Hodges, Luther Hartwell, 1898-1974

Alternative names
Birth 1898-03-09
Death 1974-10-06

Biographical notes:

Luther Hartwell Hodges began his career as an executive for Marshall Field & Comapny, 1919-1950. He was later consultant to the Economic Cooperation Administration, 1950-1951; lieutenant governor, 1953- 1954, and governor, 1956-1960, of North Carolina; United Sates Secretary of Commerce, 1961-1965; head of the Research Triangle Foundation, 1966-1972; and president of Rotary International, 1967-1968.

From the description of Luther Hartwell Hodges papers, 1947-1969. (Oceanside Free Library). WorldCat record id: 27190224

Luther Hartwell Hodges (1898-1974), textile executive, governor of North Carolina, and Secretary of Commerce, was born in Cascade, Virginia, the son of John James Hodges, a tenant farmer of modest means, and Lovicia Gammon. The family moved to Rockingham County, Norht Carolina, when Hodges was two years old. While attending public school, Hodges worked as an office helper and mill laborer in a local cotton mill. Using the money he saved from these and other jobs, he left home to enter the University of North Carolina in 1915 and received an undergraduate degree in 1919. Hodges served briefly in the U.S. Army near the end of World War I, never leaving the country. He then returned to Rockingham County, where he assumed responsibility for training and personnel at a mill owned by Marshall Field and Company, the large Chicago-based retailer. On June 24, 1922, Hodges married Martha Elizabeth Blakeney; they had three children. By 1935, Hodges was production manager of fifteen textile mills. Within four years, Hodges became general manager of all Marshall Field''s domestic and international mills. The company moved him to New York City in 1940, and he assumed the position of vice-president in charge of manufacturing in 1943. He returned to North Carolina in 1947. During the 1930''s and 1940''s, Hodges had become interested in politics, serving as an advocate for the textile industry and as a member of various governmental advisory committees or commissions in North Carolina. Hodges''s appointment in 1944 to head the textile-pricing program of the Office of Price Administration (OPA) during World War II, and his selection as a special consultant to the secretary of agriculture, reflected his growing influence on the national level. In his OPA position Hodges played an important role in establishing prices for his entire industry during a time of great inflationary pressure. As a result, he secured the gratitude of many significant business leaders, some beyond the textile industry, for whom he had the authority to grant or withhold favors as part of the wartime price-control system. By this time he also had expanded his involvement at the local and national levels of Rotary International, the men''s business organization. Beyond government, his role as a national Rotary representative frequently provided him access to decision makers on both domestic and international issues, such as the formation of the United Nations and the postwar recovery of Europe. In 1950, Hodges ended his long career with Marshall Field and Company to devote more time to government service. That same year, he took charge of the industry division of the Economic Cooperation Administration, part of the Marshall Plan for the restoration of the European capitalist economy. He also affiliated himself at the state level with the progressive wing of the Democratic party in North Carolina, which promoted economic development through transportation, improved education, and incentives for industry but held strongly to racial segregation. During his years with Marshall Field, Hodges had become familiar with many of these issues through his service on various state boards and commissions. Seeking to advance the private sector while promoting the proper role of government, he decided to run for lieutenant governor on an openly antipolitician platform. Many seasoned politicians expressed surprise when he won the Democratic primary in spring 1952, virtually assuring his election that fall in the overwhelmingly Democratic state. Hodges became governor when Governor William B. Umstead died on Nov. 7, 1952. Hodges ran for his own four-year term in 1956, winning every county in the state. While he continued to emphasize economic development, the major issue with which Hodges was forced to contend during his governorship was imposed from elsewhere. In a series of court decisions, the most notable being Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954), the United States Supreme Court overturned decades-old laws racially segregating publicly supported schools. The potential implications of the court ruling for the entire system of racial segregation were not lost on whites in the South. Southern politicians divided into several camps in responding to the Brown ruling. One faction promoted individual, group, and state governmental resistance; this included closing all public schools and establishing privately run, segregated white schools. Such extreme views might have led to racial violence and a major confrontation between state and national governments. Hodges recognized that interracial violence or closing down the public education system might discourage investment. Nonetheless, as with many other moderates, Hodges recognized the strength of the segregationist tradition, including its impact in his own life. He tried to convince people that public money spent on education and other development efforts was not wasted and that alienating the federal government would prove counterproductive. Occasionally he called upon examples from his years in the textile industry to show that North Carolina needed to change. He hoped the