The Huey P. Long Bridge spans the Mississippi River in Jefferson Parish, a few miles upstream of New Orleans itself, and features a central 4.4-mile rail track. At the time of its construction, the Huey P. Long Bridge was the longest railroad bridge in the world and remains the longest in the US. Before the bridge was built, the only option for trains to cross the Mississippi River was a clunky ferry system. The cantilevered steel truss bridge was completed in 1935, just a few months after the assassination of populist governor Huey Long. The bridge was named in his honor and stands as an homage to his legacy of public works in Louisiana.
One of the most colorful and controversial figures in Louisiana political history, Huey Long remains complex and controversial for both his political demagoguery and his benevolent populism. Huey P. Long served as governor and senator of Louisiana during the early years of the Great Depression. Long courted previously neglected rural, white voters in order to win the governorship in the 1928 election. He garnered popular support with the promise of numerous construction projects that would provide employment and improved infrastructure, like the Huey P. Long Bridge, throughout the state. During his political reign, Long ordered the construction of thousands of miles of roads, numerous bridges and several municipal buildings, many of which are still in use today.
Throughout his political career, Long used the patronage system to secure political support, supplying lucrative government positions and contracts to loyal voters and generous political donors. Long proclaimed himself “The Kingfish” as a result of his political style that combined populist appeals with authoritative control over state operations and finances. During the height of his political career, “The Kingfish” maintained a suite at the Fairmont of New Orleans, today’s Roosevelt Hotel, and the Heidelberg Hotel in Baton Rouge.
Long was elected to the Senate in 1931. While Senator, Long advocated for increased federal funding for state construction projects under his “Share the Wealth” program. “Share the Wealth” garnered so much popular support that it placed pressure on Franklin Delano Roosevelt to create a running platform and national policy that contributed to the formation of Social Security. Originally a supporter and ally of FDR, Long would eventually break with the Democratic President when he found that state politicians like himself would not oversee the dispersal of federal funds from New Deal recovery agencies.
As Long made a run for the White House in 1935, political tensions in Louisiana began to mount between Long’s supporters and opponents. On September 8, 1935, Carl Weiss, son in law of Long’s political adversary Judge Benjamin Henry Pavy, assassinated Long at the State Capitol Building in Baton Rouge in a wild shootout with Long’s bodyguards.
Today Long is remembered for the long-lasting public infrastructure projects he supported, including New Orleans’ Charity Hospital, the New Orleans Lakefront Airport, the State Capitol in Baton Rouge, and the State Exposition Hall in Shreveport, along with his flamboyant style and populist approach to politics. Long’s impact on the city of New Orleans remains strongly present as many of the public building created here at the time are still in use.