By MELINDA MARTINEZ, Alexandria Town Talk
ALEXANDRIA, La. (AP) — Louisiana’s history is intertwined with the legacy of Huey P. Long and Earl K. Long, two of the state’s most prominent personalities that every student learns about in the course. history of Louisiana.
Speaking to the Rotary Club of Alexandria, local historian Michael Wynne said he had read all the books about Huey P. and Earl K. The books listed what they had done in all the other parishes, but few mentioned their involvement in the parish of Rapides.
“And if you look at them, maybe they’re just cursory mentions of Huey Long and barely any mentions except towards the very end of Earl Long’s life about Earl Long,” Wynne said. “And it was like they had nothing to do with Rapides Parish. It was like they had never been through Rapides Parish.
About three years ago he started doing research for an article he was writing. He thought they must have “done some stuff” in Rapides, so he combed through old Town Talk articles and found many stories that are detailed in his book, “Strange Bedfellows: Huey P. Long, Earl K. Long and Central Louisiana. ”
Wynne said the first mention of Huey Long in Rapides Parish comes from a 1910 Town Talk article which listed him as a boarder at a “Texas & Pacific” hotel at 148 Wheelock Street. He was two weeks away from his 17th birthday.
His first letter to the editor appeared in The Town Talk circa 1913. It was about employers mistreating employees.
In 1918 he announced his candidacy for the post of commissioner of railways in Alexandria – and won.
It was at the Bentley Hotel that he first spoke about his candidacy for governor. His first documented campaign event was at the Old City Hall building in 1923. About 3,000 to 5,000 people showed up to hear him speak from the back of a van. He also campaigned in Boyce and Glenmora. He lost that election to Governor Henry L. Fuqua.
When Huey P. Long ran for governor for the second time in 1927, he held campaign rallies at Bolton High School. The first held in August 1927 reportedly saw thousands of people turn up in the old auditorium and hallways. Many stood on the lawn with giant loudspeakers loud enough to be heard downtown. One of Bolton’s rally adverts states that “everyone is invited, especially the ladies”. He also organized a rally at Pineville High School in 1928.
“Huey used Rapides Parish as a testing ground to enter statewide politics,” Wynne said. “Everything he did, he didn’t start in Winn Parish, or East Baton Rouge Parish or anywhere else.
“I think he did a lot of speeches here to see how they sounded and how they came out before he used them in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Shreveport and everywhere else. Rapides Parish was the beginning and often the center of the lives of Huey Long and Earl Long.
In 1932, to honor Huey Long, the Rapides Parish School Board agreed to place bronze plaques honoring him in every school for providing students with free textbooks. Wynne said it’s unclear whether these plaques were made or placed in schools.
Huey Long has had rocky relationships with many people in Alexandria, including The Town Talk. Editor Rollo Jarreau wrote a long, scathing op-ed in 1929 stating that Long smeared the characters of many prominent citizens and asserted lies in his speeches.
In 1933, Huey was a U.S. senator and most of Louisiana hated him because he was so overbearing, Wynne said. A Town Talk article states that when he gave a campaign speech at town hall, people threw rotten eggs and fruit at him. A man on top of the Guaranty Bank which was located on 3 and Murray streets threw eggs at him. Long sent men after him.
Wynne said Alexandria was the last city Huey visited five days before he was killed at the State Capitol in Baton Rouge.
Wynne’s interest in the Longs began in 1970, the 35th anniversary of Huey’s death. He remembers seeing Huey’s son, the late U.S. Senator Russell Long, during one of his talks in the state.
As a teenager, Wynne didn’t know much had happened until he read Pulitzer Prize-winning author T. Harry Williams’ book.
“The first book in my life that I read cover to cover – on purpose.” he said. “And I just found it gripping. I couldn’t believe all that kind of shenanigans were going on back then. You still think the world today is the worst world and the shittiest world there is. And I just couldn’t believe it all went on. It made everything that happened in 1970, 1980, 1990 look ridiculously minor compared to what they were doing before.
In Wynne’s book he states that Earl Long and his wife Blanche lived in Alexandria for four years. A family who bought their house years later found their financial documents in the attic.
In 1937, Earl led a parade through downtown Alexandria which was sponsored by the Rotary Club of Alexandria. It was held for “Security Week”.
Earl died at Baptist Hospital, now Rapides Regional Medical Center, in 1960.
“His last campaign for Congress was here in Alexandria,” Wynne said.
There are many accounts of his death, Wynne told Rotarians. One involves Earl’s driver, Ellis “Easy Money” Littleton, who told different stories about Earl’s death. He even had one where he said that Earl had died in his arms.
Forest Hill singer-songwriter Jay Chevalier noted in his book ‘When the Music Stopped’ that he was with Earl when he died, Wynne said. Chevalier writes that the doctor let him hold Earl’s heart in his hands, but medical records indicate that no autopsy was performed. Chevalier wrote the song “The Ballad of Earl K. Long”.
Wynne’s book “Strange Bedfellows: Huey P. Long, Earl K. Long and Central Louisiana” can be purchased at amazon.com.
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