I was emancipated in 1989 by a Louisiana family court judge who declared me a legal adult and allowed to join the United States Army at age 16, two years before the age most people are considered an adult and five years before I’d be able to legally buy a beer in all states except, coincidently, Louisiana, which was the only state that hadn’t raised the legal drinking from 18 to 21. The Louisiana justice system is unique, based on the French Napoleonic code from before the Louisiana purchase, and gives more freedoms to judges than in the system common to all other states in The United States of America. Because of one Louisiana judge, a 16 year old kid was allowed to join the army and make life or death decisions, and I’ve always thought that was remarkable, especially after I learned that 85% of emancipated foster youths end up in jail, partially because most of them had challenging families and lived without mentors to help them improve themselves. Ironically, the emancipation process led me to learn more about my family, the Partins, because the judge wanted to know what had led me to make my request.
At the time, my father and grandfather had recently been released from federal prisons. Both were named Edward Grady Partin, but my grandfather was the more famous of the two. He was a huge, charismatic man known as Big Daddy throughout the Southeast, especially in our home town of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and of course by everyone in the Partin family, both the Partins I knew, – through our grandmother, Mamma Jean – and the Partins of his second marriage, whom I barely knew.
Big Daddy died six months after my emancipation, and I attended his funeral despite my belief at the time that I was no longer a part in his family. But I was curious, and I wanted to see why so many people looked up to him. He was so famous that reporters from The New York Times flew to Baton Rouge to cover his funeral, and FBI agents came from New Orleans and Washington DC to monitor and record who else attended and what each of them said.
The FBI had been calling my aunts and uncles daily for weeks, asking what Big Daddy was said each day as he laid dying of diabetes and drug addiction and old age. He was 66 years old. By then, most of us had already discussed his final words, “No one will ever know my part in history,” and we had told the FB8 what he said, and they seemed satisfied. But, they still wanted to see who attended his funeral, and to speak to us in person.
A few years later, men claiming to be federal agents removed all records of Big Daddy from the Baton Rouge police station, where he had first been arrested, and I never learned if he had said anything else while in jail that wasn’t used as evidence in his trial or the trial against Jimmy Hoffa. Since then, my grandfather has drifted away from most people’s minds, and he’s just a minor character in books and movies about Hoffa and Kennedy; he’s always portrayed as a physically large and handsome man.
Big Daddy was was huge. He was a former marine and boxer who took over local unions until he ran the Southeast region of the Teamsters trucking union president, Jimmy Hoffa. In Hoffa’s autobiography, he summarized Big Daddy well by saying, “Ed Partin was a big, rough man who could charm a snake off a rock.”
My grandfather was big and rough, but he was also handsome and charming. Almost everyone looked up to him, and most adored him, even the people he harmed. I barely knew him, but when I was growing up in Baton Rouge it seemed that everyone knew that I was either his son or grandson, probably because my dad’s name was also Ed Partin, and because I looked just like my dad. But, I didn’t know much more about Big Daddy than what was in the daily news, and I didn’t even look like him. Despite being a Partin, I was small for my age. After his funeral, I joked with one of the FBI agents that if Big Daddy was a part in history, I was a just a small part in his story. But, even though I joked about my situation, I knew that my grandfather was a big deal in American history.
Big Daddy was famous for being removed from jail in 1964 by the United States Attorney General, Bobby Kennedy, and being given federal immunity in exchange for infiltrating Hoffa’s inner circle. The FBI called Hoffa’s circle his “lieutenants,” like soldiers in a war, and Hoffa personally selected the biggest, roughest men from his 3 million Teamsters to be his lieutenants, and my grandfather had already demonstrated that he was one of the biggest and the roughest lieutenants Hoffa had. He was asked to look for any illegal activity in Hoffa’s circle, and to report what he learned to the FBI task force against Hoffa that had been overseen by Bobby for years, but without any evidence that would be upheld in court.
