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Gillis William Long

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Gillis William Long

Gillis William Long
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Louisiana's 8th district
In office
January 3, 1973 – January 20, 1985
Preceded by Speedy O. Long
Succeeded by Catherine Small Long
In office
January 3, 1963 – January 3, 1965
Preceded by Harold B. McSween
Succeeded by Speedy O. Long
Personal details
Born (1923-05-04)May 4, 1923
Winnfield, Winn Parish, Louisiana, USA
Died January 20, 1985(1985-01-20) (aged 61)
Washington, D.C.
Resting place Alexandria National Cemetery in Pineville, Louisiana
Political party Democratic Party
Spouse(s) Catherine Small Long (born 1924)
Occupation Lawyer

Investment banker

Military service
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service World War II

Gillis William Long (May 4, 1923 – January 20, 1985) was a Democratic U.S. Representative from Louisiana's 8th congressional district, based about Alexandria, but since disbanded. He was a member of the Long family. Long served seven non-consecutive terms in the House but placed third in two campaigns for the Democratic gubernatorial nominations in 1963 and 1971. Long served in Congress between 1963 and 1965, and again from 1973 until his death of heart failure. Though he was elected to an eighth term in the House in 1984, he died seventeen days into that term.

In its April 29, 2007, edition, Long's hometown newspaper, the Alexandria Daily Town Talk, declared that Long, along with legendary attorney Camille Gravel and American Civil War General William T. Sherman, were the three most significant historical persons to have been associated with Alexandria.[1]

Early years and ancestry

Long was born in Speedy O. Long, Jimmy D. Long, Donald Long, Dr. Bill Long, Carroll Long, Gerald Long, Earl Kemp Long, Floyd W. Smith, Jr., and Mary Alice Long Rambo, wife of legislator W.L. Rambo

The Longs moved to Alexandria, the seat of Rapides Parish and the largest city in central Louisiana, when Governor Earl Long named Floyd Long to a custodial position at the Central State (Mental) Hospital in Pineville. Later, Floyd and Birdie returned to Winnfield. Long had an older brother, Floyd Harrison Long, Jr. (1915–2003), a United States Army colonel and an official with Delgado Community College in New Orleans. He also had a sister, Doris Long Fletcher (1918–1981).

Education and military

Long graduated from Bolton High School in Alexandria. He received a bachelor of arts degree from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, where he was a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity. In 1951, he received his J.D. law degree from LSU and was admitted to practice before the Louisiana Supreme Court. He maintained a law office in Washington, D.C., and was authorized in 1954 to practice before the United States Supreme Court.

Long served in the Army infantry in World War II. He rose from the rank of private to captain, and was awarded the Purple Heart.

After the war, Long was part of the Internal Security Detachment at the Nuremberg trials in Germany. He was legal counsel to the Senate Select Committee on Small Business from 1951-1952. He was chief counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives Special Committee on Campaign Expenditures from 1952–1954, and again in 1956.

First election to Congress

In 1962, Long unseated incumbent U.S. Representative Harold B. McSween in the Democratic primary. McSween had been elected to Congress in 1958 and 1960, after the death of Earl Long, who had defeated him in the 1960 Democratic primary. McSween in turn was chosen by the Democratic State Central Committee to run in the 1960 general election. Because he had no Republican opposition, McSween was in effect reelected some two months after he had been denied renomination, a highly unusual occurrence.

In 1962, Gillis Long, after he turned aside McSween, faced Republican opposition from John W. "Jack" Lewis, Jr., who said that he was challenging Long to bring the two-party system to Louisiana. Long prevailed, with 25,682 (64 percent) to Lewis's 14,448 (36 percent). Lewis won only in La Salle Parish, one of the most frequently Republican of Louisiana's parishes.[2]

Over the years, Long and McSween put aside personal rivalry, and McSween endorsed Long for governor in the 1971 primary. So did McSween's close friend, the LSU historian T. Harry Williams, author of Huey Long (1969). Williams was asked to introduce Long to a statewide television hookup during the campaign.[3]

