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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 >>

The Byrd machine held incredible power to determine political elections

The 1957 gubernatorial race resulted in the candidacy of Democrat J. Lindsay Almond and Republican Theodore R. Dalton. Almond had served as Virginia's attorney general arguing for segregation in the <cite>Brown</cite> case. Dabney's comments again expose the power of the Byrd machine, as well as the public's fierce opposition to integration, merging to result in Dalton's electoral loss.

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:
In retrospect, it seems that the federal government was not particularly aggressive in this period. There is some sort of notion that Byrd had some special influence with Eisenhower, and Byrd, of course, was a very powerful Senator and chairman of a very powerful committee. Do you recall at the time any notion of that?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
No, I don't know anything about that.
DANIEL JORDAN:
So, I guess that a corollary is that massive resistance might work because Byrd was so powerful that Eisenhower could not afford to really be aggressive, whatever his own views might have been, that he politically couldn't have afforded to alienate people like Byrd. Well, moving on, in 1957, there was a very important gubernatorial election right at the height of massive resistance sentiment between Almond and Dalton. Would you comment a little on the candidates and the issues?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I think massive resistance was the issue and practically nothing else was. Judge Almond is a very able lawyer, who made a good record in Congress, put in a brief here and there and had a good record as attorney general. He was persuaded to give up his Congressional seat to become attorney general when the incumbent died suddenly, and he thinks that he was given the go-ahead for the governorship when he agreed to become attorney general.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
That was in what year? He was nine years as attorney general.
DANIEL JORDAN:
'50, I believe, or '49.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
About that time; I can't remember exactly. He knew as attorney general that this massive resistance business wouldn't stand up. He knew the resistance was going to collapse. When he came in as governor, he was susceptible to all the pressures that were on him at that time, and he made some pretty wild statements, as he is the first to admit, notably, when he knew that he had to turn around. He didn't let on that he knew it and made a really damaging speech saying "he had just begun to fight." He turned around eight days later. That was a sad blunder, as you know. Dalton was a high-minded, able man. He made a good campaign. He was less extreme in his statements about the race problem. He almost won and Byrd came in, on account of the road issue, and turned the tide. Also, President Eisenhower had sent troops to Little Rock, which stirred up a frightful lot of feeling against the Republicans and that hurt Dalton very much. I don't think that he could have beaten Almond anyway. Almond was a fine campaigner on the stump, a lot better than Stanley, who had been a miserable campaigner when Dalton ran against him four years before. So there wasn't much of a chance that Dalton could have beaten Almond anyway, but Almond's majority was much larger because of Little Rock.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Now Almond, of course, was all out for massive resistance and didn't Dalton come out for local option?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I think he did.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Was he branded as an integrationist in the public mind because he stated what had previously been the recommendations of the Gray Commission?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, in a lot of people's minds I would say that he was, because by that time all this antagonism had been whipped up against the Gray Commission report, the original report.