Big Daddy found evidence for Bobby’s task force. He claimed that Hoffa asked him to bribe a juror in a seemingly minor trial, and though he was the only witness and an ex con, Big Daddy’s credibility was endorsed publicly by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who had personally overseen Big Daddy’s lie detector test and had even released photos of it to national media before Hoffa’s trial. In those releases, Partin was portrayed as an informant loyal to America who may have saved Bobby Kennedy’s life. Whether or not that was true, America and future jurors saw how handsome and charming my grandfather was, and national media misleadingly portrayed my family was as wholesome before Hoffa’s trial. That media message probably influenced Hoffa’s jurors, and Big Daddy’s charm in court convinced them to trust him, not Hoffa, and they decided that America’s most famous labor leader was guilty based solely on Big Daddy’s testimony, and the judge sentenced Hoffa to 11 years in prison for, ironically, jury tampering.
After Hoffa’s trial, Big Daddy was allowed to continue running the southeast Teamsters, including trucking and shipping from the port of New Orleans and trade with Cuba, despite the new embargo against Fidel’s communist Cuba. Big Daddy had worked with Fidel before, and after returning to Louisiana he continued shipping guns and money for New Orleans and Las Vegas mafia bosses who had previously worked with Hoffa; the Teamsters had been shipping liaisons between New Orleans and the burgeoning city and mafia hub of Las Vegas for years, and Hoffa had even used Teamster money to fund casinos and Hollywood movies, and that had led to the FBI surveillance and oversight by US Attorney General Bobby Kennedy.
Big Daddy was given immunity from federal law, and Louisiana police and judges were incentivized to ignore his actions. Bobby ensured that the government paid my family a monthly wage for as long as Hoffa was incarcerated, and the Partin family became one of America’s first “paid informants.” And, after a few attempts on Big Daddy’s life, the FBI also provided federal marshals as bodyguards to protect my family against retaliation from the Teamsters and mafia. Bobby Kennedy himself had intervened to help my grandmother with her home payments before his assassination in 1968.
Big Daddy had attracted the Kennedy’s attention because in 1962 he and Hoffa had plotted to kill Bobby Kennedy to free themselves from his investigation against the Teamsters. The FBI had been monitoring both of them, and J Edgar Hoover shared their plot with Bobby, who had commissioned the FBI task force against Hoffa at the request of his older brother, President John F Kennedy, who was trying to reduce the influence of Hoffa and the mafia on America’s trade and commerce, and worker’s unions.
At the time, Hoffa was considered the most well known person in America that wasn’t a Kennedy, and the vicious feud between Hoffa and Bobby Kennedy was national news. Their feud represented David and Goliath to America; a self made working man vs a privileged politician.
In the 1960’s, Big Daddy was a relatively unknown president of local Teamsters Union #5 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He claimed Hoffa had sought him out because of his affiliation with New Orleans mafia boss Carlos Marcello and Cuban president Fidel Castro. The 1962 FBI surveillance says that Big Daddy and Hoffa discussed using Big Daddy’s connections to obtain plastic explosives, and tossing the explosives into Bobby’s home; and, recruiting a gunman with a sniper rifle to shoot Bobby in his convertible as he rode through a southern town. If they used a sniper, Hoffa said was important that he could never be connected to the Teamsters.
One year later, on November 22nd, 1963, President John F Kennedy was shot and killed by a sniper rifle as he rode in his convertible though Dallas, Texas. The alleged shooter, Lee Harvey Oswald, had lived New Orleans and trained near our home in the Baton Rouge civil air force shortly before the president’s death. The FBI thought that was remarkable, and the part of their surveillance about explosives was released publicly in the 1960’s and even portrayed in a popular 1983 movie, “Blood Feud,” but I don’t know why they kept the part about recruiting a sniper classified, or why that part wasn’t released publicly until 1992, when President Bill Clinton released the first part of the JFK Assassination report, two years after Big Daddy’s funeral.
In 1963, two days after President Kennedy was murdered, Dallas police arrested Oswald, a former marine with a long and consistent history of mental illness. Two days later, he was shot and killed in a Dallas police station on live television by Jack Ruby, an air force veteran who also had a long history of mental illness, and who was a presumed associate of Hoffa and the mafia and was a suspected associate of Big Daddy. Ruby died in jail two years later, and among his final words were, “No one will ever know my part in history.”
