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Oral History Interview with Virginius Dabney, July 31, 1975. Interview A-0311-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007).
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  • Abstract
    Virginius Dabney chronicles his long career as a southern journalist from the 1920s to the 1970s. As the editor of the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch, Dabney penned several articles about the social and political crises of the twentieth century, often with a decidedly regional outlook. He wrote a few books concerning southern liberalism and the regional culture of Virginians. These works earned him an invitation as a guest lecturer at Cambridge and Princeton in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Though Dabney discusses his career as a novelist and lecturer, the primary focus of the interview is on his opinions on race relations in post-1954 Virginia. While many Virginia politicians crafted ways to massively resist integrating public schools, he supported gradual public school desegregation. Dabney expresses his criticism of politicians—particularly Senator Harry Byrd Sr. and Jack Kilpatrick—who chose to close public schools rather than integrate them. To Dabney, school closings culminated in backward thinking and fewer economic opportunities for the state. Even though his opinions about massive resistance emerged in his editorials, the owners of the Times-Dispatch prevented him from a full expression of his ideas. Dabney further discusses the relationship between newspaper owners. He also recounts his connection to Virginia's aristocracy and his relational ties to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Steeped in this background, Dabney reacts adversely to criticism of the nation's founders. He disapproved of Gore Vidal's and Fawn Brodie's work on Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson, respectively. Of particular interest is Dabney's vociferous objection to historian Fawn Brodie's account of a romantic relationship between Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson.
    Excerpts
  • Few white Virginians objected initially to the Brown ruling
  • Defenders of State Sovereignty formed to maintain segregated schools
  • Most Virginians favored segregated schools
  • The Gray Commission defied Byrd's fierce segregationist beliefs
  • Byrd's political influence forced Virginians to support massive resistance strategies
  • Kilpatrick served as Byrd's press voice for Virginia's massive resistance strategy
  • Byrd believed integration would destroy southern traditions
  • The Byrd machine held incredible power to determine political elections
  • Public school closings changed many Virginians' acceptance of massive resistance
  • Tensions between Byrd and Almond emerged over massive resistance
  • Almond reinstated the Gray Commission's suggestion for desegregation
  • Byrd stymied Almond's appointment to a federal judgeship as political retribution
  • Virginians latched onto interposition rather than Byrd's massive resistance
  • Many Virginian politicians avoid public critique of Byrd
  • Gradual school integration would give Virginians time to adapt
  • Owners, not editors, determined a newspaper's political views
  • Limitations on newspaper editors
  • Newspapers were influenced heavily by the Byrd machine
  • Whites resisted public criticisms of massive resistance
  • Few people publicly opposed massive resistance, though some did privately
  • A gradual desegregation plan would help Virginians accept Brown
  • Articulation of southern liberalism radicalized Dabney's political ideology in the 1930s
  • Dabney believed that "separate but equal" would improve southern race relations
  • Dabney's views remained the same as the political climate changed
  • Dabney's writing habits
  • Commercial interests superseded the historical accuracy of the bicentennial organization
  • Brodie's and Vidal's scholarship besmirched Thomas Jefferson's political legacy
  • Godwin's statewide education conference assessed the state of public schools
  • Dabney's lectureships at Cambridge and Princeton
  • Origins of Virginia Commonwealth University
  • Southern writers were urged to forge a regional alliance, despite personal rivalries
  • Desegregation produced rapid racial change, but the hospitable attiudes of Virginians remained
  • Political realignment occurred along ideological rather than party lines
  • Rapid racial and political changes in the South
  • Federal laws encouraged the convergence of the North and South
  • Shift from newspapers to televised news coverage
  • Today's big business enterprise of newspapers hampers editors' freedom of expression
  • Learn More
  • Finding aid to the Southern Oral History Program Collection
  • Database of all Southern Oral History Program Collection interviews
  • Subjects
  • Press and politics--Virginia
  • Virginia--Politics and government
  • Virginia--Race relations
  • Education, Higher--Virginia
  • The Southern Oral History Program transcripts presented here on Documenting the American South undergo an editorial process to remove transcription errors. Texts may differ from the original transcripts held by the Southern Historical Collection.

    Funding from the Institute for Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this title.