Hugh Dorsey

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(Redirected from Hugh M. Dorsey)

Hugh Dorsey
62nd Governor of Georgia
In office
June 30, 1917 – June 25, 1921
Preceded byNathaniel Edwin Harris
Succeeded byThomas W. Hardwick
Judge of the Georgia Superior Courts
in the Atlanta Judicial Circuit
In office
Personal details
Hugh Manson Dorsey

(1871-07-10)July 10, 1871
Fayetteville, Georgia, U.S.
DiedJune 11, 1948(1948-06-11) (aged 76)
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
Resting placeWestview Cemetery
Political partyDemocratic
Adair Wilkinson
(m. 1911)
Alma materUniversity of Georgia (AB)
University of Virginia
  • Lawyer
  • politician

Hugh Manson Dorsey (July 10, 1871 – June 11, 1948) was an American lawyer who was notable as the prosecuting attorney in the Leo Frank prosecution of 1913, that subsequently led to a lynching after Frank's death sentence was reduced to life imprisonment. He was also a politician, a member of the Democratic Party, who was twice elected as the Governor of Georgia (1917–1921) and jurist who served for more than a decade as a superior court judge (1935–1948) in Atlanta.

Early life and education[edit]

Hugh Manson Dorsey was born in Fayetteville, Georgia, on July 10, 1871, to Sarah Matilda (née Bennett) and Rufus T. Dorsey.[1][2] At the age of 8, he moved with his family in 1879 to Atlanta.[3] His father was a judge and after moving to Atlanta formed the firm Wright and Dorsey with Judge William Wright.[2][3] Dorsey attended local Atlanta schools. He attended school for a year in Hartwell, Georgia, before returning to Atlanta.[1][3]

Dorsey graduated from the University of Georgia in 1893 with a Bachelor of Arts.[1][2][3] After studying law at the University of Virginia, he was admitted to the bar in Fayetteville.[1]

Personal life[edit]

Dorsey married Adair Wilkinson of Valdosta, Georgia, on June 29, 1911.[3] Together, they had two sons, Hugh Manson Dorsey Jr. and James Wilkinson Dorsey.[1][2][3]

Dorsey's sister, Sarah, married Luther Rosser Jr., son of attorney Luther Rosser, who was chief counsel defending Leo Frank at trial and subsequent appeals.[4]


Dorsey joined his father's law firm in Atlanta in 1895.[3][5] He was made a partner along with Arthur Heyman and the firm became Dorsey, Brewster, Howell and Heyman.[3] After his father died in 1909, Dorsey became the head of the firm and remained until he withdrew from the partnership in August 1916.[3]

After working for several years with his father, in 1910, Dorsey was appointed solicitor general of the Atlanta Judicial Circuit by Governor Joseph M. Brown after the death of Charles D. Hill.[2][3] He was a member of the Democratic Party,[6] as were most established Whites in the South after Reconstruction. In 1913, Dorsey was prosecuting attorney (serving as the solicitor general of the Fulton County Superior Court)[7] at the trial of Leo Frank, who was indicted for the murder of young factory worker Mary Phagan. Achieving conviction amid intense media coverage, Dorsey became famous.[2][3] Frank, a Jewish northerner from Brooklyn, was eventually lynched by a mob two months after Governor John Slaton commuted his death sentence to life in prison.

Dorsey's victory in the Frank-Phagan case contributed to his political popularity. He resigned as solicitor general on August 1, 1916.[3] He was elected for two consecutive two-year terms as the Governor of Georgia from 1917 to 1921.[1][6]

Perhaps the most remarkable moment of Dorsey's governorship came on April 22, 1921, when he gave a speech entitled "A Statement from Governor Hugh M. Dorsey as to the Negro in Georgia."[8] It was near the end of his final term as governor; he had also just badly lost a race for the U.S. Senate to his former ally Tom Watson, by that point a vocal white supremacist.[9] Dorsey's speech recited a litany of abuses by Georgia whites against African Americans: lynchings, banishments, slavery-like peonage, and physical cruelty. "To me it seems that we stand indicted as a people before the world," he said. "If these charges should continue, both God and man would justly condemn Georgia more severely than man and God have condemned Belgium and Leopold for the Congo atrocities."[10]

These were astonishing admissions from any white Democratic governor in the Jim Crow South — much less one who'd made his name with the Leo Frank prosecution. His already-elected successor, Thomas Hardwick, called it "an infamous slander on the State." Historians have debated Dorsey's motivations — from an honest desire for reform to slowing the early stages of the Great Migration to improving Georgia's perception in the eyes of Northern capitalists.[8]

In 1926, he was appointed judge of the civil division in Atlanta.[1] Dorsey served as a superior court judge in Atlanta from 1935 to March 4, 1948.[1][2] He served on the Atlanta Judicial Circuit.[11]

Death and legacy[edit]

Dorsey died on June 11, 1948, in a hospital in Atlanta.[1][2] He was buried in Westview Cemetery in Atlanta.[2] His grandson, Jaz Dorsey, was a composer, lyricist and playwright.[12]

Over the decades, the dramatic story of Frank's trial and lynching (after his death sentence was commuted) was adapted into many forms. He is seen in the 1964 fiction Profiles in Courage and 1988 TV-miniseries The Murder of Mary Phagan, where Dorsey was portrayed by the actor Richard Jordan, and in the Broadway musical Parade, where he was portrayed in the original cast by Herndon Lackey.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Ex-Governor Hugh Manson Dorsey, Prominent Fulton Jurist, Succumbs". The Atlanta Constitution. June 12, 1948. p. 1 – via Open access icon
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Stallings, Patricia. "Hugh M. Dorsey (1871-1948)". New Georgia Encyclopedia. Retrieved January 3, 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Georgia's Governor Youngest Man Ever to Hold That Office". Montgomery Advertiser. July 2, 1917. p. 6. Retrieved August 14, 2021 – via Open access icon
  4. ^ Oney 2003, p. 616.
  5. ^ "June 11", This Day in Georgia History, Georgia Info, compiled by Ed Jackson and Charles Pou, Carl Vinson Institute of Government, Digital Library of Georgia, accessed Jul 20, 2010
  6. ^ a b "Georgia Governor Hugh Manson Dorsey". National Governors Association. Retrieved January 3, 2015.
  7. ^ Oney 2003, p. 92.
  8. ^ a b Pitts, Timothy J. (2005). "Hugh M. Dorsey and "The Negro in Georgia"". The Georgia Historical Quarterly. 89 (2): 185–212. ISSN 0016-8297. JSTOR 40584824. Retrieved January 13, 2022.
  9. ^ "WATSON VICTOR IN GEORGIA RACE; Overwhelms Dorsey and Smith, Latter Running Third, in Senatorship Primary. LEAGUE WAS CHIEF ISSUE. Ex-Populist Candidate for President Bitter Foe of Administration During and After War". The New York Times. September 10, 1920. Retrieved January 13, 2022.
  10. ^ A statement from Governor Hugh M. Dorsey as to the Negro in Georgia. 1921. Retrieved January 13, 2022.
  11. ^ "Hugh M. Dorsey". New Georgia Encyclopedia. Retrieved October 2, 2022.
  12. ^ "Obituary: James "Jaz" Dorsey". Out & About Nashville. June 16, 2019. Retrieved July 30, 2019.


External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by Democratic nominee for Governor of Georgia
1916, 1918
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Governor of Georgia
Succeeded by