Huey Long

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Huey Pierce Long, popularly known as "The Kingfish," was a national political leader in the Democratic Party, Governor of Louisiana from 1928 to 1932 and United States Senator from 1932 to 1935. He was also a serious challenger to Democratic President Franklyn Delano Roosevelt before his assassination. A southern populist who never stooped to exploiting racism to appeal to white voters, he is credited with having led a social revolution in backward, conservative dominated Louisiana.

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Biography

Long was born in Winnfield, Louisiana, on August 30, 1893, the seventh of nine children in a Scots-Irish family. He attended the University of Oklahoma and Tulane University Law School, passing the Louisiana state bar exam in 1915. He practiced law in Shreveport and specialised in compensation suits. In 1918 ee was elected chairman of the Louisiana Railroad Commission, later renamed the Public Service Commission. In the 1920s he was one of the early adopters of radio for political campaigning and also took to always wearing a white linen suit in public. He lost his 1924 bid for the Louisiana governor's mansion and was re-elected to the Public Service Commission. In 1928 the ambitious Long ran again for governor, campaigning under the slogan of "every man a king, but no one wears a crown." Long's attacks on the utilities industries and the privileges of corporations were popular and he won the election by the largest margin in the state's history (92,941 votes to 3,733). Long was given the nickname "Kingfish" after a character on the popular Amos & Andy radio serial.

Governorship

Long introduced several major reforms once in office, including free textbooks and free night courses for adult learning, increased expenditures on Louisiana State University (LSU), and a program to build a school within walking distance of every child in the state. Once in office Long also financed a wide-ranging program of public works, over 12,000 miles of road were paved and over 100 bridges were built, as well as a new airport in New Orleans, and a medical school at LSU. The programs were financed by increased taxes on the rich and on big business; the new roads were paid for with a tax on gasoline. Long was so determined to have his way that, bypassing the state legislature. In 1929, he was impeached by his political enemies on charges of bribery and gross misconduct, but the State Senate failed to convict him by two votes.

In the Senate

In 1930 he was elected to the United States Senate. He went to Washington, DC in 1932 after having ensured that the pliable Alvin Olin King would be elected to replace him as governor. Long continued to be in effective control of Louisiana while he was a senator. Though he had no constitutional authority to do so, he continued to draft and press bills through the Louisiana legislature, which remained controlled by his supporters. He was vigorous in his efforts to try to combat the damages of the Great Depression. By 1934 he began a reorganization of the state that all but abolished local government and gave himself the power to appoint all state employees.

He was a vocal supporter of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1932 election but when he turned against Roosevelt when not offered a position in the new administration. In 1933 he was part of the three week Senate filibuster against the Glass-Steagall Act. In another famous filibuster on June 12–June 13, 1935, Long made the longest speech of his Senate career. The speech lasted an astonishing 15 1/2 hours and comprised some 150,000 words. [1] In 1934 he created the Share Our Wealth program, proposing heavy new taxes on the super-rich. Though he was a Democrat, President Roosevelt considered Long a demagogue and privately said of him that "he was one of the . . . most dangerous men in America." He positioned himself to run against Roosevelt in the 1936 elections, announcing his bid in August, 1935.

Assassination and legacy

On September 8, 1935 he was shot once by Carl Weiss in the Capitol building at Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Weiss was immediately shot dead by Long's bodyguards. The walls of the capitol hallway when the assassination took place are still marked by bullet holes. Weiss was the son-in-law of Judge Benjamin Pavy, a long-time political opponent of Long. Long died two days later from internal bleeding following an incompetent attempt to close the wounds by Dr. Arthur Vidrine. Some say that Huey should have recovered from the wounds, and that his doctors killed him. According to his sister, Lucille Long Hunt, his last words were: "Don't let me die, I have got so much to do."

Huey's brother, Earl Long, was elected governor of Louisiana on three occasions. Huey Long's wife, Rose McConnell Long, was appointed to replace him in the Senate, and his son Russell B. Long was elected to the Senate in 1948, serving from 1949 until his retirement in 1987.

His book, My First Days in the White House, was published posthumously.

Further reading

  • David Zinnan. 1993. The Day Huey Long Was Shot: September 8, 1935. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, ISBN 0878056289.
  • T. Harry Williams. 1969. Huey Long. New York: Bantam. This book won the 1970 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography.
  • Huey P. Long was also the subject of an early documentary film by Ken Burns, who went on to direct epic documentaries about jazz, baseball, and the American Civil War. Long's career is the subject of the biographical song "Kingfish" by Randy Newman on his 1974 album, Good Old Boys. The album also features a cover of Long's campaign song, "Every Man a King", which Long himself co-wrote. Huey Long is also said to have helped compose the LSU marching band pregame song.
  • The Life and Assassination of the Kingfish (1977) and Kingfish (1995) are two made-for-TV docu-dramas about Long.

In Popular Culture

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