Huey Long

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Huey Pierce Long, Jr. (1893–1935), was the governor of Louisiana from 1928 to 1932 and a senator from that state from 1932 to 1935. He was the leader who gave the Pelican State roads, bridges and free textbooks for schoolchildren, dragging Louisiana kicking and screaming into the twentieth century. These redistributions of wealth were possible in part because of his willingness to tax Standard Oil which had been treating the state like a Third World colony for decades.

Eggs and omelets[edit]

Long's unabashed economic egalitarianism, cornpone humor and growing national popularity during the Great Depression rankled economic and political elites in both major political parties. His campaign slogan "Every Man a King" gave popular expression to wealth redistribution policies that they found distressing. They were correct to worry because he fully intended to soak the rich.[1] Long's opponents attacked him as being corrupt and dictatorial.[note 1] His supporters responded that he was no more corrupt than his counterparts in state governments outside the northern tier of states in the U.S. More recent critics have accused him of anti-Semitism through what can only be described as guilt by indirect association, attributed to one of his acolytes being Nazi Gerald L. K. SmithWikipedia.[2] That charge fails to stand up to even cursory scrutiny.

Even his death could not stop the corruption and political framework he put in place; it lasted for decades. Many buildings at Louisiana State University or LSU[note 2] ("Go in dumb, come out dumb too", said Randy Newman) are named for members of his administration.

Racial politics[edit]

The perception of Long as a racial egalitarian was articulated by T. Harry WilliamsWikipedia, who spoke of him as "the first Southern mass leader to leave aside race baiting and appeals to the Southern tradition and the Southern past and address himself to the social and economic problems of the present."[3]:265 Historical biographer Glen Jeansonne attributes Long's lack of public racial demagoguery as the subsequent irrelevant nature of race following the Louisiana Constitution of 1898.[3]:266

Portrayed frequently as an enemy of the Ku Klux Klan, his actual record speaks a different tone. John M. ParkerWikipedia in the 1920s and Jimmy Carter a generation later established moments of bold racial stances by Southern standards, although Long did not.[3]:267-68 His electoral strength was based in northern Louisiana, the state Klan's stronghold.[3]:270 Long's lack of public racial demagoguery was consistent with the Louisiana status quo politically in the era he lived, where systemic unchallenged white supremacy rendered race an irrelevant issue.[3]:271-72 His opposition towards aid to blacks manifested in arguments that such programs would be "wasted" and the marginal economic advantages gained by blacks were unintentional.[3]:273 Long's policies constituted not an exacerbation of white supremacy, rather a maintenance of the status quo Jim Crow.[3]:74 His Share Our Wealth clubs were almost entirely segregated if blacks were admitted.[3]:275

Long was closely connected with the Klan of Alexandria, LouisianaWikipedia during the KKK's peak in the mid-1920s, only vocal in his public denunciations when it withered into political oblivion by the 1930s.[3]:279-80Huey Long and Racism, pp. 279-80.</ref> He opposed anti-lynching legislation as senator, vowing to "vote 100 percent against the Costigan-Wagner anti-lynching billWikipedia that's been brought up there in Washington. We just lynch an occasional nigger. No federal anti-lynching bill would help that."[3]:279-80

Assassination[edit]

Long was shot by a assassin Carl WeissWikipedia, the son-in-law of opposition judge Benjamin Pavy who stood to lose a job if Long got a redistricting bill passed, on September 8, 1935. He died on September 10. Bullet holes still mark the place by the elevator on the main floor of the State Capitol where he was struck down. The Kingfish was so beloved by the working people of Louisiana that 200,000 of them assembled for his funeral in Baton Rouge.

Like Kennedy, there are conspiracy theories surrounding his demise.

Good Huey[edit]

  • Sued railway companies for overcharging fees.
  • Gave Louisiana 600%+ more paved roads, and free textbooks.
  • Created the LSU medical school.
  • Gave work-scholarships to students
  • Eliminated the poll tax.
  • Taxed Standard Oil.
  • Doubled charity health-care funding.
  • Anti-war.
  • Broke a stranglehold that business interests had on the news.

Bad or Perhaps Not-So-Good Huey[edit]

  • Racist.
  • Cooperated with Southern racial demagogues like Eugene TalmadgeWikipedia, a short-lived effort financed by Texas segregationist John Henry KirbyWikipedia.[4]:117-119
  • Reduced the autonomy of local government.
  • Was a sexist, referring to women as "damned skirts."[3]{[rp|279-80}}
  • Declared martial law, banned public gatherings in response to threats of a military assault on the state government by opponents and fired tear gas at protesters.
  • Gave Gerald L. K. SmithWikipedia, who would later become a Nazi sympathizer, his start in politics.
  • The LSU football team had its own airplane... in the 1930s.
  • LSU stadium constructed under guise of "dormitories with viewing decks on top around a courtyard."
  • Threatened to limit freedom of the press.
  • Committed bribery (and in Louisiana of all places!)
  • Demanded a cut from all state employees' salaries.
  • Appointed his best friend as governor. His best friend then did whatever Long told him, giving Long the power to appoint all state employees.
  • Had conflicts of interests in passing many of his bills.
  • Underpaid the workers who paved his new roads.

All The King's Men[edit]

For such a once powerful figure on the national stage, Huey Long is now chiefly remembered for his loose association with a book written a decade and a half after his death, Robert Penn Warren's All The King's Men. The book is about a larger-than-life cynical, populist, corrupt, progressive, and mesmerizing Louisiana political figure named Tony Eddard Willie Stark and narrated by his conflicted hatchet-man Jack Burden. Despite the theme of the novel, whether or not man was inherently evil and the effects of such a belief, being obvious to anyone who actually read any more than the blurb on the back (the characters, especially Stark, have long, erudite arguments about this), the book is often denounced as an attack on the great man or an apologetic for the monster. The book has been made into a pair of movies, and at least the first version was really good.

See also[edit]

  • Charles Coughlin - Both men rose to prominence in the Depression, albeit on opposite sides of the political spectrum.
  • Earl K. Long - The wrong Long lived to a ripe age of 65. Here's his mistress.
  • Smedley Butler - Long was a big fan of Butler and would have likely nominated him for secretary of war had he lived and won the 1936 presidential election.
  • Townsend Plan

External links[edit]

Videos[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. How dare he control Louisiana when they wanted to!
  2. Unfortunately, a shooting location for God's Not Dead, but that wasn't Huey's fault.

References[edit]

  1. Huey Long: Share the Wealth from December 1934 (Sep 13, 2010) YouTube.
  2. Huey P. Long is Re-Assassinated! by John Hickman (May 1, 2012) Like the Dew: A Journal of Southern Culture and Politics (archived from May 6, 2012).
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 "Huey Long and Racism" by Glen Jeansonne (1992) Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association 33(3):265-282.
  4. The Wild Man From Sugar Creek: The Political Career of Eugene Talmadge by William Anderson (1976) Louisiana State University Press. ISBN 0807101702.