Uncle Earl, Charles de Gaulle & Winnfield

RABALAIS’ TUESDAY HISTORY

In April of 1960, French President Charles de Gaulle, on a tour of the United States, stopped for a diplomatic visit in New Orleans. Unbeknownst to Le Président, he quickly found himself in thrust into the middle of the legendary political feud between Gov. Earl Long and they city’s mayor, DeLesseps Morrison.

Long and Morrison were longtime political enemies. Morrison led the reform-minded, “good government” faction of the state Democratic Party, while Long sat upon his brother’s throne as the leader of the party’s populist wing. The two had faced off in the 1956 gubernatorial election, which Long won outright in the primary.

De Gaulle’s visit to New Orleans came in the final days of Long’s term. The organizing committee had neglected to invite the governor, who was only nine months removed from his well-publicized release from a state mental hospital.

Furious at the snub, Long blamed Morrison and managed to get a pass for the festivities. But Uncle Earl was not going to be just a diplomatic spectator.

When de Gaulle’s motorcade was leaving the airport, Long walked over to the president’s car, demanding to ride with him and Morrison. The French security guards refused to allow the governor in and he had to catch a ride with the adjutant general of the National Guard.

Not obtaining a more formal introduction, Long and de Gaulle briefly spoke before a ceremonial parade. When de Gaulle moved toward his seat, the governor grabbed him by the lapels and pulled him back to continue their conversation. During the parade, Long puffed on a cigarette and berated Morrison for some past political attacks.

At a luncheon the following day at the Roosevelt Hotel, security guards noticed that Long was carrying a gun in his pocket. While the governor assured them he was no threat to de Gaulle, two plainclothesmen were assigned to stay close to him.

Checking the table beforehand, Morrison had noticed that Long was assigned the seat next to de Gaulle. The Mayor promptly moved the governor to the end of the table. Long responded by forcing a translator to move and planting himself in their seat.

When Long rose to address the luncheon, Morrison told him to keep his remarks short — no more than five minutes. The governor spoke for three minutes, then told the mayor to take his two minutes back. Long then grabbed his hat and left, headed back to Baton Rouge, insulted.

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