Melvin E. Thompson

Last updated
Melvin E. Thompson
Melvin Thompson and Herman Talmadge.jpg
70th Governor of Georgia
In office
March 18, 1947 November 17, 1948
Preceded by Herman Talmadge
Succeeded byHerman Talmadge
1st Lieutenant Governor of Georgia
In office
January 14, 1947 March 18, 1947
GovernorHerman Talmadge
Succeeded by Marvin Griffin
Personal details
Melvin Ernest Thompson

(1903-05-01)May 1, 1903
Millen, Georgia, U.S.
DiedOctober 3, 1980(1980-10-03) (aged 77)
Valdosta, Georgia, U.S.
Resting placeMcLane Riverview Memorial Gardens,
Valdosta, Georgia, U.S.
Political party Democratic

Melvin Ernest Thompson (May 1, 1903 October 3, 1980) was an American educator and politician from Millen in the U.S. state of Georgia. Generally known as M.E. Thompson during his political career, he served as the 70th Governor of Georgia from 1947 to 1948 and was elected as the first Lieutenant Governor of Georgia in 1946.


Early life and education

Thompson was born in Millen, Georgia, to Henry Jackson Thompson and his wife Eva Edenfield Thompson. He was the youngest of seven children and his father died just after his first birthday. His father was a sharecropper. Thompson grew up in poverty, but through hard work and determination, he was able to leave the farm to pursue a higher education. He helped pay his way through college by working various jobs, including student teaching and the selling of bibles door to door. He graduated from Emory University in 1926, then earned a Master of Arts (M.A.) from the University of Georgia in 1935. He also earned all of the credits for a Ph.D. from the University of Georgia, but because his adviser died, he never argued his dissertation. Following his college career, Thompson worked in education, first as a teacher and coach, a principal, a district superintendent, moving all the way up to assistant school superintendent for the state. Thompson was a supporter of Governor Ellis Arnall and was hired as his Executive Secretary. Arnall then appointed him to the position of State Revenue Commissioner in 1945.

In 1946, Thompson ran for the newly created position of Lieutenant Governor of Georgia. He won the election and became Georgia's first Lieutenant Governor.

Lieutenant Governor of Georgia

Governor-elect Eugene Talmadge died in December 1946 and the Georgia state constitution was vague on who would be sworn in as governor, causing the Three Governors controversy. Thompson felt that as the lieutenant governor-elect, he should become the governor. But the state legislature was controlled by Talmadge supporters. They invoked a clause in the Georgia state constitution which allowed for the legislature to pick between the second- and third-place candidates. The people who finished second and third were two write-in candidates, James V. Carmichael and Eugene's son, Herman E. Talmadge. The legislature selected Herman Talmadge to become the governor. He would hold that position temporarily.

Governor of Georgia

Thompson and Arnall both claimed the office of governor. Arnall later renounced his claim to support Thompson. The Supreme Court of Georgia ruled that Thompson was the legitimate governor and that the legislature had violated the state constitution by selecting Talmadge. Thompson's numerous achievements as the 70th Governor of Georgia include much needed improvements to highway infrastructure, public education, and the purchase of Jekyll Island, a beach retreat for the average Georgian. He was able to raise the salary of teachers, provide free books to students, and extend highschool to the 12th grade. His purchase of Jekyll Island for $675,000.00 is still considered to be one of the greatest real estate purchases made in U.S. history. Thompson was able to achieve many things during his shortened term, with very limited cooperation from the state legislature, and without raising taxes on the citizens of Georgia.

Later political activities

Thompson unsuccessfully opposed Talmadge three additional times, twice in gubernatorial elections in 1950 and 1954 and finally in 1956 for one of Georgia's United States Senate seats. In the mid-1950s, Thompson moved to Valdosta, Georgia, where he transitioned into a successful career as a real estate developer. Thompson died at the age of 77 on October 3, 1980, in Valdosta. His family turned down an offer for him to lie in state, in the rotunda of the State Capitol. He is interred in a mausoleum at the McLane Riverview Memorial Gardens, [1] in that same city.

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  1. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-01-18. Retrieved 2009-04-19.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
Political offices
Preceded by
New Office
Lieutenant Governor of Georgia
Succeeded by
Marvin Griffin
Preceded by
Herman Talmadge
Governor of Georgia
Succeeded by
Herman Talmadge