Dudley J. LeBlanc

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Dudley Joseph LeBlanc
Louisiana State Senator from Vermilion Parish
In office
1940–1944
Preceded by Wilber P. Kramer
Succeeded by Leonard C. Wise
In office
1948–1952
Preceded by Leonard C. Wise
Succeeded by C. C. Burleigh
In office
1964–1968
Preceded by Lee C. Firmin
Succeeded by District ended
Louisiana State Senate from reconfigured Vermilion and Acadia parishes
In office
1968 – October 22, 1971
Preceded by New district
Succeeded by James E. Fontenot
President Pro Tempore of the Louisiana State Senate
In office
1948–1952
Louisiana State Representative from Vermilion Parish
In office
1924–1926
Preceded by Two-member district:

Emmett W. Henry
A. M. Smith

Succeeded by E. Whitney Bonin
Louisiana Public Service Commissioner
In office
1926 – End date unknown
Personal details
Born (1894-08-16)August 16, 1894
Youngsville, Louisiana, U.S.
Died October 22, 1971(1971-10-22) (aged 77)
Abbeville, Louisiana, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Evelyn Hebert LeBlanc (1919–1971; his death)
Children 6
Alma mater Erath High School
University of Louisiana at Lafayette
Profession Businessman
Religion Roman Catholic
Military service
Service/branch United States Army
Battles/wars World War I

Dudley Joseph LeBlanc, Sr. (August 16, 1894 – October 22, 1971), also known as Coozan Dud LeBlanc, was an American Democratic and Cajun member of the Louisiana State Senate whose entrepreneurial talents netted him a fortune through the alcohol-laden patent medicine known as Hadacol. He is also considered the "father of the old age pension" in Louisiana.

Early years and military service[edit]

LeBlanc was born to Numa and Noemie LeBlanc in the farming community of LeBlanc near Youngsville, in Lafayette Parish. The LeBlancs moved to Erath in Vermilion Parish, when he was a toddler. He considered Vermilion Parish as his home throughout his life, though technically he was not a native of that parish. He grew up speaking nothing but French and never lost his Cajun accent.[1] He graduated from Erath High School. When he turned eighteen, LeBlanc graduated from the institution now known as the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. At the time it was called "Southwestern Louisiana Institute." LeBlanc self-financed his college expenses by running a clothes pressing business at night. The operation was so successful that he reportedly helped to put two cousins through school as well.

After he graduated from college, LeBlanc became a high-powered salesman of tobacco, shoes, crude oil, and, later, patent medicines. He was so successful that he sent each of his four brothers through college. "Then I went into the United States Army (as a sergeant). Educating my brothers took it all," LeBlanc quipped. However, one of his brothers, Raoul J. LeBlanc, was already serving in combat in France as a member of Louisiana's Washington Artillery during World War I.

LeBlanc spent most of his adult years in Abbeville, the seat of Vermilion Parish, where LeBlanc had a large, comfortable home. Another gubernatorial hopeful, Republican Charlton Havard Lyons, Sr., was born in Abbeville. Lyons lost the 1964 general election to John Julian McKeithen in the same election in which LeBlanc began his third term in the state Senate. Years later in 2007, Sammy Kershaw, a Country music singer from Vermilion Parish, ran unsuccessfully as a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor[2]

Tangling with Huey P. Long, Jr.[edit]

In 1924, LeBlanc was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives. He ran because he did not think that the incumbent representative had done a good job of bringing roads into Vermilion Parish. A story persists that the representative dared LeBlanc to run against him, and LeBlanc accepted the challenge and narrowly unseated the lawmaker.

LeBlanc served only a half term in the state House because he was elected for a six-year term in 1926 to one of the then three seats on the Louisiana Public Service Commission, the utility rate-making body. He defeated the candidate supported by Huey P. Long. LeBlanc's district covered all of the southwestern third of the state. The commission was expanded to five members under the Louisiana Constitution of 1974.

LeBlanc provided the third swing vote to remove Huey Long as the PSC chairman, as Long was attempting to use the position to promote his pending gubernatorial candidacy. LeBlanc accused Long of being a "slacker" in World War I.

1932 gubernatorial campaign[edit]

LeBlanc and Huey Long, both being salesmen, had become friends during the 1920s. By the time that LeBlanc decided to run for governor in 1932, they were bitter intraparty rivals. Huey Long got a fellow representative, Gilbert Dupre, to claim that LeBlanc "associated with Negroes".[3]

Long threw his support to the eventual gubernatorial winner, Oscar K. Allen of Winnfield. There were reports of fraud in the balloting, but the election was not close. Allen prevailed with 214,699 votes (56.5 percent) to LeBlanc's 110,848 ballots (29 percent). A third candidate, George Guion, polled 53,756 votes (14.2 percent). Some fishermen even claimed to have seen ballot boxes floating down the Mississippi River.[citation needed]

In the 1932 campaign, LeBlanc spent more time attacking Long, who was not a candidate for reelection, than he did his principal rival, Oscar Allen.[citation needed] Long retaliated: in stump speeches, he poked fun at LeBlanc's French name, much as Long's brother, Earl Kemp Long, later ridiculed then New Orleans Mayor deLesseps Story Morrison in the 1955 gubernatorial primary.

