Huey P. Long, a U.S. Senator and one of the most remarkable and enigmatic men in American history, was shot down in a hallway of the Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge on September 8, 1935. He died two days later.
The Long assassination was a pivotal moment in U.S. history. His death at the age of 42 ended a career of personal ambition and public service that might well have carried him to the White House. Bullet marks from the incident still scar the walls of Louisiana’s State Capitol Building.
Huey P. Long was born in Winnfield, Louisiana, on August 30, 1893. He attended the University of Oklahoma and then Tulane University before passing the Louisiana bar exam and obtaining his law license at the age of 21 on May 15, 1915. Three years later he was elected to the
Louisiana Railroad Commission (today’s Public Service Commission).
During his ten years of service on the Railroad Commission, Long proved himself to be a strong Populist. He led the commission to order telephone company rebates and forced natural gas companies to lower rates for Louisiana customers.
The Kingfish, as he is still known in Louisiana, lost his race for governor in 1925 but ran again in 1928 and was elected. He paved the way for future generations of Southern politicians by forming an alliance of African Americans, poor whites and other largely disenfranchised groups to challenge the power structure that dominated Louisiana’s government.
While many criticized his methods and obvious personal ambition, his single term as governor was one of remarkable progress for the Louisiana voters who supported him:
- 2,500 miles of roads paved.
- 1,308 miles of roads given asphalt surface.
- Free night schools for adults.
- Free text books for all students.
- Network of charity hospitals for the poor.
- 21 free health clinics.
- LSU Medical School established.
- Budget tripled for LSU.
- $8 million in construction at LSU.
- 100 bridges built throughout the state.
- Poll tax abolished in Louisiana, opening the door for the poor to vote.
The Long Administration oversaw the biggest state modernization program in history. His public works program created the infrastructure that Louisiana’s economy needed to grow and thrive. To achieve his goals, however, Huey P. Long often employed strong-arm tactics and was
more than willing to bulldoze his way straight over the opponents of his programs. He financed his programs with a 5 cent per barrel tax on refined Louisiana oil, much to the chagrin of the Standard Oil Company and its shareholders.
Long’s political opponents, many of them allies of Standard Oil, tried to impeach him in 1929, but failed.
The Louisiana Constitution only allowed a governor to serve one term, so Long P. Long ran for the U.S. Senate in 1930. He was elected, but did not take his seat until 1932 when the election of one of his allies to the governor’s chair was assured. He supported Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1932 Presidential election, but soon came to oppose FDR’s policies. Long believed that Roosevelt was not doing enough to relieve the suffering of average Americans. The Great Depression was then at his darkest and the new senator from Louisiana supported a massive redistribution of American wealth.
He first outlined his proposed “Share Our Wealth” program by radio on February 23, 1934. It called for capping the fortunes of the wealthy at $50 million and using the money above that amount taken from them to fund massive social programs including:
- Free Higher Education
- Veterans benefits.
- Free health care.
- A shortened work week.
- Shortening the work week.
- Four weeks vacation for all workers.
- A yearly payment to people earning less than one-third of the national average income.
The program received widespread support from suffering Americans and by the end of the year his Share Our Wealth program had enrolled 3 million members. By the middle of 1935, Huey Long’s supporters had formed 27,000 Share Our Wealth clubs and increased membership to 7.5 million people.
The organizations, which would have provided the grass roots foundation of Long’s planned Presidential campaign, welcomed all people regardless of race or social status. Long emphasized that Share Our Wealth was emphasizing that Share Our Wealth was designed to help all people living in poverty, not just the whites. He was widely opposed by white supremacists, although other controversial figures supported his efforts.
Senator Long’s massive public support made it clear by 1935 that he was a serious threat to the reelection hopes of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Many speculate to this day that he might have beaten FDR in 1936 and become President of the United States.
It was not to be. Even after he went to Washington in 1932, Long had maintained a tight grip on the reigns of power in Louisiana. He often returned to Baton Rouge to direct sessions of the legislature in the towering new capitol building that he had ordered built to give Louisiana a modern and progressive image. He predicted just as often that his policies would lead to his assassination.
Long’s opponents agreed. Having failed to defeat him politically, many came to believe that the only way to stop the Kingfish was to kill him. Talk of assassinating Sen. Long was common in many circles as his enemies raged about his programs and strong arm tactics.
The critical moment came on September 8, 1935. Long was in Baton Rouge overseeing the passage of a redistricting plan that would remove political opponent Judge Benjamin Pavy from office. Surrounded by bodyguards that he employed in response to reported death threats, he emerged into the long main corridor of the Louisiana State Capitol building.
Dr. Carl Weiss was Judge Pavy’s son-in-law. As Long’s entourage neared the center of the building, Weiss stepped from behind a column and allegedly shot the senator in the abdomen. Long’s bodyguards returned fire and bullets flew in all directions. Weiss was shot dead, his body riddled with bullets, as the Kingfish stumbled down the hallway away from the shooting scene.
Sen. Huey P. Long died two days later on September 10, 1935. His last words were, “God, don’t let me die. I have so much to do.”
The assassination fuels speculation and conspiracy theories to this day. Some believe that Long was killed by his own bodyguards or someone else in the group surrounding him. The truth will likely never be known. His enemies celebrated his death but to the poverty-stricken masses that had elected him, it was a moment of great tragedy.
Newspapers reported that 200,000 people attended Huey P. Long’s funeral as he was laid to rest on the grounds in front of the modern capitol he had built. His statue stands over the grave.
Long’s brother, Earl K. Long, was elected as Governor of Louisiana in 1948. Huey’s son, Russell B. Long, was elected to the U.S. Senate the same year and went on to become one of the most powerful senators in American history. He served for 39 years.
Huey P. Long’s grave and statue can be seen today directly in front of the Louisiana State Capitol. Inside on the main floor, an exhibit in the central corridor provides details about his assassination. A metal wall plaque notes that Sen. Long was shot there. Close examination of the marble walls reveals a number of scars left by bullets that ricocheted through the corridor on the day of the assassination.
A very fictionalized account of Long’s life is presented in the book and movie All The King’s Men.
The capitol building is at 900 North Third Street, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It is open to the public from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and is free to visit.
To see and hear Huey P. Long speak about his Share the Wealth program, please watch this free video: