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Dennis Murphree: Forty-second and Forty-seventh Governor of Mississippi: 1927-1928; 1943-1944

Dennis Murphree

Dennis Murphree
(1886-1949)
Forty-second and Forty-seventh Governor
1927-1928; 1943-1944
Courtesy, Mississippi Department of Archives and History

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Dennis Murphree was governor of Mississippi on two separate occasions but was never elected to the office. In 1927 while serving as lieutenant governor, he became governor following the death of Henry Whitfield, and in 1943 he again succeeded to the office upon the death of Paul B. Johnson, Sr.

Murphree was elected lieutenant governor in 1923, 1931, and in 1939. He was defeated for governor in 1927, 1935, and in 1943. In 1927 Murphree was running for governor while serving as governor upon the death of the incumbent. For twenty consecutive years Dennis Murphree ran for either governor or lieutenant governor. Because of his unusual career, Governor Murphree was featured in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.

Governor Murphree was born in Calhoun County, Mississippi, on January 6, 1886. At age twenty-five, he was elected to represent his home county in the Mississippi Legislature. He was re-elected in 1915 and 1919. As a legislator and later as governor, Murphree was one of the state’s strongest advocates of the “pay-as-you-go” system of state finances. Murphree was instrumental in the passage of the law which required the state of Mississippi to balance its budget.

During his first term as lieutenant governor, Dennis Murphree, along with several businessmen, educators, and other state leaders, developed the “Know Mississippi Better Train.” That specially equipped train showcased Mississippi products and resources and advertised the state to the rest of the nation. From 1925 to 1948, the “Know Mississippi Better Train” conducted twenty trips through three hundred cities in forty-seven states, Canada, and Mexico.

On April 21, 1927, about a month after Murphree succeeded to the governor’s office after the death of Governor Henry Whitfield, the Mississippi River broke through the levee north of Greenville, and Mississippi faced one of its greatest natural disasters. Two million acres were flooded and homes, buildings, livestock, and Delta crops were destroyed.

Dennis Murphree had already announced that he would seek re-election as lieutenant governor shortly before the death of Governor Whitfield. Governor Murphree’s friends and supporters convinced him that he should not seek the lieutenant governor’s office while holding the highest office in the state. Consequently, he decided to run for governor in 1927, but was defeated by Theodore Bilbo.

In 1939 Murphree was elected lieutenant governor for the third time. Following the death of Paul B. Johnson, Sr., on December 26, 1943, Murphree completed Johnson’s unexpired term. In the summer before Johnson’s death, Murphree had run for governor but had been eliminated in the Democratic primary. After Governor Murphree completed the remaining three weeks of Johnson’s term, he retired from public life. He died at Jackson on February 9, 1949.

David Sansing, Ph.D., is history professor emeritus, University of Mississippi.

Posted January 2004

Sources:

Jackson Daily News, March 20, 1927.

McCain, William D. “The Life and Labor of Dennis Murphree,”Journal of Mississippi History VII (October 1950), 183-191.

Mississippi Official and Statistical Register (1924-1928), 60.

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