Research Triangle Park, a public-private high-technology initiative he had founded in the region surrounding Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, would prove to be his greatest legacy. However, with the civil rights movement emerging in both the courts and on the streets of the South, and white resistance becoming increasingly militant, Hodges had to deal with implementing Brown. At the time, he portrayed himself as a moderate, able to convince both blacks and whites of the need for compromise and to avoid the sort of agitation and strife experienced elsewhere. He accomplished this by privately drawing many potential antagonists into the problem-solving process, making it difficult for them to dissociate themselves from any action that became public. Behind the scenes Hodges exerted pressure on black leaders to agree to what was being worked out, threatening to blame them for any failure to reach a settlement. While he occasionally took symbolic steps such as publicly meeting with prominent blacks, he also warned blacks against following the influence of militant groups such as the NAACP. Mostly, he prevented the sort of state-federal confrontations that were occurring elsewhere in the South and that he believed could damage North Carolina''s progressive reputation. Hodges''s deep-set eyes and intense stare were among his most obvious personal characteristics, and his sincerity and public image of political fairness served him well in North Carolina during a turbulent political era. As Hodges''s tenure as governor drew to a close in 1960, he found himself courted by various candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination. He eventually endorsed John F. Kennedy, a candidate Hodges believed would commit himself to economic development and moderation on racial matters. He helped Kennedy round up delegates prior to the 1960 convention and then campaigned actively throughout the South for the Kennedy-Johnson ticket. Following the election, Hodges seemed guaranteed of a major appointment in the administration for several reasons. His regional background would solidify Kennedy''s marginal standing in the South, his lengthy experience in industry would assist Kennedy in reassuring the business community that he would promote economic development, and his reputation as a consensus-builder on racial issues would demonstrate that he could navigate between increasingly alienated racial groups. When Kennedy took office in January 1961, Hodges became his secretary of commerce, at age sixty-two the oldest member of the president''s cabinet. From the start, more than age distinguished Hodges from the Kennedy inner circle. Although politically shrewd and persuasive, his style was much more like that of a promoter or a booster of the kind with whom he had rubbed shoulders for decades at innumerable Rotary conventions and luncheons. One of his first public statements came in the form of a how-to piece on personal business-selling in the Sunday supplement to the New York Herald Tribune (June 18, 1961). He stood out as a publicist among the many intellectuals and would-be scholars among Kennedy''s confidants. But within the early months of the administration, Hodges already found himself frustrated; the president made business and economic decisions without involving his secretary of commerce. Hodges unsuccessfully sought full discussion at cabinet meetings and tried to increase his access to the Oval Office. In 1961, he attempted to reduce the influence of the long-standing Business Advisory Council (BAC), an informal group of leaders of large industries that boasted of having veto power over major governmental decisions affecting the economy. While functioning outside the usual pattern of congressional and executive oversight, the BAC appeared unaccountable and potentially damaging to any economic initiative taken by the administration. Hodges gained part of what he wanted in decreasing the autonomy of the BAC, but in working out the settlement, the president put Hodges in his place. Hodges had no influence with Kennedy on race relations, either, but he was able to pursue his own position. He carried his background as a moderate segregationist into the cabinet, where he encouraged both caution in confronting segregationists and vigor in denouncing violation of the law by civil rights activists. At one point he refused to testify before a Senate committee considering a civil rights bill. Counter to Kennedy''s administration policy, Hodges spoke to an all-white segregated meeting in the South. To remedy his apparent lack of intellectual qualifications, and perhaps as a way of reasserting his political ambitions, Hodges wrote a self-reflective autobiography, Businessman in the State House: Six Years As Governor of North Carolina (1962), and the somewhat moralistic The Business Conscience (1963). Part of the royalties of the latter book were to go to the United Negro College Fund. As a businessman who had been used to controlling things, Hodges found himself powerless following Kennedy''s assassination in November 1963. He agreed to finish his four years as secretary of commerce, resigning in January 1965. As if to get his bearings after more than a decade in public life, Hodges retreated to some of his old interests, reestablishing his ties with the business community. He joined the board of Research Triangle Park, and devoted his time to many voluntary associations. In 1967, Rotary International selected him as president, a role in which he could travel promoting his strong belief in the work ethic and economic development without the burdens of governmental compromises and the criticisms of political adversaries. In 1968, he retired to Chapel Hill, N.C., where he lived the rest of his life.

