Fielding L. Wright
|49th & 50th Governor of Mississippi|
November 2, 1946 – January 22, 1952
|Preceded by||Thomas L. Bailey|
|Succeeded by||Hugh L. White|
|19th Lieutenant Governor of Mississippi|
January 18, 1944 – November 2, 1946
|Governor||Thomas L. Bailey|
|Preceded by||Dennis Murphree|
|Succeeded by||Sam Lumpkin|
Fielding Lewis Wright
May 16, 1895
Rolling Fork, Mississippi, U.S.
|Died||May 4, 1956 (aged 60)|
Jackson, Mississippi, U.S.
|Education||University of Alabama (LLB)|
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 candidate for vice-president of the segregationist States' Rights Democratic Party (Dixiecrats), running alongside South Carolina's Governor Strom Thurmond. He has been called "one of the most racist political leaders in Mississippi's history."
Wright was born on May 16, 1895 in the town of Rolling Fork, in Sharkey County, Mississippi, into a politically active family, the son of Frances Foote (Clements) and Henry James Wright. Through his mother, 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.
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 and states' rights, which he favored, and civil rights, which he opposed, combined with the advantages of incumbency, won his election as the 50th 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'
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.
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
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. He called civil rights legislation "a greater menace to the nation" than Communism.:237 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),[full citation needed] 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."
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 narrowly defeated by James P. Coleman and Paul B. Johnson, Jr in the 1955 Democratic primary, missing the run-off by 2.2% of the vote. After that defeat, he 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.
- Mississippi numbers Wright as the 49th governor (1946–48), completing his predecessor's term and the 50th governor (1948–52), serving his own full term.
- Loewen, James W. (1999). Lies Across America : what our historic sites get wrong. The New Press. p. 236. ISBN 1565843444.
- Leuwen, James W. (1999). Lies Across America : what our historic sites get wrong. The New Press. p. 236. ISBN 1565843444.
- "MS Governor - D Primary 1955". Our Campaigns. Retrieved 6 January 2016.
- Mississippi History Now, publication of the Mississippi History Society
- Mississippi Code of 1972, Fielding L. Wright Health Fund Established
- Federal Register of Electoral College Votes, 1948 Election
- The Dixiecrat Revolt & The End Of The Solid South, University of North Carolina Press
- "Fielding L. Wright". Find a Grave. Retrieved 2009-02-21.
| Lieutenant Governor of Mississippi
Thomas L. Bailey
| Governor of Mississippi
Hugh L. White
|Party political offices|
Thomas L. Bailey
| Democratic nominee for Governor of Mississippi
Hugh L. White
|New political party|| Dixiecrat nominee for Vice President of the United States