cephas and Walter that maybe this isn’t really the right thing for me to. Both looked at me as if I were drunk; Walter asked straight out if I’d been drinking. I hadn’t. “Too late,” Cephas said. “You’ve got political buttons out there with your name on them. People are now expecting political favors once you get into office. Can’t back out now.”

Somehow, over the next three weeks, I have to visit fourteen counties and deliver at least dozens speeches, attend rallies and interact nonstop with voters who wring my hand, pat my back, and tell me they expect big things out of me.

Source: The Pensacola Journal, May 9, 1912, page one, via

Chipley Jones. Emmett’s campaign manager, and somewhat jackass.

And yet, I have a committee, this club of mine, set up without any of my doing or organizing, that is directing my life for the next three weeks. Frank Mayes has told me that all I have to do is show up, do my part, and for God’s sake, don’t do anything stupid. Even the speeches are being written for me; at this point, I’m being told not to ‘go off script’ or say anything off-the-cuff. “Get used to it,” Mayes said to me. “The life of a congressman isn’t his own once he’s elected.”

Chipley Jones came up after Mayes, leaned into my ear as if he were going to tell me a secret, and said (through his teeth): “That means don’t drink, you sonofabitch, if you know what’s good for you. We’re all depending on you.” He leaned back, gave what publicly was a friendly smile and a genial pat on my shoulder as he walked away.

Cephas saw it. He heard it, too, because he caught my eye — and nodded. “Don’t screw this up, little brother.”

Categories: Book Congressman Family Florida History In Emmett's Words

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Communication, Arts, and the Humanities
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