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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Virginius Dabney, July 31, 1975. Interview A-0311-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Byrd's political influence forced Virginians to support massive resistance strategies

Virginians voted on whether the state constitution should be altered in a statewide referendum. Senator Byrd, along with the majority of Virginia's newspapers, supported a change to the constitution. Another group opposed to the Byrd machine, headed by Armistead Boothe, resisted any changes to Virginia's constitution. Dabney explains that the referendum actually served as a legal means to institute massive resistance strategies into the state constitution. Rather than allow the Gray Commission's local option, Dabney insists that the Byrd politicians intentionally misled the public.

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 aftermath of the commission report was a statewide referendum on whether or not a convention would be called to modify the Virginia Constitution. That referendum apparently elicited a lot of public interest. It was held in January. Do you recall some who were for and against the referendum?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, I think the Byrd people were for it. The Armistead Boothe group were against it and practically all the newspapers were for it. Stanley was for it and he led various moderates to believe that if this went through, they would have local option and go along with the Gray Commission's recommendations. And they went along and served as front men for the whole program, and then after it was ratified in the referendum, the Byrd organization proceeded to turn right around and in effect, repudiate the very things that they had led the public to think.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Now, Byrd at the time of the referendum, made some public statements, but in retrospect, they were sort of cryptic in that they could be interpreted in various ways.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Right. He and Blackie Moore, the speaker of the house, were both very careful not to personally commit themselves to what was being passed on in the referendum. That is, they didn't commit themselves to local option. After the thing was ratified, they technically were in the clear, but I don't think that Stanley was, because he, according to Dabney Lancaster, flatly told Lancaster that this was part of the plan and if they won in the referendum, they would have local option, which is exactly the opposite of what happened.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Do you think that this was a ruse on the part of Senator Byrd, or do you think that he didn't realize what was happening until it got to the point that it was almost a law?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I don't see how he could have failed to realize it, as interested as he was, because he was right in the middle, and if he didn't know what was happening, it was the first time that he didn't.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Do you think that the public at large felt that because Stanley and other Byrd organization men supported the referendum so vigorously that they were in fact speaking for Byrd?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I certainly thought so and I think everybody else did.