The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes
Saturday, January 03, 2004
Earl Long of Louisiana: politics with interest!
I promised (threatened?) to get out my bio of Kingfish Huey Long's brother - and here we are!
The tome (bought years ago, well before I had much idea who Huey was, let alone Earl) is The Earl of Louisiana by AJ Liebling (1961), made up from stuff that Liebling wrote for the New Yorker, it seems. To judge from an initial squint, it's anecdotal, rather than analytical, and none the worse for it.
Politically speaking, Earl Long is both completely out there and a useful divining-rod for Southern politics. Elected  as Governor of Louisiana first in 1948 for a four year term , he was stymied from running in 1952 by the eunuch rule in the Louisiana Constitution. He came back to win in 1956, and tried (and failed) to beat the eunuch rule in 1960.
With matters Strom in mind, Earl Long is interesting for his attitudes and actions on racial matters. Race lay behind the most striking incident of his career: when, in 1959, one performance in the Louisiana legislature  was just a little too eccentric for his family, who thereafter attempted to lock him away in a lunatic asylum out of state (in the Liebling book, p28ff).
And the topic for the day was: a move by segregation hard-liners for the full enforcement (against Negroes, natch!) of the voter registration law, that allowed registrars to refuse registration on educational grounds:
"Now this registration you're talking about. That was put through in carpetbag days, then colored people and scalawags were running rampant in our country. You got to interpret the Constitution. There ain't ten people looking at me, including myself, who, if properly approached or attacked, could properly qualify to vote. They say this a nigger bill- ain't no such!..."
Apparently, in 1959, the Citizens' Councils moved to expunge the names of 1,377 out of 1.510 Negro voters in Washington Parish; the Federal courts ordered the names restored. Liebling says that
...no dispatch clapped old Earl on the back for having championed them.
Long went on, as Liebling describes (p31):
"There's no longer slavery!" Long shouted at Rainach. "There wasn't but two people in Winn Parish that was able to own slaves - one was my grandpa, the other was my uncle - and when they were freed, they stayed on" (here his voice went tenor and sentimental, then dropped again) "and two of those fine old colored women more or less died in my Christian mother's arms - Black Alice and Aunt Rose." He sounded like a blend of David Warfield and Morton Downey.
And, he says,
The theme of one long passage was that many legislators had Negro or at least part-Negro relatives in the bar sinister category, to whom they now wanted to deny the vote. He told a story about his own uncle who, climbing into bed with a Negro woman, had given umbrage to her husband, then present.
Now, clearly, any account of the last days of segregation that gives full value to the career of Earl Long isn't going to suit the book of the speech-chilling grievance-meisters and shakedown artists who are allowed to edit the text of the received version of the period's history. Which, needless to say, is why I warm to the guy, whether he were nutcase or not.
More amusement to come from Ol' Earl, I suspect.
Some Louisiana political stories - including the Long brothers, natch!
Snippets on Earl Long here, here; on the Louisiana Scandals (that did for Richard Leche) here ; on a later colourful Louisiana Governor, Edwin Edwards (also here, with Richard Leche comparison).
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