Gillis Long

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Gillis William Long​

U.S. Representative for Louisiana's 8th congressional district, since disbanded​
In office
January 3, 1973​ – January 20, 1985​
Preceded by Speedy Long
Succeeded by Catherine Small Long​
In office
January 3, 1963​ – January 3, 1965​
Preceded by Harold B. McSween​
Succeeded by Speedy Long​

Born May 4, 1923​
Winnfield, Louisiana​
Died January 20, 1985 (aged 61)​
Washington, D.C.
Resting place Alexandria National Cemetery in Pineville, Louisiana​
Political party Democrat
Spouse(s) Catherine Small Long (born 1924)​
Children George Harrison Long

Janis Catherine Long

Occupation Attorney

Investment banker​
United States Army in World War II

Gillis William Long (May 4, 1923 – January 20, 1985) was an attorney and businessman from Alexandria, Louisiana who was a Democratic U.S. Representative for his state's 8th congressional district, since disbanded. He was a member of the Long political family. Long served seven non-consecutive terms in the House and 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 from a heart attack in 1985 in Washington, D.C. Though he was elected to an eighth term in the House in 1984, he died seventeen days into that term.​ His death coincided with the second inauguration of his political opponent, U.S. President Ronald W. Reagan.

In its April 29, 2007, edition, Long's hometown newspaper, the Alexandria Town Talk, declared that Gillis Long, along with legendary Camille Francis Gravel, Jr., and American Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman, were the three most significant historical persons to have been associated with Alexandria.[1]


​ 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 Mary Ella Wright. Among others, he was a cousin of Huey Pierce Long, Jr., Earl Kemp Long, Russell Long, George Shannon Long, Speedy Long, Jimmy D. Long, Gerald Long, Floyd Smith, and Mary Alice Long Rambo, wife of legislator Willard Lloyd Rambo.​[2]

The Longs moved to Alexandria in 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 the then segregated Bolton High School in Alexandria. He received his 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. Long's law school classmates included later Louisiana 9th Judicial District Court Judges Guy Humphries and Lloyd George Teekell and Rapides Parish District Attorney Ed Ware and Ware's law partner and assistant DA, Gus Voltz, Jr. Long 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 U. S. Army infantry in World War II. He rose from the rank of private to captain and was awarded the Purple Heart for war wounds.​After the war, Long was part of the Internal Security Detachment at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal in Germany. He was legal counsel to the Senate Select Committee on Small Business from 1951 to 1952 and the chief counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives Special Committee on Campaign Expenditures from 1952 to 1954 and again in 1956.​ ​

First election to Congress

In 1962, Long unseated incumbent U.S. Representative Harold Barnett McSween (1926-2002) 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 re-nomination, 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 LaSalle Parish, one of the most frequently Republican of Louisiana's sixty-four parishes.[3]

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.[4]

1963 gubernatorial race

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 Long, who 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."[5]

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 John F. Kennedy national administration. But he also had immense assets in the Long name and in the backing of Russell Long. His campaign kick-off dinner was conspicuous for the presence of a formidable list of state and local leaders of the old Long organization, some of whom had not been active in recent statewide campaigns. He also made some organizational inroads into a potential new element in Louisiana politics—a rising class of young business and professional men whose call for a new look in Louisiana politics is similar to a development that has taken place nationally. Those 'young men for Gillis Long' are sophisticates, skilled at organization and public relations, and inclined to institutionalize and intellectualize politics to a greater extent that is usual among old-fashioned personalized bosses in both parties. Gillis Long's campaign success depends heavily on the ability to put muscle into the atrophied Long organization because there is survival of Long sentiment among the traditional groups of Long voters which cannot be discounted. ..."[6]

Runnng with Long on his intra-party ticket were R. O. Rush for lieutenant governor and Andrew J. Falcon for state comptroller,[7] a position no longer elected.

Congressional reelection defeat, 1964

​ Having failed to become governor, Long was challenged for re-nomination in 1964 by another cousin, Speedy Oteria Long 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 intra-party ticket that also included former Mayor Ashton J. Mouton of Lafayette for lieutenant governor. Only McKeithen won, as both of his 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 Waggonner and Otto 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.​ Walker benefited from running on the Barry Goldwater ticket in Louisiana. ​

War on Poverty

​ After his defeat for Congress, Long accepted an appointment in 1965 from U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson as assistant secretary of the Office of Economic Opportunity, often referred to in 1965 and 1966 as the "War on Poverty."​ 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 work to improve income levels in Louisiana.​ [8]

Long's involvement with the federal anti-poverty agency in Louisiana led to the development of a close friendship with R. Sargent Shriver, who ran for vice-president in 1972 on the Democratic ticket head by U.S. Senator George McGovern of South Dakota. Shriver, a native of Illinois, was a brother-in-law of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Edward M. Kennedy. 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.

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.[9]

Second gubernatorial bid, 1971

As an ex-congressman, Long ran in the crowded 1971 Democratic gubernatorial primary. He hired J. Kelly Nix, a former professor of public administration, then living in Monroe, to manage his field operations. Nix subsequently became the Louisiana school superintendent from 1976 to 1984, when the position was filled by election, instead of the subsequent appointment process.[10]

Again Long finished third, state Senator J. Bennett Johnston, Jr., of Shreveport and Edwin Edwards, U.S. representative for Louisiana's 7th congressional district, also since disbanded. 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.

