kingfish

Huey Long

“Kingfish” is the nickname for Huey P. Long, the one-time governor of Louisiana. Long was a divisive figure who played a larger than life role in his state’s politics, and beyond. He continued to loom large even after he was assassinated in 1935.

Long was born on August 30, 1893 in Winnfield, Louisiana, where he family owned a successful farm. He attended Louisiana State University on a scholarship before eventually going to law school. He was admitted to the Louisiana state bar in 1914 but soon went into business, winning a seat on the Louisiana Railroad Commission. There, he used his power to fight monopolies and cultivated a reputation as a friend to the working class.

In 1928, Long ran for governor of Louisiana. It was his second attempt, after a run in which he placed third. Long won the governership in 1928. He ran under the slogan, “Every man a king,” which some say was the origin of his nickname, Kingfish. Others believe that Long took the nickname “Kingfish” from a character on the Amos n Andy show, a minstrel show (in Long’s time, the show was aired on the radio; it later switched to television).

Long has been described as a racist, who gave speeches denigrating African Americans and behaved callously to African Americans he encountered in his own life. As governor, one of his first moves was to segregate the state’s bus system. At the same time, Long’s defenders say that his racial politics were relatively mild for the time and place in which he lived.

As governor, Long was seen as both an authoritarian and a populist figure. He built up the power of the executive, centralized investigative power, and made it easier for police to make arrests. At the same time, Long increased spending on education and on infrastructure. He imposed higher taxes on big businesses, notably on Standard Oil.

After Long had spent less than a year in office, the Louisiana State legislature moved to impeach him. His opponents argued that he had accepted bribes, carried a weapon, and behaved inappropriately in public. The impeachment attempt ultimately failed.

In 1930, Long successfully ran for the US Senate. There, he pushed for a series of economic reforms known as the “Share Our Wealth” plan. “Share Our Wealth” clubs popped up over the country. At Long’s insistence, the clubs were racially segregated.

In 1935, Long was in Baton Rouge when a man named Carl Weiss approached him. Weiss was the son in law of one of Long’s political rivals. Weiss pulled out a gun and shot Long. Long died several days later. His last words, reportedly, were “God, don’t let me die. I have so much to do.”

Long continues to be a controversial figure, decades after his death. He is remembered by many for his love of power and for what some see as demagoguery. Others praise him for his financial reforms and his attacks on big business. In any event, the name, and the fame, of the Kingfish lives on.

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