Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Virginius Dabney, July 31, 1975. Interview A-0311-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The Gray Commission defied Byrd's fierce segregationist beliefs

Senator Harry F. Byrd Sr. served as an ardent conservative and centralizing force on Virginia's political landscape for several decades. The Gray Commission, established by Byrd-endorsed Senator Garland Gray, established a plan of action for handling school desegregation. The Commission recommended token integration with a local option for more recalcitrant and segregationist-inclined counties in Virginia. Dabney expressed his surprise that the moderate nature of the Gray Commission's findings passed despite Byrd's vocal opposition to desegregation.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Virginius Dabney, July 31, 1975. Interview A-0311-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

DANIEL JORDAN:
Now, the Gray Commission issued its report in November, 1955. Would you characterize its recommendations?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, They were for token integration and local option An area that wanted to integrate could do so, and where they opposed it, as in the southside, they could segregate.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Was this a surprising conclusion, given the composition of the committee? I understand that there were a lot of southside legislators in it, Garland Gray was, of course, a key man in the Byrd organization and yet this seems in retrospect a rather moderate recommendation.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
It does. It is a little bit puzzling to me now. I can see how some of those on that commission wanted to have token integration but I don't understand how some of the others went along, especially Gray. Of course, he later on completely reversed himself, but that was under pressure from Senator Byrd. I don't really understand how they got that through.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Do you think that Byrd knew what was going on while the commission was deliberating?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, surprisingly enough, he apparently didn't, because he hit the ceiling when he found out about it and made everybody that he could control turn right around and turn somersaults.