When the Democratic Party nominated Harry S. Truman and adopted a strong civil rights platform in 1948, Southern Democrats organized the States’ Rights Democratic Party. Better known as “Dixiecrats,” the Southern Democrats nominated Governor Fielding L. Wright of Mississippi for vice-president and Governor J. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina for president. Thurmond and Wright carried only four southern states and failed in their effort to throw the presidential election into the U. S. House of Representatives. The organization of the Dixiecrat Party was an indication, however, that the South would resist any change in southern race relations.
Wright, who was born into a political family at Rolling Fork, Mississippi, on May 16, 1895, vowed as a returning World War I veteran that he would never become a “dang politician.” After studying law at the University of Alabama and reading law with an uncle, Governor Wright opened a law office in Rolling Fork. He turned down several opportunities to run for public office, but finally agreed to run for the Mississippi Senate in 1928. He was elected. Four years later, he was elected to the state House of Representatives. In his second term as representative, he was elected Speaker. As Speaker of the House, he strongly supported industrial development and highway construction.
In 1943, Wright was elected lieutenant governor in his first statewide campaign. As lieutenant governor, Wright was the presiding officer of the Mississippi Senate and became one of only two men in the 20th century to chair both houses of the legislature – Sam Lumpkin of Tupelo, lieutenant governor during the Wright administration, was the other. Following the death of Thomas Bailey on November 2, 1946, Wright filled the remainder of Bailey’s unexpired term.
Because of his strong stand against civil rights, his support for states’ rights, and with the advantage of incumbency, Governor Wright accomplished a feat rarely seen in Mississippi politics: in 1947 he was elected governor in the first primary, over four opponents, in his first try for the state’s highest office.
During Governor Wright’s 1946-1952 administration, urbanization and industrialization, two of the direct effects of World War II, were greatly accelerated. The state’s economy, its social customs, and race relations were undergoing slow but significant changes. It was also during his administration that the University of Mississippi Medical Center was established in Jackson, and Mississippi Vocational College, now Mississippi Valley State University, was founded in Itta Bena.
After leaving the office of governor, which he had held for six consecutive years, Governor Wright opened a law office in Jackson. He made one last bid for governor in 1955, but was defeated by J. P. Coleman. After that defeat, he returned to his law practice. Governor Wright died at Jackson on May 4, 1956.
David Sansing, Ph.D., is history professor emeritus, University of Mississippi.
Biographical sketch, Jackson Daily News, December 8, 1946.
Fielding L. Wright Subject File, Mississippi Department of Archives and History.