Earl K. Long

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 428

In the course of four of the most tumultuous and controversial decades in the history of Louisiana, Earl K. Long was a power to be reckoned with--in and out of political office. “Uncle Earl” was loved by many, feared by a number, and ignored by few. He was a born...

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In the course of four of the most tumultuous and controversial decades in the history of Louisiana, Earl K. Long was a power to be reckoned with--in and out of political office. “Uncle Earl” was loved by many, feared by a number, and ignored by few. He was a born politician who literally died politicking.

Admittedly, most people outside the Pelican State remember Earl Long as Huey’s younger brother, who made headlines when he was confined to a mental institution in 1959. Huey Long was the charismatic governor of Louisiana who made himself the virtual dictator of the state until his death by an assassin’s bullet in 1935. The “Kingfish” was so powerful, that he was considered a threat to Franklin Roosevelt’s reelection. Roosevelt, in fact, considered Huey the second most dangerous man in the United States--the first was Douglas MacArthur. Yet, although there is no doubt that Huey Long was an exceptional individual, it is equally true that much of his success was the result of his brother’s machinations. Moreover, with his brother’s death Earl Long expanded the Long dynasty into one of the nation’s most potent political organizations. But, if Earl Long built a powerful political machine, it was also a surprisingly effective and relatively uncorrupt instrument. Even his enemies, and they were legion, agree that Earl Long was an efficient and capable administrator who insisted that Louisiana adhere to sound fiscal policies. Moreover, he maintained throughout his long career that the government had a responsibility to provide for the basic human needs of Louisiana’s poor. In the course of his various administrations, that state paid the highest welfare benefits in the region. Furthermore, he insisted that Louisiana’s blacks receive a significantly high proportion of the benefits the state provided. He was a staunch defender of racial segregation, but he was virtually alone in the South in his recognition that racial equality was inevitable. Unfortunately, he based his programs on the revenues obtained from the state’s abundant supplies of oil and natural gas. Thus, when the energy crunch finally arrived, the leaders and the people of Louisiana were unable to cope with a new situation.

EARL K. LONG: THE SAGA OF UNCLE EARL AND LOUISIANA POLITICS is a long overdue look at a man who was far more than Huey’s brother or the buffoon characterized in a recent film. The facts, such as can be discovered or discerned, are presented with clarity and charity, although in places this work would have benefitted from a more rigorous editorial examination.

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