Hodges was born in Cascade, Virginia on March 9, 1898, but he was raised in Eden, North Carolina. Hodges’s father labored in a textile mill. Hodges attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and graduated in 1919. After graduation, Hodges earned a job as secretary of the general manager at the Marshall Filed and Company Textile Mills. Hodges worked hard and became general manager in 1939 and vice president by 1943.
Meanwhile, Hodges held numerous other government positions. He served as a member of the State Board of Education, the State Highway and Public Works Commission and the Office of Price Administration. In 1950 Hodges joined the Economic Cooperation Administration in Germany and was an advisor to the State Department on European Industrial development. In 1950 Hodges decided to start a career in electoral politics.
In the fall of 1952, Hodges was elected to the office of lieutenant governor. Two years later Governor William B. Umstead passed away and Hodges became governor. Hodges served for the next six years, and became known for creating a friendly business climate across the state. In the 1956 gubernatorial race, Hodges beat Republican Kyle Hayes. Hodges served as governor for five years and two months which was the longest that any governor had served in North Carolina up to that time.
As the state’s chief executive, Hodges maintained a modest position on public school integration. He advocated funding for private schools to students who desired not to attend an integrated public school and also gave communities the power to close schools with a majority vote. His positions, some historians argue, helped move North Carolina slowly but gradually towards temperate racial relations.
Hodges was also able to attract new businesses and industry to the state. One of Hodges’s foremost achievements was helping to develop Research Triangle Park, established in 1956. As governor, Hodges instituted business reforms to the state government and created the Department of Administration, which acts as business manager for state government. He was also able to reform the State Highway Commission by reducing political leverages.
After Hodges’s gubernatorial service ended, President John F. Kennedy appointed him to Secretary of Commerce, and he served until 1964. As Secretary he supported the Area Redevelopment Act that provided $400 million in grants to areas with chronic unemployment. Furthermore, Hodges reformed the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads and the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. After serving in Washington, Hodges became Board Chairman of the Research Triangle Foundation from 1965 to 1972.
Hodges died in 1974 and was buried at Overlook Cemetery in Eden.
"Luther H. Hodges (1963–1965): Secretary of Commerce." millercenter.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 May 2012. http://millercenter.org/president/lbjohnson/essays/cabinet/610 and "NCPedia." LUTHER HARTWELL HODGES. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 May 2012. http://ncpedia.org/biography/governors/hodges
By Shane Williams, North Carolina History Project
See Also:Related Categories: Business and Industry, Political History, Governors