Review: A Book
Not to Be Missed.
Review by Eric J. Brock,
Former Mayor's memoirs is an enormously important document
In 1954 James Creswell Gardner was elected mayor of Shreveport, at 29 the youngest mayor in the twentieth century and the third youngest ever to be elected. The Gardner administration proved to be a progressive one for Shreveport, which saw the first steps towards development of the riverfront and Interstate 20, the largest bond program to date at the time which paid for massive overhauls and modernization of the City's water and sewerage systems and streets, substantial urban renewal projects, important annexations, and general civic growth and development. Although only one term long, the Gardner administration proved to be one of the most important and influential of the twentieth century and, indeed, of the city's entire history.
Gardner taking the oath of office as Mayor of Shreveport on November 9, 1954
Today Jim Gardner is the oldest living former mayor of Shreveport but he remains as vibrant and energetic as ever. At eighty he has seen a lot of change and development in this city and state, much for the better, some for the worse, and can honestly take credit for laying the groundwork for much of that which has benefitted our community over the past half century. He has served as a state representative, mayor, and city councilman in that order but at the same time he is not a politician. There was, after all, a twenty year gap between Gardner's roles as mayor and city councilman and he was a representative before becoming mayor. The order of his offices is exactly the opposite of the norm because Jim Gardner did not run for public office in order to advance a political career, he ran because he is a true statesman and bears a true love of his community and a sincere desire to make it a better place.
I say all this because I have been privileged to know Jim Gardner. Our mutual love of our community and its history has, despite a difference of four decades in age, made us friends and has given me the opportunity to talk and correspond with him. From Jim I have
learned a great deal about Shreveport's twentieth century development. Although often humble in taking credit for his accomplishments, Jim is also very candid and frank, all qualities which come through in his just-published memoirs.
Until now no mayor in the history of Shreveport has written his memoirs, at least not for publication. Likewise, no published full biography or autobiography of any of the City's past mayors exists. The publication this month of Jim Gardner and Shreveport 1924-1959, the first of two anticipated volumes of the mayor's reminiscences, changes that dearth of primary data from or on our town's former chief executives.
Printable Order Form
The Gardner memoirs covers the life of the former mayor from birth, through his education, military service, post-war civilian careers, starting a family, running for state representative while in his mid-twenties, and service as mayor. It is a highly readable, hugely informative, and enormously important document. Indeed, I do not think it an overstatement to say that this may rank as one of the most significant single books on Shreveport. Indeed, it is one of the most significant mayoral memoirs/biographical works in the entire realm of Louisiana literature, covering as it does the life and career of an influential mayor of an influential city, for Shreveport in the 1950s was far and away Louisiana's second city, not only in population but in overall influence and economics, the sudden and astonishing rise of Baton Rouge was still well in the future.
More than an autobiography of Jim Gardner only, this book is in many respects a portrait of Shreveport during a thirty-some year section of the middle twentieth century. What made the city tick, what forces shaped it, and how came the growth and development that characterized that period come through in these 467 pages together with a portrait of Mayor Gardner that is honest and human, just like the man himself. This is a fine, fine book. I cannot speak highly enough of it, of its author, or of its importance to the library of published literature on our city and state.
Jim Gardner and Shreveport is presently available only from Ritz Publications, P.O. Box 29182 Shreveport, LA 71149 (www.ritzpublications.com).
It is hardbound, illustrated, and sells for $39.95 plus $5.00 shipping. It is anticipated that a future edition will be available through bookstores. I certainly hope so as I also hope that Ritz's recent re-publications of the works of the talented nineteenth century Shreveport area writer Julia Pleasants Creswell (incidentally Mayor Gardner's great grandmother) and other significant books they have published will be more widely available as well. In the meantime I cannot recommend this book highly enough to anyone interested in our community's history. It is a real treasure.
Eric J. Brock, Historian
November 10, 2004