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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

Born May 4, 1923(1923-05-04)
Winnfield, Louisiana
Died January 20, 1985 (aged 61)
Washington, D.C.
Political party Democratic Party
Spouse(s) Catherine Small Long (born 1924)
Occupation investment banker

Gillis William Long (May 4, 1923 – January 20, 1985) was a Democratic U.S. Representative from Louisiana and member of the Long family. Long served seven nonconsecutive terms in the United States House of Representatives but placed third in two campaigns for the Democratic gubernatorial nominations in 1963 and 1971. Long was Representative for the since disbanded Alexandria-based Eighth Congressional District 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 F. Gravel, Jr., and American Civil War General William T. Sherman, were the three most significant persons of history associated with Alexandria.[1]


Early years and ancestry

Long was born in Winn Parish to Floyd Harrison Long, Sr. (1883-1951), and the former Birdie Shumake (1892-1984). His paternal grandparents were Thomas Jefferson Long (1861-1948) and the former Mary Ella Wright). Among others, he was a cousin of Huey Pierce Long, Jr., Russell B. Long, George Shannon Long, Speedy O. Long, Jimmy D. Long, Gerald Long, Earl Kemp Long, and Mary Alice Long 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 had a sister, Doris Long Fletcher (1918-1981) of Alexandria.

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 was permitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court in 1954.

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 war 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 in 1956.

First election to Congress, 1962

In 1962, Gillis 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!

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, 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

Hardly had he taken office as a congressman in 1963 than Long was bitten by the gubernatorial bug. In what proved to be a major error in judgment, 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 Have Always Stood for Progress". He was hence running "as a Long" not just as a candidate who happened to be named Long. He secured the support of U.S. Senator Russell B. Long, who never lost an election in Louisiana.

Gillis Long finished third behind John Julian McKeithen, who had the backing of Blanche Long, Earl Long's politically astute widow, and former New Orleans Mayor deLesseps Story Morrison, Sr. Gillis Long's less than a year of service in the U.S. House at that point did not impress many voters in regard to elective office experience. McKeithen went on to win the party runoff primary against the more liberal Morrison and the general election against the conservative Republican Charlton Lyons of Shreveport.

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 December 1963 Democratic primary. Speedy Long ran on McKeithen's intraparty "ticket" that also included former Mayor Ashton J. Mouton of Lafayette for lieutenant governor. Of course, only McKeithen had 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 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.

Fighting the "War on Poverty"

After his defeat in the summer of 1964, Gillis Long accepted an appointment 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 Long name, Gillis Long had not been reared in a wealthy family. Throughout his political career, Long 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.

A second gubernatorial bid, 1971

Main Article: Louisiana gubernatorial election, 1971-72

Long, as an ex-congressman, also ran in the 1971 Democratic primary. Again he finished third, behind State Senator John Bennett Johnston, Jr., of Shreveport and Seventh District Congressman Edwin Washington Edwards. Long nevertheless ran ahead of his cousin Speedy Long and the fourth-place finisher, former Governor James Houston "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.

Succeeding 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 in order to siphon Long's voters from potentially supporting rival Johnston. Edwards won the runoff by 4,488 votes.

After winning the Democratic nomination for the seat, Gillis Long defeated (1) the surgeon Dr. S.R. Abramson, the American Independent Party nominee, who ran second in the general election, and (2) the Republican Roy C. Strickland (born 1942), 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).

Long's involvement with the federal anti-poverty program in Louisiana led to the development of a friendship with U.S. Senator George McGovern's vice-presidential selection, R. Sargent Shriver, an Illinois native and an in-law of the Kennedy brothers. Long's record moved sharply to the left in his later years in the U.S. House; at times, his votes were consistent with the 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.

Congressman Long cements his hold on 8th District

His gubernatorial fever seemingly behind him, Gillis Long thrust himself into the duties of a congressman once more 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.

In 1976, an independent with ties to the old White Citizens' Council and the defunct Louisiana States' Rights Party, Kent H. Courtney, ran against Long. No Republican filed for the race. Courtney, a brother of former States Rights' lieutenant governor candidate Cy Courtney of New Orleans, obtained only 6,526 votes (5.8 percent).

Republican Robert Henry Mitchell challenged Long in the first ever jungle primary held in Louisiana for congressional elections in 1978. 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 Republicans.

In 1980, Republican Clyde C. Holloway, an independent nurseryman, 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 1982, Long defeated Democratic State Senator Edward G. "Ned" Randolph, Jr., of Alexandria, with 71,103 ballots (59.6 percent) to Randolph's 46,656 (39.1 percent). In 1984, Long, in what would be his last election, defeated Republican Darrell Williamson, the Alexandria city planning director and later the public works director. Long polled 116,141 votes (80 percent) to Williamson's 32,780 (20 percent). Gillis Long had indeed become entrenched in his heavily Democratic district. Not even the Ronald Reagan phenomenon of 1980 or 1984 could threaten Long in the least. Years later, Williamson was removed from his public works position in 2005 in a dispute with then Mayor Ned Randolph.

His widow succeeds Long in Congress

Ironically, Long, who had campaigned for failed Democratic presidential nominee Walter F. Mondale in 1984, died at the time of 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.

Long is buried in the Alexandria National Cemetery in Pineville.

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 astute 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." Coincidentally, Mrs. Long bore both the names "Small" and "Long."

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 U.S. District 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 but was defeated by incumbent fellow Republican Rodney Alexander). Unlike some of his fellow officeholders in Louisiana, Gillis Long was immensely loyal to the Democratic party, having never bolted to support any Republican candidate for any reason. In addition to his commitment to party, Gillis Long was known for his deep patriotism, enhanced by his military service.

When he died, Gillis 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 provided a textbook case how one could use effective constituent service, media coverage, and public relations to remain in Congress even when he repeatedly voted against the wishes of conservative constituents.

Remembering Gillis Long

Gillis 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 also remembered through the Gillis Long Center in Carville, a facility for the treatment of Hansen's disease patients, 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, DC.

Like most 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 which 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.  
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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