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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 believed integration would destroy southern traditions

Dabney discusses Byrd's powerful influence in ushering in massive resistance policies. Despite arguments that Byrd revived his waning political career by inciting whites in majority black areas to support massive resistance, Dabney contends that Byrd was not a political expedient. Instead, Dabney insists Byrd truly believed integration would cause the downfall to southern customs and traditions. To Byrd, Virginia was the vanguard in the fight to maintain segregation.

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:
And this meant that the organization had changed its stance from a notion of maybe going along with it in a token sense with local option, to total confrontation, and this gets us to a really key point which is, why did Virginia, did the organization, go for massive resistence?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, I think that it is pretty simple, because Harry Byrd decided that he just simply couldn't take it and he wasn't going to take it and he was going to do every conceivable thing within the law to thwart the place. He put the heat on everybody in his organization. Those who didn't go along were in the outer darkness. It's just as simple as that, I think.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Why did he decide that he couldn't go along with it?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, he had a very deep feeling that integration would be disastrous, and would ruin the state and the country and we couldn't have it. He was going to do the utmost that he could to prevent it.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Did it have any effect on Byrd's decision that the fact that the southside, which was his strongest support, had a very large black population which would have been affected first and strongest by integration and that perhaps to keep the support of the southside as he was having trouble with his machine, he went along simply for the fact of political expediency.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I don't think that was his express motive, but I don't think that the southside's attitude hurt his decision at all. It helped him make the decision in that he was glad to be in the same bed with southside and at the same time do what he thought was right.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Do you think that it was his personal feeling toward the Negro or do you think that it was because of his entire outlook as a conservative?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I really don't know. It is a hard thing for me to analyze.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Did you ever make any editorial comments on Byrd's . . .
DANIEL JORDAN:
We might hold that until later, if you would like, just to keep it separate if we can. Did Byrd believe that in all of this, Virginia was leading the southern fight against some alien force?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, Byrd said several times that Virginia was the key to this whole fight, and if Virginia went down, they wouldn't be able to hold the line. So, he did feel that this was the crux of the whole thing and that Virginia should stand firm.
DANIEL JORDAN:
And it was easy to make a sort of state's rights case here because Virginians like to remember their stand in 1860-61, as well, I suppose.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
True.
DANIEL JORDAN:
We have a famous quote coming out to the effect that this was to keep the organization in power for another twenty-five years. Nobody knows who exactly said that, does that ring true at all? That puts a positive expedient element to it.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Somebody may have said that, but it was the most stupid statement of the decade because it didn't keep them in power at all, and it led to the disintegration of the organization. Nobody has been able to pinpoint the origin of that statement, whether it was made by some leader in the organization, but anyway, it didn't work out that way and it was a very short-sighted view.