From the description of Hodges, Luther Hartwell, 1898-1974 (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration). naId: 10679496

Governor, cabinet member.

From the description of Reminiscences of Luther Hartwell Hodges : oral history, 1968. (Columbia University In the City of New York). WorldCat record id: 122513645

Luther Hartwell Hodges (9 March 1898-6 October 1974), businessman, North Carolina lieutenant governor and governor, United States Secretary of Commerce, and civic leader, was born at Cascade, Pittsylvania County, Va., the son of John James and Lovicia Gammon Hodges. The family moved to North Carolina soon after his birth.

The eighth of nine children of a tenant farmer, Luther Hodges went to work at age twelve as an office boy in a textile mill in Spray, N.C. Later, he worked his way through the University of North Carolina, where he was president of the student council and of his senior class. Upon graduation in 1919, Hodges accepted a job as secretary to the general manager of the Marshall Field & Company mills in the Leaksville-Spray (now Eden), N.C., area. He rose rapidly in the company--as personnel manager, production manager, general manager for all Marshall Field mills, and vice-president. Throughout his business career, he was involved in civic affairs, including the YMCA and the Rotary Club, and in politics by working in the election campaigns of others.

In North Carolina during this period, Hodges served as a member of the State Board of Education and the State Highway and Public Works Commission. In 1944, while living in New York, he volunteered for service with the federal government and was made price administrator of the textile division of the Office of Price Administration. He later served briefly as a consultant to the secretary of agriculture, and as textile consultant for the United States Army in Germany.

After his retirement from Marshall Field in 1950, Hodges became chief of the industry division of the Economic Cooperation Administration in West Germany. In 1951, he was a consultant for the State Department on the International Management Conference, a top-level technical assistance program for European business corporations. Throughout his career to this point, Hodges practiced his theory that businessmen should be involved in government.

Upon returning to North Carolina, Hodges in 1952 became a candidate for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor. Although virtually unknown in many areas of the state, he conducted a vigorous grassroots campaign against more established politicians and led the field in the primary. No runoff was called, and Hodges was elected lieutenant governor in the fall. He was sworn in during the inauguration ceremonies of Governor William B. Umstead in January 1953.

Hodges became governor when Umstead died in November 1954. In the six years that followed, Governor Hodges used his experience in business to develop new approaches to the problems of North Carolina, particularly those relating to employment. His industrialization program was the hallmark for the South. He led trade missions at home and abroad, created a system of community colleges to provide training and education, supported the state's first minimum wage law, and supported the Research Triangle Park, which he called the heart and the hope of North Carolina's industrial future.

Hodges sought to bring business management to government, creating a Department of Administration to coordinate fiscal and planning operations. In education, Hodges was able to increase appropriations, initiate a grass-roots campaign to gain public support for schools, and set a moderate course for school desegregation. He also sponsored a board of higher education to coordinate the state's college and university system. He was instrumental in court improvement and in prison rehabilitation programs, including work release.

In 1956, when he ran for his own four-year term, Hodges carried every county. He served as chairman of the Southern Governors' Conference and of the Southern Regional Education Board. At the end of his term, Governor Hodges was selected by President-elect John F. Kennedy to be his Secretary of Commerce.

In his four years as commerce secretary under presidents Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, Hodges reorganized the Commerce Department, created an Area Development Administration to help depressed areas, and was instrumental in the passage and implementation of the Trade Expansion Act. He worked for greater international trade and tourism. He was also the nation's chief spokesman for free enterprise and business ethics in the period.

After his term as Secretary of Commerce, Hodges returned to Chapel Hill. He went to work for the Research Triangle Foundation of North Carolina at a salary of one dollar a year and continued to work for the economic development of the state. He lectured in the School of Business Administration at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. In 1967, he became the president of Rotary International and for the next year traveled around the nation and the world for Rotary.

In 1922, Hodges married Martha Blakeney of Union County, N.C. They were the parents of two daughters, Betsy and Nancy, and a son, Luther, Jr. Martha Hodges died in 1969 after a fire in the Hodges's Chapel Hill home. The following year Hodges married Louise Finlayson, who survived him. Luther Hodges died in 1974 and was buried in Eden, N.C.

From the guide to the Luther Hartwell Hodges Papers, ., 1947-1969, (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library. Southern Historical Collection.)


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  • Government executives--Interviews
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  • Textile industry--History--20th century
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