I missed yesterday due to excessive heat and the inability to sleep well, but I’ll continue The Daily Post commitment I made.
My mom turned 84 June 30th and since she was raised in the South and her parents moved her to the North the day after high school graduation, I thought she’d have some wonderfully historic insights. I decided to interview her on my radio show: BYO Brilliance: The Historical Brilliance of Donnie Berry. Just before the show I asked her who her governor was in Louisiana and she stated with strong conviction “Huey P. Long!” That pricked up my ears even though we did not specifically talk about him on the show. I wondered who could elicit such a response from my mother who does not tend to display such emotional responses unless related to civil rights or human justice. That sent me on a search of what kind of governor held such high praise 70 to 80 years later. Considering the racial tensions and discord that usually held the South captive, I started this search apprehensively. The first thing I noticed was the stark differences of how he was perceived. I was reading just cursory information I found on the Internet to a friend (who probably wanted to go to sleep at the late hour I was searching and keeping her up via telephone), still it was striking. The labels they gave him only drove me further: Populist, dictator, and demagogue –Wikopedia.org. The more I read the more my friend and I declared there should be a movie about him, his life and political actions were so much more interesting than we could guessed, which made our night that much longer.
Finally I found a book online by someone who actually knew him for most of his life and was present at his death. I also found a website with wonderful chronological and biographical insights to this man’s character. The name Huey P. Long seems like a distant memory that was buried for centuries, yet I cannot remember ever knowing anything about him or discussing him with my mom who was still living in Louisiana during the time of his assassination. Here was another enticement into this man’s life; why would anyone assassinate him? He was a bit of a conundrum because the perceptions of him seemed so drastically polarized. Finally I realized the answer to this riddle lied in a simple and fatal action that Senator Long took politically: He was a man of the people!
The south was in a corporate upswing during this time with such pariahs as Stand Oil, whose monopoly of the oil industry worldwide was broken up into 33 companies. Those companies later could be attributed to continued corporate malfeasance, while making the founder, John D. Rockefeller beyond conceptual wealth at the time. There was an agenda that did not include the interests of the “everyday man or woman” at that time. Most of which were starving and homeless during the ‘Great Depression.’ Huey P. Long got exactly what historically people attempting to rise to any kind of power in an attempt to help the masses, especially the non-wealthy ones; he got dead. This was followed by a particularly pustular campaign to smear his name and reputation, possibly to warn future common folk and perceived neer-do-wells their place in this “corporate is king” society along with any of their political champions. I would never deign to assert that there are perfect and scandal-free politicians, but one has to wonder why those that were positioned to bring our nation to higher level of parity seemed to be stopped prematurely. It’s not that I am comparing, but my mind drifts towards the likes of Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and Bobby Kennedy people who also foolishly engaged in the rights of the many…they all got dead too.