New Long book relates yet another chapter in history

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 26, 1998

By LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / October 26, 1998

Times were tough in New Orleans – the Great Depression had struck with all its fury and devastating effects; Mayor Thomas Semmes Walmsley was faced with armed National Guardsmen, pointing guns at his office window; and Huey Long was ready for battle.

“Huey Long Invades New Orleans: The Siege of a City, 1934-36,” by Garry Boulard and published by Pelican Publishing, relates an enthralling chapter in the already-colorful history of New Orleans.

In a breathless, yet detailed and authoritative style, Boulard successfully captures the political mood of the city, caught between the Old Regulars and the Longites.

News of the political moves of Huey Long ensnared the attention of the entire nation and involved everyone from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover toPresident Franklin Roosevelt, who feared the rivalry of Long in the upcoming 1936 election.

Archival photos illustrate the inexpensive volume, which focuses on the petty political moves, the emotions and the string-pulling by the master manipulator, Long.

Central to the story is the vice investigation launched by Long and directed against Walmsley’s administration, despite Long’s own shady dealings, which captured the attention of radio audiences of the time.

Indeed, Long emerges as a media superstar, decades ahead of his time, using the technology of the day in a masterwork of self-promotion. Yet, healso emerges as a latter-day Mussolini, wresting power from the old hands and riding on his personality to popular notoriety.

As the decades roll by in the march of time, episodes such as this teach the effect of overweening political greed and egotism. It shows how farLouisiana has come politically, yet also reflects on how vulnerable we remain to a brilliant, but corrupt, politician.

While former Gov. Edwin Edwards has often been called a latter-day Long,even Edwards’ deeds, good and otherwise, pale to those performed by Long.

Long brought Louisiana into the 20th Century, then proceeded to put it in his pocket. It took a fusillade of bullets to bring down Long, but Louisianaremains, in many ways, in his pocket and still behind most of the nation.

“Huey Long Invades New Orleans” is now available at major bookstores.

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