Long also criticized LeBlanc's funeral business, which catered to African Americans:

"He [LeBlanc] charges for a coffin and charges $7.50 for a shroud. I am informed that the [expletive deleted] is laid out, and after the mourners have left, LeBlanc takes the body into a back room, takes off the shroud and nails him up into a pine box and buries him at a total of $3.67 and a half cent."

Historian T. Harry Williams of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge wrote that LeBlanc's black clients were so outraged by the possibility that the shrouds might be used more than once that they deserted LeBlanc's business in droves.[citation needed]

It was during this losing campaign for governor that LeBlanc began calling for a $30 old-age pension. Years later, Governor John J. McKeithen, who found LeBlanc charming and humorous, declared LeBlanc the "father of the old-age pension".[citation needed] By that time, the payments were $100 per month. McKeithen also considered returning LeBlanc to the post of State Senate President Pro Tempore, third in line in gubernatorial succession. LeBlanc had held that position in Earl Long's second term from 1948 to 1952. When controversy surfaced over the proposed appointment, however, McKeithen changed his mind.

Long was unable to succeed himself as governor but in the meantime had been elected to the U.S. Senate and was poised to take his "Share Our Wealth" philosophy nationwide to Washington, D.C.

After his defeat for governor, LeBlanc returned to another prosperous burial insurance business, the "Thibodaux Benevolent Association". Long ran LeBlanc out of Louisiana by getting the legislature to pass a law forbidding LeBlanc from operating his firm in the state. LeBlanc, therefore, moved the company to Texas, where it continued to prosper. After Long's assassination in 1935, LeBlanc sold that business and returned to Abbeville.

Four state senate terms[edit]

In 1940, LeBlanc was elected to the first of his four nonconsecutive terms in the state Senate. LeBlanc served from 1940 to 1944 (Governor Sam Jones), 1948 to 1952 (second Earl Long administration), 1964 to 1968, and 1968 to 1971 (McKeithen), when he died in office, with some seven months remaining in the term.

At the time of his death, LeBlanc was also seeking a fifth term in the Senate from a reconfigued district including Vermilion and Acadia parishes.

LeBlanc also twice ran for the United States House of Representatives: he waged unsuccessful Democratic primary challenges to the Lafayette-based incumbent Third District Representative Edwin E. Willis in 1952 and 1954.

Campaigning in French[edit]

LeBlanc often campaigned in French when he made appearances in Acadiana. In his ethnic tongue, he extolled his virtues as a politician who deserved the support of his fellow French ethnics, and he attacked his opponents in a language that most of his rivals could not understand.

William J. "Bill" Dodd, a friend and sometimes rival of LeBlanc's, said that LeBlanc once addressed a political gathering in which Public Service Commissioner Ernest S. Clements, who did not speak French—he was from mostly English Oberlin in Allen Parish—was in attendance. A practical joker, LeBlanc had some fun with Clements: he assailed Huey and Earl Long and Clements. There was Clements on the platform applauding as LeBlanc called him "a crook!" Only in Louisiana, it was said, could such politicking be commonplace. And, yes, on more than one occasion Earl Long called LeBlanc "a crook."

Dodd recalled an incident when he was lieutenant governor between 1948 and 1952 and presided over the state senate. LeBlanc was accused by an unnamed north Louisiana senator of having a financial interest in some proposed law. Dodd said in his memoirs, Peapatch Politics: The Earl Long Era in Louisiana Politics, that "Dudley had a hard time getting gung ho for any political act that didn't help him personally." The two senators nearly came to physical blows. Then the whole Senate burst into laughter,and two forgot their differences.

LeBlanc humorously recounted his French-language campaigning, as a contestant on Groucho Marx's NBC television quiz show, You Bet Your Life. The January 18, 1951, episode can be seen on 2003 DVD release, You Bet Your Life: The Lost Episodes.

Running for governor again, 1944 and 1952[edit]

In 1944, LeBlanc surrendered his senate seat to make his second run for governor. He polled only 40,392 votes (8.4 percent). Ernest Clements was running for governor too—he polled about half as many votes as LeBlanc received. The winner that year was LeBlanc's fellow Democrat, Jimmie Davis, who won the first of his two nonconsecutive terms, having defeated principal rival Lewis L. Morgan of Covington, the seat of St. Tammany Parish. Still another 1944 candidate was Sam Caldwell, the Mayor of Shreveport, who finished with fewer than thirty thousand votes.

LeBlanc returned to the state senate in 1948, only to give up the seat again in 1952, so that he could contest the gubernatorial nomination for the third time. He polled 62,906 votes (8.3 percent). The winner that year was Democrat Robert F. Kennon, a judge and former mayor of Minden, the seat of Webster Parish in north Louisiana. Dodd was in the same race and also fared poorly, but he still received more votes than LeBlanc.

LeBlanc used his state Senate seat to pass legislation to assist teachers, farmers, and veterans. He also developed the Louisiana Old Age Pension, originally $30 a month, for people over the age of sixty-five. At one point, he was outbidding the Longs on how much the state could afford to pay the aged.

