Fielding L. Wright

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Fielding L. Wright
49th Governor of Mississippi
In office
November 2, 1946 – January 22, 1952
Lieutenant Sam Lumpkin (1948–1952)
Preceded by Thomas L. Bailey
Succeeded by Hugh L. White
19th Lieutenant Governor of Mississippi
In office
January 18, 1944 – November 2, 1946
Governor Thomas L. Bailey
Preceded by Dennis Murphree
Succeeded by Sam Lumpkin
Personal details
Born Fielding Lewis Wright
(1895-05-16)May 16, 1895
Rolling Fork, Mississippi
Died May 4, 1956(1956-05-04) (aged 60)
Jackson, Mississippi
Political party Democratic
Dixiecrat (1948)
Spouse(s) Nan Kelly
Profession Lawyer
Religion Methodist

Fielding Lewis Wright (May 16, 1895 – May 4, 1956) was a Democratic politician who served as Lieutenant Governor of Mississippi from 1944 to 1946, then as Governor after the incumbent, Thomas L. Bailey, died in office in 1946. Wright was elected Governor in his own right in 1947 and served a full four-year term. In 1948 Wright was nominated as the vice-presidential candidate of the States' Rights Democratic Party (Dixiecrats), running alongside South Carolina's Governor Strom Thurmond.

Early life[edit]

Wright was born into a politically active family in the town of Rolling Fork, in Sharkey County, Mississippi, on May 16, 1895. Through his mother, Anne Foote Wright, he was a direct descendant of Fielding Lewis and his wife, Betty Washington Lewis, a sister of George Washington. After serving in the U.S. Army during World War I he returned home vowing that he would never become a "dang politician". Wright studied law at the University of Alabama, then went on to open a law office in Rolling Fork in partnership with his uncle.

Political career[edit]

Wright turned down several opportunities to run for public office before finally agreeing to run for the Mississippi Senate in 1928. He won that election and four years later was elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives. In his second term as a representative he was elected Speaker of the House, and used his position to promote and support industrialization, commercial development and highway construction, issues of great importance to a traditionally agricultural state struggling to modernize its economy.

In 1943 Wright was elected Lieutenant Governor of Mississippi. As Lieutenant Governor he was presiding officer of the Mississippi Senate, one of only two 20th century politicians to chair both houses of the legislature (Sam Lumpkin of Tupelo, Mississippi being the other). Following the death in office of Governor Thomas Lowry Bailey on November 2, 1946, Wright filled the remainder of Bailey's term as 49th Governor of Mississippi. Wright's strong stand on hotly debated issues such as racial segregation, civil rights and states' rights, combined with the advantages of incumbency, won his re-election as Governor of Mississippi in 1947. Wright won the governorship in the first primary, defeating four opponents.

Governor Wright's 1946–1952 administration concentrated largely on urbanization and industrialization, issues of increasing importance to rural states struggling to modernize their economies at the end of World War II. Fielding L. Wright governed Mississippi at a time when the state's economy, social customs, and race relations were undergoing slow but significant changes.

A 'friend of education'[edit]

During the 1940s Wright was widely known as a 'friend of education'. During his governorship the University of Mississippi Medical Center was established in Jackson and the Mississippi Vocational College (now Mississippi Valley State University) was founded in Itta Bena. In 1969 Delta State University's Roberts Library was renovated and became the Fielding L. Wright Art Center, with a spacious art gallery created in the old reading room. Mississippi Valley State University's Department of Mathematics, Computer and Information Sciences is housed in the Fielding L. Wright Science Complex, and the Fielding L. Wright Memorial Health Fund was established in 1972.

Vice-Presidential candidate[edit]

The Democratic Party nominated Harry S. Truman in the 1948 presidential election, whose platform was strongly in favor of civil rights. In opposition to this, Governor Strom Thurmond of South Carolina helped organize walkout delegates from the 1948 Democratic Convention into a separate party, the States' Rights Democratic Party (popularly known as the 'Dixiecrats'). The party held their own Convention in Birmingham, Alabama, where they nominated Thurmond for president with Governor Wright as his running mate. Dixiecrat leaders worked to have Thurmond and Wright declared the official Democratic candidates. Their efforts succeeded in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina, but in all other states Thurmond and Wright were forced to run as third party candidates. On election day the States' Rights Democratic Party carried the four states, with 1,169,021 popular votes and 39 electoral votes.

Civil rights issues[edit]

Fielding L. Wright's run as vice-presidential candidate was largely a protest against the nomination of President Truman and the inclusion of civil rights proposals in the Democratic Party platform. In his 1948 gubernatorial inaugural address, Wright described racial segregation as an "eternal truth" that "transcends party lines". Wright was a product of his era and the prevailing social attitudes of that time, which are well summed up in a paragraph from The Washington Post, (December 21, 2001), which reported that:

Negroes made up half the population. Their Governor, Fielding Wright, told them: "If any of you have become so deluded as to want to enter our white schools, patronize our hotels and cafes, enjoy social equality with the whites, then true kindness and sympathy requires me to advise you to make your homes in some other state."

Social attitudes were changing however, and the editor of the Arkansas Gazette, in the aftermath of the 1948 election, noted that "Unpleasant as all this was, the Dixiecrats inadvertently performed a great service for the South by demonstrating that the race issue is no longer a certain ticket to public office for any demagogue who cares to use it."

After politics[edit]

Wright left office in 1952, after holding the title of Governor for six consecutive years, and opened a law office in Jackson, Mississippi. He made one last attempt at running for Governor in 1955 but was defeated by James P. Coleman, and after that defeat returned to practicing law full-time. Fielding L. Wright died on May 4, 1956 in Jackson and was buried in his home town of Rolling Fork, Mississippi.

References[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Thomas L. Bailey
Governor of Mississippi
1946–1952
Succeeded by
Hugh L. White
Party political offices
Preceded by
none
Dixiecrat Vice Presidential Candidate
1948 (3rd)
Succeeded by
none