Gubernatorial campaign 1963

In what proved to be a major error in judgement, Long entered the December 1963 Democratic primary for governor. One of his campaign advertisements featured the 40-year-old crew-cut Long standing before a state charity hospital and declaring that the "Longs Stand for People!" He was hence running as a Long factional candidate, not just as a candidate who happened to be named Long. He secured the support of U.S. Senator Russell B. Long, who had never lost an election in Louisiana. Long's campaign advertising also reminded voters of "free schoolbooks and hot lunches [having first been] made available to our children under a Long administration."[4]

Three LSU scholars described Long as he prepared his first campaign for governor:

"Gillis Long had the [liability] ... of having absented himself from the state for a long time, and of having too many apparent associations with the [5]

Failed reelection campaign, 1964

Having failed to become governor, Long was challenged for renomination in 1964 by another cousin, Speedy O. Long (1928–2006), of Jena, who as a young state senator had lost a race for insurance commissioner in the same 1963 Democratic primary. Speedy Long ran on McKeithen's intraparty "ticket" that also included former Mayor Ashton J. Mouton of Lafayette for lieutenant governor. Only McKeithen won; both ticket mates failed.

Speedy Long opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on libertarian and constitutional grounds. Gillis Long and all eight Louisiana members of the House voted against the civil rights law. Speedy Long, however, claimed that Gillis Long had voted to increase the size of the House Rules Committee in 1963, in order to permit the placing of the civil rights measure on the congressional agenda even though Long joined his Louisiana colleagues in opposing the measure on final passage.

In this much watched "battle of the Longs," Speedy Long prevailed by 4,900 votes. Speedy Long noted that Gillis Long had compiled a voting record more like that of the most liberal member of the Louisiana delegation, Hale Boggs of New Orleans, instead of the most conservative members, Joe D. Waggonner, Jr., and Otto Ernest Passman. As he pledged in the 1964 primary, Speedy Long voted in the Waggonner-Passman mode, rather than that of Representatives Boggs and Gillis Long. To win the seat, Speedy Long faced a stronger than usual Republican challenger in William Stewart Walker of Winnfield, a retired U.S. Army officer with a distinguished World War II record.

"War on Poverty"

After his defeat for Congress, Long accepted an appointment in 1965 from President Johnson as assistant secretary of the Office of Economic Opportunity, often referred to as the "War on Poverty," in 1965-1966.

Despite his family connections, Long had not been reared in a wealthy family. Throughout his political career, he struggled to find ways to address the lingering problems of poverty. He appealed to poorer voters, with the pledge that he would try to improve income levels in Louisiana.

Long's involvement with the federal R. Sargent Shriver, an Illinois native and a brother-in-law of the Kennedys. Long's congressional voting record moved sharply to the left in his later years in the U.S. House; at times, his votes were consistent with the Congressional Black Caucus, not with the more moderate of southern Democrats then still serving. Dr. Abramson's attacks on Long as a "liberal", however, were repudiated by the voters in the redrawn district.

The breach between Long and McKeithen lingered well past the 1963 campaign. In 1966, Long tried to defeat Amendment I, which allowed Louisiana governors, beginning with McKeithen, the right to serve two consecutive four-year terms if reelected. During the campaign over the succession amendment, U.S. Representative Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., of Harlem, New York, an African American, urged President Johnson to dismiss Sargent Shriver as head of the national anti-poverty program and replace him with Gillis Long, whom Powell considered more energetic than Shriver. Long, who was close to Shriver, blamed the Powell statement on McKeithen, who he claimed, was trying to discredit Long among white voters should Long again seek the governorship in 1967.[6]

Second gubernatorial bid, 1971

Main Article: Louisiana gubernatorial election, 1971-72

Long, as an ex-congressman, also ran in the 1971 Democratic gubernatorial primary. He hired J. Kelly Nix, a former college professor from Monroe, to manage his field operations. Nix subsequently became the then elected Louisiana school superintendent from 1976 to 1984.[7]

Again Long finished third, behind State Senator J. Bennett Johnston, Jr., of Shreveport and Edwin Washington Edwards, U.S. representative from Louisiana's 7th congressional district. Long nevertheless ran ahead of his cousin Speedy Long and the fourth-place finisher, former Governor Jimmie Davis. Edwards went on to take the governorship in a runoff with Johnston, and then in a general election with Republican David C. Treen.

