William Bradley Umstead

57th Governor of the State of North Carolina - 1953 to 1954

Date Born: May 13, 1895

Date Died: November 7, 1954

Place Born: Durham County, NC

Place Buried: Mount Tabor Church Cemetery in Durham County, NC

Residence: Durham, NC

Occupation: 1st Lieutenant in US Army, Lawyer


William Bradley Umstead was born on May 13, 1895 in the town of Bahama in Durham County, NC, the son of John Wesley Umstead and Lula (Lunsford) Umstead. After completing nine years at Mangum School, he attended Durham High School. In 1916, he earned a bachelor's degree in History from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he was a member of Philanthropic Society.

William Bradley Umstead taught high school history in Kinston, NC for approximately one school year before joining the U.S. Army after America entered World War I. As a 2nd Lieutenant in the 317th Machine Gun Battalion, a part of the "Wild Cat" Division, he served in France for almost a year, being discharged as a 1st Lieutenant.

In 1919, William Bradley Umstead entered law school at Trinity College (now Duke University). He received a license to practice law in August 1920, and he then launched his legal career in Durham in July of 1921.

In 1922, William Bradley Umstead entered politics when he was elected Prosecuting Attorney of the Durham County Recorder's Court, a position he retained until 1926.

From 1927 to 1933, William Bradley Umstead was elected Solicitor (now District Attorney) for a five-county district in North Carolina.

On September 5, 1929, William Bradley Umstead married Merle Davis, daughter of Charles Daniel Davis and Daisy (Washburn) Davis of Rutherford County; they had one daughter.

In 1933, William Bradley Umstead was elected to represent North Carolina in the 6th Congressional District of the U.S. House of Representatives, serving until 1939. In Washington, DC, he took a special interest in rural electrification, soil conservation, and the Farm Home Administration. He was instrumental in securing passage of a bill appropriating funds for enlarging facilities at the Tobacco Experiment Station in Oxford, NC, for the study of tobacco wilt and other diseases. He chose not to seek re-election, and returned to his law practice in Durham.

In 1944, William Bradley Umstead returned to the political arena as manager of the gubernatorial campaign of Rorbert Gregg Cherry of Gastonia. Following Cherry's election, Umstead accepted the chairmanship of the state Democratic executive committee, a position he held until November of 1946.

In 1946, William Bradley Umstead was appointed by Gov. Cherry to fill a vacant seat of the late senator Josiah W. Bailey in the U.S. Senate. He lost his bid for re-election in 1948. Umstead returned to Durham in November of 1948, and he again practiced law until the spring of 1952, when he received the Democratic nomination for governor.

In the 1952 general election, William Bradley Umstead was elected by the people as the next Governor of North Carolina. He served from January 8, 1953 until his death. Two days after his inauguration, Gov. Umstead was crippled by a heart attack. He was constantly in ill health until his death nearly two years afterwards. One of Gov. Umstead's chief interests was the reorganization of the State Board of Paroles, a recommendation approved by the 1953 GeneralAssembly. He lost no time in appointing the three-member board and conferred with it frequently on the adoption of new policies that stressed uniform and fair parole consideration for prisoners in the state's penal institutions.

William Bradley Umstead died of pneumonia on November 7, 1954, while in office as governor of North Carolina. He was later buried in the Mount Tabor Methodist Church Cemetery in Durham, NC.


William Bradley Umstead (13 May 1895 – 7 November 1954) was a US Senator and the Democratic governor of the state of North Carolina from 1953 to 1954.

In 1916, Umstead earned a bachelor's degree in History from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and taught high school history for approximately one school year before enlisting in the Army after the US entry into World War I. He served as an officer and saw combat in France; Umstead was discharged in 1919 as a first lieutenant. He almost immediately entered law school at Trinity College (today, Duke University). Umstead was a prosecutor for most of his legal career and served as the elected solicitor (today called District Attorney) for a five-county district from 1927 to 1933.

He served from 1933 to 1939 in the United States House of Representatives, choosing not to seek re-election in 1938. Umstead was appointed to fill a vacant United States Senate seat in 1946. Defeated for a Senate term of his own in 1948, Umstead ran for Governor in 1952 and won. However, on 8 January 1953, only two days after his inauguration, Umstead was crippled by a heart attack. He was constantly in ill health until his death nearly two years afterwards, upon which he was succeeded as governor by Luther H. Hodges.


Umstead, William Bradley, a Representative and a Senator from North Carolina; born on a farm in Mangum Township, Durham County, NC, May 13, 1895; attended the county public schools and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1916; taught school in Kinston, NC, in 1916 and 1917; during the First World War served as a lieutenant in the United States Army 1917-1919, with service overseas; studied law at Trinity College (now Duke University) 1919-1921; admitted to the bar in 1920 and commenced practice in Durham, NC, in 1921; prosecuting attorney of the Durham County Recorders Court 1922-1926; solicitor of the tenth judicial district 1927-1933; member of the board of trustees of the University of North Carolina; elected as a Democrat to the Seventy-third, Seventy-fourth, and Seventy-fifth Congresses (March 4, 1933-January 3, 1939); was not a candidate for renomination in 1938; resumed the practice of law in Durham, N.C.; appointed on December 18, 1946, to the US Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Josiah W. Bailey and served from December 18, 1946, to December 30, 1948; was an unsuccessful candidate for the nomination to fill the vacancy and also for the full term; resumed the practice of law; Governor of North Carolina from January 1953 until his death in Durham, N.C., November 7, 1954; interment in Mount Tabor Church Cemetery in Mangum Township, Durham County, N.C.
William Bradley Umstead, governor of North Carolina, was born in Durham County, NC on May 13, 1895. His education was attained at Durham High School, and at the University of North Carolina, where he graduated in 1916. After serving as a second lieutenant in the 81st “Wildcat Division” during World War I, Umstead returned to his education. He studied law at Duke University, and then established his legal career in Durham. Umstead first entered politics as the prosecuting attorney of the Durham County Recorder’s Court, a position he held from 1922 to 1926. He also served as the Solicitor of the 10th Judicial District from 1927 to 1933; was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1933 to 1939; and served as the campaign manager for Robert Gregg Cherry’s 1944 gubernatorial bid. Umstead next secured the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, and was elected governor by a popular vote on November 4, 1952. Two days after his inauguration, Umstead suffered a heart attack. Despite his ill health, Umstead was able run the state government. During his tenure, a bi-racial committee on education was formed; the board of paroles was restructured; and industrial incentives were promoted. While in office, Umstead contracted pneumonia, and consequently passed away on November 7, 1954. William B. Umstead was buried in the Mount Tabor Church Cemetery in Durham County, NC.
Click Here to view/download an Adobe PDF file of the book, entitled "Public Addresses, Letters, and Papers of William Bradley Umstead, Governor of North Carolina 1953-1954," published in 1957.

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