Long Shot: Populist Politician and Presidential Contender Huey Pierce Long Assassinated This Day In History

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

On this day in 1935, the populist Louisiana governor and U. S. senator, Huey Pierce Long, Jr. was shot only one month after formally announcing his plans to become a contender in the 1936 presidential election. Though surrounded by a cadre of personal bodyguards, the controversial politician and presidential candidate was shot at point-blank range just outside the main hall of the Louisiana state capitol building by Carl Weiss, a doctor whose relatives’ political fortunes had been upset by Long’s political machinations and chicanery. Rushed to the hospital and into surgery, Long would nevertheless die some thirty hours later.

Long’s legacy continues to generate controversy. As Louisiana’s youngest governor, the thirty-four-year old lawyer championed the cause of poor, working class persons against the power and interests of Standard Oil and other petro-chemical refineries in his state, demanding that the rich corporations pay their fair share of taxes. Some of his achievements were admirable, as when Long brought an end to discriminatory poll taxes and provided free textbooks for Louisiana schoolchildren regardless of race. During his term as governor of Louisiana, Long reshaped the landscape of the state by inaugurating the greatest road and highway building initiative in the history of Louisiana that added nearly 2,000 miles of paved highways. He also pushed forward the building of a bridge spanning the mighty Mississippi, the construction of a new governor’s mansion and state capital, a charity hospital and an airport for New Orleans, and buildings and a stadium for the Louisiana State University campus.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

But Long could be petty in his dealings as well, rewarding political cronies with state jobs or contracts, and retaliating against political opponents by supporting candidates running against them, by stopping state roads at the borders of their districts, or by firing relatives employed in state jobs. On the national stage, Long argued that ending the Great Depression required a radical restructuring of the economy. Towards that end, Long advocated the redistribution of wealth, founded a Share Our Wealth Society, and launched a political platform with a campaign song that promised to make “Every man a King.”

After the Senate rejected one of his bills, Long warned them that a “mob is coming to hang the other ninety-five of you damn scoundrels and I’m undecided whether to stick here with you or go out and lead them.”

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

Not averse to using bribery or blackmail, the “Kingfish” once notoriously boasted that he bought legislators “like sacks of potatoes, [and] shuffled them like a deck of cards.” His political enemies labeled him a demagogue and rabble-rouser and tried to have him impeached and thrown out of office. But ever the politician, Long used his popularity and the patronage power of his office to build an unassailable political machine and to thwart his political opponents by means fair and foul. Long’s enemies responded in kind. Although he survived impeachment proceedings unscathed, he regularly received credible death threats, so that he never went out in public without a detail of armed bodyguards. In the end, even that precaution proved insufficient.

Long’s image is caricatured in an installation presently on view in the foyer of The Wolfsonian–FIU library, titled The Politics of -Isms.

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Although derided as a dangerous demagogue and socialist by his adversaries on the right, Long was lampooned and caricatured by the Communist Party’s most prominent artist, Hugo Gellert. In one lithographic plate, Gellert depicted Huey Long as one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, appearing in a Ku Klux Klan outfit and brandishing leg irons and chains.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

Another image penned by Gellert ridiculed Long’s campaign song by depicting the working men of Louisiana wearing crowns of thorns.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

If you happen to be in the Miami area this presidential election season, be sure to visit the library installation where you can see these and other politically-charged propaganda materials from the 1930s.

~ by "The Chief" on September 8, 2016.

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