Hugh Lawson White was perhaps the wealthiest man to hold the office of governor in Mississippi’s history, certainly in modern times. An industrialist and lumberman, White served two nonconsecutive terms and was among the oldest men elected governor. When he was elected to a second term in 1951, Governor White was age seventy.
Born near McComb on August 19, 1881, Hugh White was elected mayor of Columbia in 1926 and served until his first election as governor in 1935. During the early stages of the Great Depression, Hugh White persuaded the Reliance Manufacturing Company to open a plant in Columbia. The jobs provided by the Reliance Company lessened the effects of the depression in Columbia. In 1935, White campaigned on a pledge to attract new industry to Mississippi and to do for the whole state what he had done for Columbia and Marion County.
During Governor White’s first administration, the state adopted the Balance Agriculture With Industry program and offered economic incentives to new industries locating in Mississippi. Governor White also initiated the first long-range highway construction program which increased the number of miles of paved highways in Mississippi from 922 in 1936 to over 4,000 in 1940. The state highway patrol was organized and the homestead exemption law was also passed.
Between his first and second term as governor, White served a four-year term in the Mississippi Legislature, from 1944 to 1948. In 1951, he became one of only three individuals in the twentieth century to be elected governor for a second term. Theodore Bilbo and Kirk Fordice were the other two. The 1951 governor’s campaign was also the first time in the state’s history that a woman ran for governor. The woman candidate in that race was Mary Cain, the fiery editor of the Summit Sun.
During Governor White’s second administration, Mississippi initiated a massive school consolidation program. That plan was a belated effort to equalize the state’s racially segregated school systems and to persuade the United States Supreme Court that Mississippi’s separate facilities were equal. Before that construction program could make any headway, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled in the 1954 Brown v Board of Education of Topeka decision that separate facilities, even if they were equal, were a violation of the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment rights of Black citizens. Most of Governor White’s second term was spent in the effort to prevent or postpone public school integration.
After his second term ended in 1956, Governor White returned to private business. He died on September 19, 1965. The 7,000-acre Wildlife Management Area in Marion County and the Hugh White State Park at Grenada are named in honor of Governor White.
David Sansing, Ph.D., is history professor emeritus, University of Mississippi.
McLemore, Richard A. A History of Mississippi, II, (Jackson, 1973) 110-119, 145-157.
Biographical sketch in The Clarion-Ledger, September 8, 1951.