Monday, November 09, 2009

Outside the Box

Object: Meritorious Award, 1976

Collection: M.E. Thompson Personal Papers

Melvin Ernest Thompson was born in Millen, Georgia in 1903. He graduated from Emory University in 1926 and married his high school sweetheart, Ann Newton. Thompson embarked on a career in education, taking on a series of administrative positions in the Hawkinsville School District before assuming the roles of state school supervisor and state school superintendent in the Georgia Department of Education (1933-1942).

Thompson is perhaps best known for his role in the "three governor’s controversy" (1946-47), in which three men vied for the office upon the death of Governor-elect Eugene Talmadge, and Thompson was eventually declared the victor by the state supreme court. But beyond the controversy, Thompson was a man of many achievements. During his brief tenure as Governor (1946-48) he increased state spending without new taxes, raised teachers’ salaries, and expanded the roads and bridges building program. Personally, he considered his greatest accomplishment to have been the state’s purchase of Jekyll Island.

After leaving the office of Governor, Thompson ran several unsuccessful campaigns for elected office before retiring from politics and opening a real estate business in Valdosta, Georgia. He served his community through leadership roles in various civic, business, and church organizations before his death in 1980.

The purchase of Jekyll Island…

At the turn of the twentieth century Jekyll Island, the smallest of Georgia’s barrier islands, was purchased by two northern entrepreneurs. The pair established an elite club on the island and wealthy members, mostly northern industrialists, were invited to build winter cottages on the land. The Great Depression and World War II caused financial difficulties and labor shortages for the venture, forcing the club to close in 1942. In 1946 M.E. Thompson, Georgia’s revenue commissioner, became interested in acquiring the property for the state and opening it as a state park. After becoming governor in 1947, Thompson’s administration facilitated the purchase of Jekyll Island for $675,000.

In the decades that followed his gubernatorial term, Thompson received much acclaim for the Jekyll Island project. In 1976 Georgia’s Association of County Commissioners recognized Thompson for sponsoring the purchase of Jekyll Island and awarded him their Meritorious Award. In 1989, the State Transportation Board posthumously recognized Thompson’s “vision and persistence” in acquiring Jekyll Island for the people of Georgia and dedicated the M.E. Thompson Memorial Bridge.

November's “Outside the Box” object will be on display in the lobby gallery of the Russell Library, open 8:30 am – 4:30 pm, Monday through Friday, until December 1st. For further information on the M.E. Thompson Personal Papers , please contact or visit

Post by Jan Levinson, Assistant Outreach Archivist, Russell Library

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