Childhood & Early Life
Huey Pierce Long Jr. was born on August 30, 1893, in Winnfield, Louisiana to Huey Pierce Long, Sr. and Caledonia Palestine Tison. He was the seventh of the couple’s nine surviving children.
He was educated at home for a few years before being sent to local schools. He proved to be an excellent student and won a debating scholarship to Louisiana State University. However, being from an impoverished background, he was unable to afford the textbooks required for the course.
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Unable to study further, he took up a job as a travelling salesman and also worked as an auctioneer. When the World War I started, sales jobs became scarce and Long attended seminary classes at Oklahoma Baptist University but soon realized that he was not meant for a career as a preacher.
He then attended the University of Oklahoma College of Law, in Norman, Oklahoma, and later Tulane University Law School in New Orleans. He took the state bar exam after just a year of study at Tulane in 1915 and passed the exam.
He set up a private practice and spent the next few years representing small plaintiffs against large businesses, including workers' compensation cases. Since he himself grew up in poverty, he was sympathetic towards the poor and never took a case against a poor man.
By this time he was also interested in politics and was elected to the Louisiana Railroad Commission at the age of 25 on an anti-Standard Oil platform in 1918. He made heavy use of printed circulars and embarked on extensive personal campaigns, and bitterly attacked his opponents. His position with the commission helped him build a reputation as a populist who fought against rate increases and monopolies.
Long ran for Governor of Louisiana in the election of 1924 but was defeated. Four years later, he won the 1928 election and immediately set upon implementing an ambitious program of public works and welfare legislation. Under his program, several roads, bridges, hospitals were built and he extended considerable support to educational initiatives.
In 1932, he took office as the United States Senator from Louisiana, in the backdrop of the Great Depression. A skilled orator, he fiercely denounced the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few and called for the redistribution of wealth, which he believed could be done by heavily taxing the rich. While these measures made him popular among the poor sections of the society, it also earned him some powerful enemies.
As his political prowess grew he became increasingly dictatorial, and passed a series of laws giving him control over the appointment of every public position in the state of Louisiana, including every policeman and schoolteacher. Howeve,r the work he did for the poor ensured that he remained popular among the masses.
Under Long’s leadership, Louisiana saw unprecedented development. The major construction projects undertaken during his tenure not only improved the infrastructure in the state but also helped to create thousands of much-needed jobs during the Great Depression era.
His school-building program and free textbooks to students improved and greatly expanded the public education system. More than 1,00,000 adults learned to read as a result of his adult education programs.
Because of his healthcare programs under which new hospitals were built, the death rate in Louisiana fell drastically as patients could now access better medical facilities in a timely manner. His initiatives also provided free immunizations to nearly 70 percent of the population.
Huey Long introduced his ‘Share Our Wealth’ plan over a nationwide radio broadcast in February 1934. He proposed federal legislation to limit personal fortunes, income and inheritances, and use the resulting funds to guarantee every family a basic household grant of $5,000. The plan also proposed several other reforms including free college education and vocational training for all able students, old-age pensions, veterans' benefits, federal assistance to farmers, and public works projects.
His Share Our Wealth program became immensely popular and by the summer of 1935, the Share Our Wealth clubs had 7.5 million members and he was receiving 60,000 letters a week from supporters. In 1935, he also announced his plans to run for presidency. He was however assassinated just a month after this announcement.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Rose McConnell, a stenographer, in 1913. The couple was blessed with one daughter and two sons.
On September 8, 1935, Huey Long was at the State Capitol when Dr. Carl Weiss, the son-in-law of one of Long’s political opponents, shot him. Long was rushed to the hospital, but died two days later, on September 10, 1935. He was just 42. Political enmity is believed to be the cause of the doctor’s action.
Several motion pictures and literary works have been inspired by Long’s life and politics, the notable ones being Hamilton Basso’s ‘Cinnamon Seed’ (1934) and ‘Sun in Capricorn’ (1942), John Dos Passos's ‘Number One’ (1943), and ‘All the King's Men’ (1949).