Robert Mann and “Kingfish U: Huey and LSU”

June 7, 2023
“I have spent a good bit of time in Winn Parish over the years,” said Bob Mann at the WinnfieldRotary Club meeting on June 7, 2023. “My high school girlfriend’s family had a farm here, so I spent timeworking on the farm in the summers. And after college, when I worked for the Monroe News-Star, Winn Parish was part of my beat. I hung out with Mayor Jack Henderson a lot in those days.”

Mr. Mann was in Winnfield on June 7 to tell the Rotary Club about his latest book, titled”Kingfish U: Huey Long and LSU.” Robert Mann, a native of Leesville, Louisiana, covered Louisianapolitics for the News-Star and the Shreveport Journal for several years and worked as press secretary for U.S. Senators Russell Long, J. Bennett Johnston, and John Breaux, served as communications director forGov. Kathleen Blanco’s campaign and administration. He joined LSU’s Manship School of MassCommunication in 2006 and holds the Manship Chair in Journalism. In 2015, Mann was inducted intothe Louisiana Political Hall of Fame.

The idea for the book about Huey Long and his impact on Louisiana’s flagship university “hit likea bolt of lightning” when Dan Borne, the voice of LSU’s Tiger Stadium, asked him if he knew how HueyLong had picked LSU’s drum majors, which prompted him to reread the chapter on Huey Long and LSU inT. Harry Williams’s biography Huey Long. As that book just touched on the subject, Mann was inspired toresearch the topic of Huey Long’s involvement in and influence on LSU not only in his time as thegovernor of Louisiana but during his tenure as its U. S. Senator.

According to the book jacket, “From 1931, when Long declared himself the ‘official thief’ for LSU,to his death in 1935, the school’s budget mushroomed, its physical plant burgeoned, its facultyflourished, and its enrollment tripled.” Not only did Long appoint new members of LSU’s Board ofSupervisors, but he also essentially functioned as the president of the university, took an intenseinterest in LSU’s football program, stalking the sidelines during games, delivering pep-talks, and firingtwo coaches, he poured money into the band, supervised hiring of two band directors, and even wrotethe new fight song with the second of his band directors.

Huey Long’s influence on the development of LSU’s football program is demonstrated by thefront cover of the book, which is a reproduction of a famous picture of Huey standing in front of a traincar loaded with LSU students whose attendance at LSU’s football contest with Vanderbilt was financedby Huey and some of his cronies. Huey got the whole train loaded with LSU students who attended thegame at Vanderbilt and returned to Baton Rouge the following day. One of the men hanging out thetrain windows was Mickey Simmons’s uncle.

Say what one will about Huey Long’s interference with LSU, according to Bob Mann, it is clearthat LSU’s image was so much improved by his involvement in the football program and the band thatlearned professors from all over the United States were willing to come to LSU to teach, thus developingit into an outstanding institution both academically and athletically.