Oddly, Edwards hired Nix, Long's field director, as the governor's executive assistant in Edwards' first term.

Successor to Speedy Long in Congress

When redistricting turned against him, Speedy Long did not seek a fifth term in 1972. Gillis Long, who had resumed his private law practice, instead ran to reclaim the seat; his task was alleviated by a former gubernatorial opponent and a former congressional colleague, Governor Edwards, who supported a districting plan that required the Eighth District to take in new liberal territory far to the south of Alexandria. After Long was eliminated in the first round of the 1971 gubernatorial primary, Edwards made Long this promise to siphon Long's voters from potentially supporting intraparty rival Johnston. Edwards won the runoff against Johnston by 4,488 votes.

In his bid to return to Congress, Long won the Democratic nomination with more than 54 percent of the vote over four opponents, including State Representative Armand Brinkhaus, a lawyer from Sunset in St. Landry Parish, and state Senator J. E. Jumonville, Sr., of Ventress in Pointe Coupee Parish.[8] Long the handily defeated in the general election (1) the surgeon Dr. Samuel R. Abramson of Marksville, the American Party nominee, who ran second in the general election, and (2) the Republican Roy C. Strickland, then a trucking executive in Ascension Parish and later a businessman in The Woodlands, Texas. Long polled 72,607 votes (68.6 percent), to Abramson's 17,844 (16.8 percent), and Strickland's 15,517 (14.6 percent).[9]

Dr. Abramson, who had backed 1968, was also critical of Republicans. After Richard M. Nixon's election as president, Abramson noted that the new administration renewed Democratic former President Lyndon B. Johnson's 10-percent surtax and used the withdrawal of federal education funds as leverage to compel massive school desegregation across the South. Abramson borrowed from Wallace's line to remark, "there's not nine cents worth of difference between the two major parties."[10]

Lock on 8th District

Long returned to the duties of a congressman in 1973. A man of great determination, but who feared for his own health, Long believed that government was essential to protect the interests of the poorest, most vulnerable citizens. His voting record was liberal by southern standards. William J. "Bill" Dodd called Gillis Long the "most left-wing of all the Longs." No strong conservatives emerged to challenge him for reelection.

A Mildred Methvin, a scion of political families from Natchitoches and Alexandria, and daughter of Alexandria attorney DeWitt T. Methvin, Jr., joined Long's Washington staff in the middle 1970s. In 1983, she was named United States Magistrate Judge for the Western District of Louisiana, based in Lafayette, a position she retained until 2009.[11]

In 1976, an Independent, Kent Courtney, ran against Long, but he polled only 6,526 votes (5.8 percent); no Republican filed for the race. Courtney was a brother of Cy David Francis Courtney (1924-1995), a New Orleans lawyer who was an unsuccessful candidate for lieutenant governor in 1959 on the Democratic gubernatorial ticket headed by State Senator William M. Rainach of Claiborne Parish. Cy Courtney later ran unsuccessfully for governor of Louisiana as a Democrat in 1967.

In 1978, the Republican Robert Henry Mitchell, Jr. (born 1945) of Forest Hill in Rapides Parish, the son of a letter carrier, Robert Mitchell, Sr. (1915-2014), and the former Jane P. Odom,[12] challenged Long in the first ever nonpartisan blanket primary held in Louisiana for congressional elections. The conservative Mitchell, who did virtually no campaigning, polled 20,547 ballots (20.3 percent) to Long's 80,666 (79.7 percent). Mitchell was setting the stage for potentially stronger Republican campaigns in the Eighth District in later years, but the terrain was hostile to Republican candidates.