Coincidentally, 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 but instead ran for district attorney in LaSalle Parish. 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 8th 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 intra-party 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.[11] Long then 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).[12]

Dr. Abramson, who had backed George Wallace for U.S. President in 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. Abramson borrowed from Wallace's line to remark, "there's not nine cents worth of difference between the two major parties."[13]

Lock on the 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. William Joseph "Bill" Dodd called Gillis Long the "most left-wing of all the Longs." No strong conservatives emerged to challenge him for reelection.[14]

Long hired for his Washington office staff Mildred Methvin, a Georgetown University Law School student descended from political families in Natchitoches and Alexandria. Her father was the Alexandria attorney DeWitt T. Methvin, Jr. In 1983, she was named United States Magistrate Judge for the Lafayette office of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana., a position that she retained until 2009.[15]

In 1976, an Independent affiliated with the "Radical Right," Kent Courtney of Alexandria, 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 had been an unsuccessful candidate for lieutenant governor in 1959 on the Democratic gubernatorial ticket headed by state Senator William Rainach of Claiborne Parish. Cy Courtney also 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 (1919-2005),[16] 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 8th district in later years, but the terrain was hostile to Republican candidates.​

In 1980, Republican Clyde Holloway, a nurseryman 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.[17]

In 1982, Long defeated Democratic State Senator Ned Randolph of Alexandria, with 71,103 ballots (59.6 percent) to 46,656 (39.1 percent). After the 1982 election, Long expected to become the new chairman of the House Rules Committee; however, Claude Pepper of Florida pulled rank and took that chairmanship.[18]

In 1984, in what was his last election, Long defeated the Republican Kilyun Darrell Williamson (1945-2013), a native of 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.[19] 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.[20]​ ​

Cathy Long succeeds her husband in Congress

​ Coincidenatally, Long, who had campaigned for failed Democratic presidential nominee Walter 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.​ [21]​​ Gillis Long is interred at the Alexandria National Cemetery in Pineville, Louisiana.​

In the special congressional election mandated in 1985 to choose his congressional successor, the winning candidate was his popular widow, Catherine "Cathy" Small Long (1924-2019), 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."[14] Cathy Long was also a staunch feminist and political liberal.

Mrs. Long defeated four opponents including Republican Clyde Holloway, who had lost in 1980 to her husband, and then state Representative 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 5th 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. 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 conservative constituents.​


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 in Iberville Parish, 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, and the Gillis Long Bridge across the Red River from Jackson Street in Alexandria into the main street of Pineville.

The Gillis Long Poverty Law Center of Loyola University New Orleans School of Law,[22] as well as the center's Gillis Long Summer Internship Program, and Public Service Awards are named in his honor. ​ ​ Gillis Long and his wife had two children, George Harrison Long, a photographer born in 1954 and based 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 Southern Baptist Church. An avid sportsman, Long purchased a hunting lodge north of Tallahassee, Florida, known as "Bull Run Plantation, which later became Kinhega Lodge.

One of Long's congressional aides, Jane Elizabeth Gremillion Chaney (1937-2024), was the wife of Marion Joseph Chaney, a long-term former at-large member of the Alexandria City Council.[23]


  1. The Alexandria Town Talk, April 29, 2007.
  2. Long, Gillis William. The Political Graveyard. Retrieved on September 30, 2019.
  3. Louisiana Secretary of State, Congressional Election Returns, November 1962.
  4. Future U.S. Representative Harold B. McSween, "T. Harry Williams: A Remembrance". Virginia Quarterly Review: A National Journal of Literature & Discussion. Retrieved on July 13, 2009.
  5. Minden Press, November 4, 1963, p. 11.
  6. William C. Havard, Rudolf Heberle, and Perry H. Howard, The Louisiana Elections of 1960, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Studies, 1963, pp. 100-101.
  7. Minden Press, December 2, 1963, p. 13.
  8. Gillis W. Long Poverty Law Center: Summer Internship program. (2002). Retrieved on September 30, 2019.
  9. "Blame Laid to Governor by Gillis Long," Minden Press-Herald, September 1, 1966, p. 1.
  10. J. Kelly Nix. Retrieved on October 7, 2013.
  11. Louisiana District 8 - D primary. Retrieved on May 23, 2014.
  12. LA District 8. Retrieved on May 23, 2014.
  13. "Wallace Party Still Claims No Difference," Minden Press-Herald, January 16, 1969, p. 1.
  14. 14.0 14.1 *William J. "Bill" Dodd, Peapatch Politics: The Earl Long Era in Louisiana Politics (Baton Rouge: Claitor's Publishing, 1991​).
  15. William Johnson (July 16, 2014). Mildred Methvin to fill Judge Hebert's position. Opelousas Daily World. Retrieved on October 10, 2014.
  16. Robert Henry Mitchell, Sr.. Alexandria Town Talk. Retrieved on July 11, 2014.
  17. Margie Dale and Vicky Harris, "Pro and Con of Tax Cut: Buddy Roemer vs. Gillis Long" Minden Press-Herald, July 31, 1981, p. 1.
  18. "Congressmen lose bids for power," Minden Press-Herald, November 22, 1982, p. 1.
  19. Kilyun Darrell Williamson. The Alexandria Town Talk. Retrieved on August 28, 2013.
  20. Darrell Williamson remembered as a 'get things done' person, August 29, 2013. The Alexandria Town Talk. Retrieved on August 29, 2013.
  21. Swearing-In Ceremony for President Ronald W. Reagan.; no longer on-line.
  22. Gillis W. Long Center site (accessed January 10, 2011)
  23. Jane Elizabeth Gremillion Chaney obituary. Alexandria Town Talk (May 14, 2024). Retrieved on May 17, 2024.