In the 1947-1948 campaign—the election was in January 1948, but most of the voter appeals were made in the fall of 1947—then State Representative Dodd, who himself was running for lieutenant governor on the Earl Long slate, and LeBlanc, who was running for a second term in the state senate, campaigned together for a few days. They used LeBlanc's comfortable Abbeville home as a base of operations in Acadiana. LeBlanc had supported anti-Long candidates Sam Jones and James Houston Davis in 1940 and 1944, respectively. But in 1948, he supported Long, whom he expected to win, against Jones, who was trailing badly in a comeback attempt.

In 1951, LeBlanc had considered running for lieutenant governor, which was then the presiding officer of the state senate, on Dodd's gubernatorial ticket. However, Earl Long, when he heard of LeBlanc's plans, had a friend tell an untruth about Dodd to LeBlanc. Long split the two old friends, as was his forte, but the breach was temporary. So LeBlanc and Dodd both ran unsuccessfully for governor.

Defender of Cajun culture[edit]

In addition to his determined political activities, LeBlanc was a staunch defender of preserving Cajun culture in Louisiana. He served as president of the Association of Louisiana Acadians, and in the late 1960s, he, along with U.S. Representative James R. Domengeaux of Lafayette, worked to establish the interest group CODOFIL, or le Conseil pour le développement du français en Louisiane (the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana). LeBlanc helped to make Louisiana the only English-French bilingual state in the nation.

LeBlanc wrote three books: The True Story of the Acadians in 1927, an "improved version" of the first book in 1932, and The Acadian Miracle in 1966. The latter was a revised and expanded edition of the first book.

1957 indictment[edit]

In 1957, while he was not in public office, LeBlanc was indicted for fraudulently filing his federal income tax for the year 1951. The indictment was thrown out, however, when his attorneys filed a motion that LeBlanc could not properly defend himself because a U.S. District Court in New York had destroyed the records of his company after a 1952 bankruptcy hearing.

LeBlanc's obituary[edit]

LeBlanc died of a massive stroke suffered at Abbeville General Hospital, where he had been admitted for emergency surgery for a gastric ulcer three days earlier.

Services were held on October 23, 1971, at St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church in Abbeville. LeBlanc was a member of the Catholic Church and had donated the land on which St. Theresa Catholic Church of Abbeville stands. He was interred in the St. Mary Magdalen Parish Cemetery.

Survivors included his widow, the former Evelyn Hebert (1897–1992), a schoolteacher whom he married in 1919; four sons, Dudley J. LeBlanc, Jr. (born 1921), of Lafayette, Roland Francis LeBlanc, Sr. (born 1925), and Morgan E. LeBlanc (born 1938), both of Abbeville, and Jean B. LeBlanc (also born 1938) of Baton Rouge; two daughters, Mrs. Kay (Lewis) Jarrell (born 1927) of Lafayette and Mrs. Bertha Anne (James) Curley (born 1934) of Alexandria; two brothers, Oliver J. LeBlanc, the Lafayette Parish clerk of court, and Paul V. LeBlanc of New Orleans, and twenty-four grandchildren. Two other brothers preceded him in death; Preston LeBlanc and Raoul (Ralph) J. LeBlanc (1898–1970).

Louisiana Hall of Famer[edit]

The novelist and biographer Steven Longstreet compared LeBlanc with Huey Long, while LeBlanc was still living: "He's as good a speaker and as quick a thinker as Long was. But I don't think he has Long's streak of cruelty, and he has the quality that Long never had -- the ability to laugh at himself."

In 1993, LeBlanc was posthumously inducted into the maiden class of the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield.[4]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Colin Escott, George Merritt, William MacEwen. "Chapter 12 the Haddy-Cole Bounce". Hank Williams: the biography. 
  2. ^ Bob Paxman, "Sammy Kershaw." In Encyclopedia of Country Music, edited by Paul Kingsbury (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 279.
  3. ^ Louisiana Progress, November 10, 1931
  4. ^ "Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame". cityofwinnfield.com. Retrieved August 22, 2009. 
Preceded by
New district
Louisiana State Senator from Acadia and Vermilion parishes

Dudley Joseph LeBlanc, Sr.
1968–1971

Succeeded by
James E. Fontenot
Preceded by
Lee C. Firmin
Louisiana State Senator from Vermilion Parish

Dudley Joseph LeBlanc, Sr.
1964–1968

Succeeded by
District ended
Preceded by
Leonard C. Wise
Louisiana State Senator from Vermilion Parish

Dudley Joseph LeBlanc, Sr.
1948–1952

Succeeded by
C. C. Burleigh
Preceded by
Wilbur P. Kramer
Louisiana State Senator from Vermilion Parish

Dudley Joseph LeBlanc, Sr.
1940–1944

Succeeded by
Leonard C. Wise
Preceded by
Two-member district:

Emmett W. Henry
A. M. Smith

Louisiana State Representative from Vermilion Parish

Dudley Joseph LeBlanc, Sr.
1924–1926

Succeeded by
E. Whitney Bonin