In 1980, Republican Clyde C. Holloway, an independent nurserymanm also from Forest Hill, challenged Long. Robert Mitchell, the loser in the 1978 race against Long, also ran again. Long prevailed with 75,433 votes (68.9 percent) to Holloway's 27,816 (25.4 percent) and Mitchell's 6,243 (5.7 percent). Holloway had used his candidacy in part to rally opposition to a cross-parish school busing order issued by U.S. District Judge Nauman Scott, based in Alexandria. Holloway would run again for the seat in 1985 in the special election called to select Long's congressional successor and in 1986 to choose Long's more permanent replacement.

In 1981, Long opposed the Reagan tax cuts, citing two objections: (1) The major tax relief rested with families earning more than $50,000 annually, (2) The tax cuts could lead to "staggering deficits." However, forty-eight House Democrats provided the margin of victory for the tax cuts, which Republicans thereafter cited as the centerpiece of the revitalization of a dormant economy.[13]

In 1982, Long defeated Democratic State Senator Ned Randolph, Jr., of Alexandria, with 71,103 ballots (59.6 percent) to Randolph's 46,656 (39.1 percent). After the 1982 election, Long expected to become the new chairman of the House Rules Committee to succeed the retiring Richard Bolling of Missouri; however, Claude Pepper of Florida pulled rank and took that chairmanship.[14]

In 1984, in what was his last election, Long defeated the Republican Kilyun Darrell Williamson (1945-2013), a native of Prentiss, Mississippi, a member of the Rapides Parish Police Jury from 1980 to 1982, the chairman of the Red River Waterway Commission and the Sabine River Authority, and from 1987 to 1993 the chief financial officer of the City of Alexandria and the municipal public works director. Williamson continued as public works director from 1993 to 2003 as well.[15] Long polled 116,141 votes (80 percent) to Williamson's 32,780 (20 percent). Years later in 2005, then Mayor Ned Randolph, Long's previous political opponent, asked Williamson to resign without explanation after two years of service as the director of Alexandria Planning & Economic Development Department. Randolph fired two other city officials, Harold Chambers and Sonny Craig; both joined with Williamson to file suit, and each collected a $25,000 settlement. Randolph issued a statement saying that all three had done nothing wrong and even wrote letters of recommendation on behalf of each man. In his last years, Williamson was project manager for the Alexandria engineering firm, Meyer, Meyer, LaCroix & Hixson.[16]

Cathy Long succeeds her husband in Congress

Ironically, Long, who had campaigned for failed Democratic presidential nominee Walter F. Mondale in 1984, died at the time of President Reagan's second inauguration. The president honored Long, with whom he disagreed on many issues, by calling in his inaugural speech for a moment of silence.

Gillis Long is interred at the Alexandria National Cemetery in Pineville, Louisiana.

In the special congressional election mandated in 1985 to choose a successor to Gillis Long, the winner was his popular widow, Catherine Small Long, a native of Dayton, Ohio. The Longs were married on June 21, 1947. At the time of his death, they had been together for nearly thirty-eight years. Bill Dodd, an observer of Louisiana politics, described Cathy Long in his memoirs as "the perfect wife for a politician. She was smart and made everyone feel perfectly at ease, and she was eager to help her husband . . . everyone loved Cathy."

Mrs. Long defeated four opponents including Republican Clyde Holloway, who had lost in 1980 to her husband, and then State Representative John W. "Jock" Scott, son of Judge Nauman Scott. Though Scott was a Democrat at the time of the special election, he switched parties later in 1985 and ran again for Congress in the revised Fifth District in 2004, only to be defeated by incumbent fellow Republican Rodney Alexander.

When he died, Long was the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. Long was a transitional figure from the hegemony of conservative "Louisiana Democrats" who had supported segregation and states' rights to the later era of liberal "national Democrats," who embraced civil rights and federal social programs without hesitation. Long also consolidated his hold on the district and demonstrated how one could use effective constituent service, media coverage, and public relations to remain in Congress even while repeatedly voting against the wishes of his more conservative constituents.


