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Huey Long By Harry Williams

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Huey Long in the View of Harry Williams

In the Pulitzer Prize-winning book entitled Huey Long by T. Harry Williams, the reader is given an interesting perspective into perhaps the most controversial American politician of the 20th century. The book is lengthy and wordy, but still a very easy read and very informative. For a larger than life kind of guy like Huey Long, a man that cannot be confined to just pages in a book, the questions arises if Williams strips away the myth surrounding Huey, or does he further add to the mythical quality of a politician whom many people still chose sides over to this day. Some of the most ambitious plan for Louisiana were laid out under the Long administration, but was Long really for the people as he said, or was there a more personal drive behind his plans. Is Williams’s biography of Long at all bias, or is it a fair account that lets the reader decide who Long was. In a book that’s about 800 pages, one would need much more space to write review of Williams’ book, but I hope to touch on each topic mentioned above.

The book starts off mentioning the state of the State of Louisiana at the time when Huey Long was rising to power. Louisiana was at the bottom of the list for income, literacy, and property value in the 1920’s. According to Williams, “Educational and other services were poor for the additional reason that the ruling hierarchy was little interested in using what resources the state had available to provide services and was even less interested in employing the power of the state to create new resources so that more services could be supportedвЂ¦Ð²Ð‚Ñœ The poor people of Louisiana were the ones that Long reached out to and identified with. There is no argument that from the beginning, Long had his eyes set on the Presidency. Long knew that to get that far he need the support of the people. Long was able to gain that support he needed with the ambitious “share our wealth” campaign. Long also took on Standard Oil, the biggest companies in the South. To the poor folks of Louisiana, Long was a hero who stood up for them, but to many of the States wealthy, he had started to make many enemies.

Long first ran for Governor in 1924 and lost when he was 30 years old. Long’s platform for his first race was road construction, increased support for public schools, improvements for the courts, free textbooks for school children, and state warehouses for storing farmers crops. According to Williams, “He approved the right of labor to organize, and he condemned the use of injunctions in labor disputes, corporate influence on government, and concentrated wealth .... He had said what he stood for--an increased role for the state government in the economy--and if he decided to denounce in his own style the things he had said he was against, blood might indeed appear on the moon.”

According to Williams, the concentration of wealth in America had been a long time concern for Long which fully formed during his time Law School. While reading “Huey Long”, it is easy to see why some of the states more prominent members would have been shocked by a man like Long. Long’s overt, in your face style of politics was supposed to make the established order squeal. Nicknames, sound trucks, circulars, and radio speeches all had the desired effect for Long, as Williams attests to in his book. Of course Long bent the truth, but he was still from rural Louisiana and had more in common with the small town citizens than the rich upper class in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Long was simply born with the wit, personality, drive and memory to lead these people of rural Louisiana; People who by far outnumbered the city dwellers in the State.

Williams includes little about the early life of Long, probably because not too much is known about this time in his life. Williams creates his biography from years of research and oral histories of family, friends, and acquaintances of Longs. There were some stories in the book that clearly contradicted one another, but this lets the reader know that Williams tried to present all information available. When given a chance to take a positive or negative view of Long’s policies or views, Williams usually will take the side of supporting Long. Williams does provide much supporting evidence of his stance, adding to the wordiness of the book, but a necessity none the less.

When Long won the Governorship of Louisiana in 1928, he turned his talking into action. Long raised severance taxes on natural resources to help pay for textbooks for public and private schools. During Long’s term as Governor, Long built over 2300 miles of paved roads, 111 bridges, and employed 10 percent of the road builders in the State. He moved to abolish the practices of strait-jacketing and chaining and introduced dental care at mental institutions. The States first inmate rehabilitation program was also started under Long at Angola. Long implemented an adult literacy program in Louisiana that mostly served African-Americans, despite the racism of the overwhelming white majority. Many of his progressive policies were unthinkable to large sectors of his electorate, but the size of his programs drew in people who supported him in some areas and not others.

What was it about Long that made people hate him so much? Long did abuse his powers in office, but he was hardly the first in Louisiana history to do so. Long did appoint many family members and friends to government jobs, and often gave State jobs to those who had supported his campaign. As Long gave speeches about sharing the wealth, he was amassing more wealth than



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