The son of Thomas Trotman and Margaret Otelia Sharrock Speight, Francis Speight was born at Sharrock plantation in Bertie County, Windsor, North Carolina. He began his art education at Wake Forest College in 1915, and took Saturday art lessons under Ida Poteat at Meredith College. Speight was drafted in World War I in 1919, though the following year found the opportunity to take classes at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington D.C. Later he attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he would go on to teach part-time for more than forty years. His was inspired to attend the academy by an exhibition of paintings of the noted American impressionist and academy faculty member, Daniel Garber, under whom Speight studied. In his time at the Academy he received Cresson Scholarships to travel and paint in Europe during the summers of 1923 and 1925.
Known for his city scenes and landscapes, most of which depict the Philadelphia suburbs, Speight earned many honors for his work, including the Gold Medal of Honor from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (1926), Hallgarten Prize from the National Academy of Design in New York (1930), and O. Max Gardner Award from The University of North Carolina (1976). He was also a member of the National Academy of Design and the American Institute of Arts and Letters. Today his works remain in public and private art collections across the country.