Long died the day before the second Reagan inaugural was honored with a moment of silence at the beginning of Reagan's speech in the United States Capitol Rotunda on January 21, 1985.[17]

Long was inducted posthumously into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield in 1994, along with his late colleague, Longite Senator Allen J. Ellender. Also inducted was former Representative Lindy Boggs of New Orleans, widow of Representative Hale Boggs.

Long is remembered through the Gillis Long Center in Carville, a facility for the treatment of Hansen's disease patients which serves additionally as headquarters for several units and programs of the Louisiana Army National Guard,[18] the Gillis Long Poverty Law Center of Loyola University School of Law in New Orleans, and the Gillis Long Bridge across the Red River from Jackson Street in Alexandria into the main street of Pineville.

He had two children, George Harrison Long (born 1954), a photographer in New Orleans, and Janis Catherine Long (born 1957), an attorney for the U.S. Trademark Office near Washington, D.C.

Like many of the Longs, Gillis Long was a member of the Baptist Church. An avid sportsman, Long purchased a hunting lodge north of Tallahassee, Florida, known as "Bull Run Plantation", and which later became Kinhega Lodge.


  1. ^ Alexandria Daily Town Talk, April 29, 2007
  2. ^ Louisiana Secretary of State, Election returns for Congress 1962
  3. ^ """Future U.S. Representative Harold B. McSween, "T. Harry Williams: A Remembrance. Virginia Quarterly Review: A National Journal of Literature & Discussion. Retrieved July 13, 2009. 
  4. ^ Minden Press, November 4, 1963, p. 11
  5. ^ William C. Havard, Rudolf Heberle, and Perry H. Howard, The Louisiana Elections of 1960, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Studies, 1963, pp. 100-101
  6. ^ "Blame Laid to Governor by Gillis Long", Minden Press-Herald, Minden, Louisiana, September 1, 1966, p. 1
  7. ^ "J. Kelly Nix". Retrieved October 7, 2013. 
  8. ^ "Louisiana District 8 - D Primary". Retrieved May 23, 2014. 
  9. ^ "LA District 8". Retrieved May 23, 2014. 
  10. ^ "Wallace Party Still Claims No Difference", Minden Press-Herald, January 16, 1969, p. 1
  11. ^ William Johnson (July 16, 2014). "Mildred Methvin to fill Judge Hebert's position".  
  12. ^ "Robert Henry Mitchell, Sr.". Alexandria Town Talk. Retrieved July 11, 2014. 
  13. ^ Margie Dale and Vicky Harris, "Pro and Con of Tax Cut: Buddy Roemer vs. Gillis Long", Minden Press-Herald, July 31, 1981, p. 1
  14. ^ "Congressmen lose bids for power", Minden Press-Herald, November 22, 1982, p. 1
  15. ^ "Kilyun Darrell Williamson". The Town Talk. Retrieved August 28, 2013. 
  16. ^ "Darrell Williamson remembered as a 'get things done' person, August 29, 2013". The Town Talk. Retrieved August 29, 2013. 
  17. ^ "Swearing-In Ceremony for President Ronald W. Reagan". 
  18. ^ Gillis W. Long Center site (accessed 2011-01-10).
  • Gillis William Long at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
  • William J. "Bill" Dodd, Peapatch Politics: The Earl Long Era in Louisiana Politics, Baton Rouge: Claitor's Publishing, 1991
  • Ronald Reagan, Second Inaugural Address -
  • Jimmy Long interview -
  • Joe Ticheli interview -
  • Political Graveyard
  • Robert d'Hemecourt and Cecil Warren interview -
  • Old L&A Depot, LA Political Museum Winnfield web site
  • Gillis W. Long Poverty Law Center Summer Internship Program, 2002 - Loyola University New Orleans (PDF)
  • Gillis W. Long Center
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Harold B. McSween
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Louisiana's 8th congressional district

Succeeded by
Speedy O. Long
Preceded by
Speedy O. Long
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Louisiana's 8th congressional district

Succeeded by
Catherine Small Long
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