Luther H. Hodges

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Luther Hodges
Luther Hodges.jpg
15th United States Secretary of Commerce
In office
January 21, 1961 – January 15, 1965
President John F. Kennedy
Lyndon B. Johnson
Preceded by Frederick H. Mueller
Succeeded by John T. Connor
64th Governor of North Carolina
In office
November 7, 1954 – January 5, 1961
Lieutenant Luther E. Barnhardt
Preceded by William B. Umstead
Succeeded by Terry Sanford
22nd Lieutenant Governor of North Carolina
In office
January 8, 1953 – November 7, 1954
Governor William B. Umstead
Preceded by Hoyt Patrick Taylor
Succeeded by Luther E. Barnhardt
Personal details
Born Luther Hartwell Hodges
(1898-03-09)March 9, 1898
Cascade, Virginia, U.S.
Died October 6, 1974(1974-10-06) (aged 76)
Chapel Hill, North Carolina, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Martha Blakeney (m. 1922; her death 1969)
Louise Finlayson (m. 1970; his death 1974)
Children 3
Education University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (BA)
Military service
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch  United States Army
Battles/wars World War II

Luther Hartwell Hodges (March 9, 1898 – October 6, 1974) was a businessman and American politician. After a career in textile manufacturing, he entered public service, gaining some state appointments. Elected as lieutenant governor of North Carolina in 1952, he succeeded to the Governor's office in 1954 after the death of the incumbent. He was elected in 1956 to a full four-year term, serving in total as the 64th Governor of the state of North Carolina from 1954 to 1961.

In 1961 he was appointed as United States Secretary of Commerce under President John F. Kennedy, serving until 1965.[1] He returned to North Carolina and served as chairman of Research Triangle Park, a major facility established during his tenure as governor.


Hodges was born in Cascade,[2] Pittsylvania County, Virginia, on March 9, 1898. At the age of two, he moved with his family to Spray (which later merged with two other towns to become Eden, North Carolina). After growing up there, he lived much of his life in Rockingham County, North Carolina.

Hodges left for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill at age 17, and moved back to Eden after graduation. He went to work at Carolina Cotton and Woolen Mills in Leaksville. In 1923, he helped form the Leaksville Rotary Club, which later became known as the Eden Rotary.

Carolina Cotton was later purchased by Marshall Field. Hodges continued to work for the company, working his way up from millworker to executive positions, until he retired to enter politics. In the 1940s, he gained gubernatorial appointments to the state Board of Education and the Highway and Public Works Commission. In 1945, he served as a consultant to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and to the U.S. Army in occupied Germany.

Hodges's former residence in Washington, D.C.

Hodges ran for office as lieutenant governor in 1952 and was elected. He succeeded to the position of governor in November 1954 upon the death of Governor William B. Umstead in office.

Two years later, Hodges was elected on his own account to a full four-year term as governor. Because North Carolina had a one-term limit for governors at that time, Hodges had the longest continuous tenure in the office until the state constitution was changed and Jim Hunt was elected to a second term in 1980.

During his time in office, Governor Hodges promoted industrialization and education.[3] He helped gain support for the establishment of Research Triangle Park, intended to attract innovation and industry to the North Carolina Piedmont, and to strengthen connections among the three universities involved. After Hodges completed his tenure in 1965 as Secretary of the Department of Commerce, he returned to Chapel Hill. He was appointed as Chairman of Research Triangle Park. In 1967, he served a one-year term as president of Rotary International.

Civil rights[edit]

Hodges opposed the US Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and resisted integrating public schools in the state. In a 1955 editorial, Bignall Jones expressed the governor's position, calling for "voluntary segregation" in the state.[4] Jones wrote:[4][5]

The white people of North Carolina control the state economically and politically and they will control it for many years to come. The fact may well be faced once and for all. The white people are determined that there shall be no mixed schools in this state. Before they allow this to happen they will pull down the pillars of the temple.

— Bignall Jones 1955

In 1959, Hodges became involved in the Kissing Case, where two young African-American boys (one aged 9, and one aged 7) had been convicted of rape because a white girl (aged 8) had kissed them each on the cheek. They had been sentenced to the state reformatory. A range of activists, civil rights organizations, Eleanor Roosevelt and President Eisenhower, in addition to the international press, pressured Hodges for clemency. After three months Hodges pardoned them, but refused to apologize.[6]:118 [7] Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt "led an international campaign on their behalf."[6]:118[8]:118

Later years[edit]

He died on October 6, 1974, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and is buried at the Overlook Cemetery in Eden, North Carolina. A monument was erected in his honor near a water fountain in Eden's Freedom Park.


Hodges's son, Luther H. Hodges Jr., was a prominent banking executive and United States Deputy Secretary of Commerce.


  1. ^ Lawrence Kestenbaum, ed. (nd), "Hodges, Luther Hartwell (1898-1974) — also known as Luther H. Hodges", Political Graveyard, retrieved January 19, 2017 
  2. ^ NNDB
  3. ^ "Gallery of past presidents". Rotary International. Archived from the original on 22 January 2012. Retrieved 22 December 2011. 
  4. ^ a b Bignall Jones (April 2, 1955), "Only one way to maintain schools", The Warren Record, Warrenton, North Carolina: Hodges Papers. Box 21 
  5. ^ Timothy B. Tyson. Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power. p. 328. 
  6. ^ a b Allida M. Black (1996), Casting Her Own Shadow: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Shaping of Postwar Liberalism, Columbia University Press, retrieved January 19, 2017  Missing or empty |title= (help); |chapter= ignored (help)
  7. ^ Sue Sturgis (April 25, 2014), "Remembering Southern Black freedom fighter Mabel Williams", Facing South, Institute of Southern Studies, retrieved January 19, 2017 
  8. ^ Allida M. Black (1996). Casting Her Own Shadow: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Shaping of Postwar Liberalism. Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0231104050. 
Political offices
Preceded by
Hoyt Patrick Taylor
Lieutenant Governor of North Carolina
Succeeded by
Luther E. Barnhardt
Preceded by
William B. Umstead
Governor of North Carolina
Succeeded by
Terry Sanford
Preceded by
Frederick H. Mueller
United States Secretary of Commerce
Succeeded by
John T. Connor
Party political offices
Preceded by
William B. Umstead
Democratic nominee for Governor of North Carolina
Succeeded by
Terry Sanford
Non-profit organization positions
Preceded by
Richard L. Evans
President of Rotary International
Succeeded by
Kiyoshi Togasaki