By MELINDA MARTINEZ, Alexandria Town Talk
ALEXANDRIA, The. (AP) — The history of Louisiana is intertwined with the legacies of Huey P. Long and Earl K. Long, two of the state’s most prominent figures who every student learns about in Louisiana history class.
Speaking to the Rotary Club of Alexandria, local historian Michael Wynne said he read every book on Huey P. and Earl K. The books listed what they had done in every other parish but not many touched on their involvement in Rapides Parish.
“And it if you look at them, it may be just be cursory mentions of Huey Long and barely any mentions except towards the very end of Earl Long’s life about Earl Long,” said Wynne. “And it was just like, they had nothing to do with Rapides Parish. It was like they never even passed through Rapides Parish.”
About three years ago, he began to do research for an article he was writing. He thought that they had to 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 that listed him as a boarder at a “Texas & Pacific” hotel located at 148 Wheelock Street. He was two weeks shy of his 17th birthday.
His first letter to the editor appeared in The Town Talk around 1913. It was about employers mistreating employees.
In 1918, he announced his candidacy for railroad commissioner in Alexandria — and won.
It was at the Hotel Bentley where he first spoke of running 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 pick-up truck. He also campaigned in Boyce and Glenmora. He lost that election to Gov. Henry L. Fuqua.
When Huey P. Long ran for governor the second time In 1927, he held campaign rallies at Bolton High School. The first one held in August 1927 reportedly had thousands of people show up filling the old auditorium and hallways. Many stood on the front lawn with giant speakers that were loud enough to be heard downtown. One of the Bolton rally ads states “everyone is invited, especially the ladies.” He also held a rally at Pineville High school in 1928.
“Huey used Rapides Parish as his test ground to enter statewide politics,” said Wynne. “Everything he did, he started not in Winn Parish, not in 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 Huey Long’s and Earl Long’s life.”
In 1932, to honor Huey Long, the Rapides Parish School Board agreed to place bronze plaques honoring him in every school for getting students free school books. Wynne said it is unknown if those plaques were made or placed in schools.
Huey Long had tumultuous relationships with many in Alexandria including The Town Talk. Editor Rollo Jarreau wrote a long, scathing editorial in 1929 stating that Long besmirched the characters of many prominent citizens and asserts lies in his speeches about him.
By 1933, Huey was a US senator and most of Louisiana hated him because he was so domineering, Wynne said. A Town Talk article states that when he gave a campaign speech at City Hall, people hurled eggs and rotten fruit at him. A man on top of the Guaranty Bank that was located on 3rd and Murray Streets threw eggs at him. Long sent men after him.
Wynne said Alexandria was the last town 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 recalls seeing Huey’s son, the late US Sen. Russell Long, at one of the speaking engagements he was giving around the state.
As a teenager, Wynne didn’t know that a lot of this had gone on until he read Pulitzer Prize winning author T. Harry Williams’ book.
“First book in my life that I read cover to cover – voluntarily.” he said. “And I just found it riveting. I couldn’t believe that all this kind of shenanigans went on back then. You always think the present world is the worst world and most screwed up world in existence. And I just couldn’t believe all this stuff had gone on. It made anything that occurred in 1970, 1980, 1990 ridiculously minor compared to what they used to do.”
In Wynne’s book, he states that Earl Long and his wife Blanche lived in Alexandria for four years. A family that purchased their house years later found his financial documents in the attic.
In 1937, Earl led a parade in downtown Alexandria that was sponsored by the Rotary Club of Alexandria. It was held for “Safety Week.”
Earl died at Baptist Hospital, now Rapides Regional Medical Center, in 1960.
“His last campaign for Congress was here in Alexandria,” said Wynne.
There are many accounts of how he died, 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 Earl died in his arms.
Singer/songwriter Jay Chevalier of Forest Hill noted in his book “When the Music Stopped” that he was with Earl when he died, said Wynne. Chevalier writes that the doctor let him hold Earl’s heart in his hands but medical records indicate 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 on amazon.com.
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