He and Big Daddy were probably right. No one is likely to learn more than what is already known. Oswald was never tried, but his case sparked countless theories and investigations that have yet to be conclusive almost 60 years later, in 2020.
Ruby was tried and found guilty. No one doubted his guilt, because he had been the first person to murder someone on live television. Millions of people had watched him do shoot Oswald in the stomach with a .38 special revolver in the Dallas police station, and he admitted guilt. A jury unanimously found him guilty, and the judge sentenced him to federal prison. He died less two years later, outspoken and delusional, saying things like the government had injected him with cancer cells. But he didn’t provide definitive evidence for anything he claimed.
Hoffa disappeared in 1975, just after authorizing an autobiography that hasn’t provided more insight – that’s where he said my grandfather could charm a snake off a rock – and Big Daddy never discussed the topic before he uttered his cryptic last words, “No one will ever know my part in history.”
After Big Daddy’s funeral, the FBI told us that he, like Ruby and probably like Oswald, was schizophrenic. Mentally ill. They told us that he was prone to delusional thoughts and attachment to conspiracy theories, and that’s probably why, since then, I’ve always been aware about the concept of mental illness, and why I locked onto the fact that the final bill President Kennedy had signed into law three weeks before he was presumably murdered by someone mentally ill, who was then murdered by someone else who was mental ill, was the Community Mental Healthcare Act of 1963; and that the president’s little brother, Bobby Kennedy, was also shot and killed by a mentally ill person in 1968, the year Hoffa was sentenced to prison for jury tampering.
I’ve always thought that Kennedy championing the Community Mental Healthcare Act of 1963 was ironic; and, in 1990, when I heard that my family was mentally ill, I gained conviction that emancipating myself from them at age 16 was a wise thing to do. It was my freedom of choice.
I had grown up in and out of the foster system, and had chosen to request emancipation because that seemed like my best option at the time. I wanted freedom. The judge looked at my family history and agreed that I could do better on my own. But, being emancipated was like the old aphorism of falling out of the frying pan and into the fire, going from one rough situation to am even harsher one, because in 1991 I became what was probably the youngest soldier in Desert Storm, the first Gulf War of 1990 to 1991.
After Desert Storm, I served on America’s Quick Reaction Force. I was on call from President Clinton to deploy anywhere in the world within two hours, and I gained diverse experiences in places I had never even heard of in Louisiana. I grew up, and I grew even more distant from Louisiana and my Partin family. But, since then, I’ve observed media about politics from the perspective of someone who has always questioned what we hear second hand, and I’ve kept an eye on outcomes of the Community Mental Healthcare Act of 1963 to see if it solved our nation’s problems. As of 2020, I don’t think it has.
For 30 years, I didn’t share my family history or offer my thoughts on mental healthcare. But, when the 2020 Covid pandemic locked down the world, I had a lot of time to organize my memories and validate them with online public records. Wonderfully, the timing of my research provided an opportunity to joke that I now see my Partin family with – wait for it – 2020 hindsight.
What you’re reading is the beginning of a memoir about my family and emancipation from them, and my service in the Gulf War. In the end, I’ll try to show that, for me, life has been a combination of nature and nurture, genetics and circumstance, luck and effort, opportunitiy and coincidence. I believe that our fate is not set by our parents or our family; we are a product of of genes and upbringing and a series of choices, combined with the luck of where we’re born and where we can travel.
I’ll only write a little bit more about Big Daddy, because I barely knew him. And, like I joked after his funeral, I was just a small part in his story. I can’t tell you anything more about him, Kennedy, or Hoffa that isn’t already public in a book, blog, court record, or movie. No one will know his part in history, unless the final part of the JFJ Assassination teport, scheduled to be teleased in 2024. (Seriously? 60 years later? Even after the 1976 Freedom of Information Act?) But, I can share a bit about what it’s like to be a kid in the foster system, and how I learned that we can emancipate ourselves no matter what our family history may be.
Don’t believe everything I say. I’ve been told that schizophrenia runs in my family, and I may be mistaken about a lot of things. This is only my relative version of truth, and it’s a work in progress.
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