‘HOW I SAW IT’
Writer launches book recounting Teamster history
Working at a motor freight company, Shreveport native Laird Evans started a new career path. He had previously worked as an insurance adjuster after earning his business degree. As the former football player came in contact with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters at the freight company, arguably the most influential labor union at the time, he was entranced.
“I was amazed at how strong they were,” he said. The Teamsters opened up new opportunities for Evans, a C.E. Byrd graduate, who – until college – had not experienced much outside his hometown.
“Hell, I’d never been out of Caddo Parish,” he said.
Evans went on to serve as the business manager and secretary/treasurer of Teamsters Local 568 for 25 years. Along the way, he collected Teamsters memorabilia, such as model trucks, photos and newspaper clippings, but more importantly, he collected stories. He has now compiled these tales of the Teamsters in his book, “And Justice for All ... even Teamsters.”
Evans didn’t think about compiling his experiences with the union into a book until later in life, realizing that his experiences with the organization during one of its most controversial periods, the reign of Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa and his disappearance, might be interesting for others. He met with a publisher in Dallas first, giving him some direction as he struggled to piece the narrative together. Evans is more of an oral storyteller, so creating a written product containing many different stories and a detailed history was difficult.
He decided to take a creative writing course at LSU Shreveport, signing up for Sally Hamer’s class. Hamer eventually became Evans’ editor.
“What drew me in is how much Laird knows about all this,” she said, commenting on his memorabilia and Teamsters files.
Key pieces of information – from articles documenting Hoffa’s disappearance to letters from the FBI – are stored in a black portfolio bearing the Teamsters seal in gold.
Some of his memorabilia is housed as the Laird Evans collection at the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Labor History Research Center at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
“I pick up everything,” he said, “I feel it will be important one day.”
In his book, Evans addresses the good, the bad and the ambiguous of the Teamsters organization, delving into its many facets, from the rights the organization earned for working people to its involvement in organized crime. Some names have been changed in the book for this reason.
Though it was not uncommon during the Teamsters heyday to experience threats, as the union had immense power, Evans said he was never threatened. He never served jail time during his Teamsters run either. Hamer said the Southern chapters had different experiences from those in the Northeast, with less direct ties to organized crime units.
“Absolute power corrupts absolutely,” Hamer said. “The Teamsters are no better or worse than anyone else.”
Evans also delves into Hoffa’s power with the organization and the country as a whole.
“Hoffa was dynamic and charismatic enough to build alliances no one was able to build. [The Teamsters] got so strong they could shut the country down.” The book shares Evans’ theory on what happened to Hoffa when he went missing in 1975, believing he was lured and murdered by a group of people, including an estranged family friend.
The book contains other stories of Evans’ peppered experience, including attending President Ronald Reagan’s inauguration, noting the restrictions put on the Teamsters organization through the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and explaining the Teamsters’ ties to Las Vegas, including funding the historic Flamingo casino.
Most of all, Evans hopes that the book can show a different aspect of the Teamsters from someone who was directly involved.
“There’s none written by someone who was in it. I was there. I wanted to read a book about Custer’s Last Stand from the Indians,” he said.
Not all of Evans’ stories could fit in the book. So, Hamer and Evans are launching a blog on his website, lairdevans.com, which will delve into more experiences with the Teamsters organization. They hope to reveal this project soon.
“This is a book that doesn’t have a hero at the beginning and tells their story. It’s a collection of stories of how I saw it,” he said.
WANT TO GO?:
Evans will sign copies of his book at 1 p.m. April 2 at the Shreveport Barnes & Noble. Evans’ book is available via Amazon.com and lulu.com in paperback and hardback and an ebook version.