Documenting the American South Logo
Loading
Author: Dabney, Virginius, interviewee
Interview conducted by Jordan, Daniel Turpin, William H.
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Mike Millner
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2006
Size of electronic edition: 444 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2006.
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.
The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2008-00-00, Celine Noel, Wanda Gunther, and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2006-12-31, Mike Millner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with Virginius Dabney, June 10-13, 1975. Interview A-0311-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series A. Southern Politics. Southern Oral History Program Collection (A-0311-1)
Author: Daniel Jordan and William H. Turpin
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with Virginius Dabney, June 10-13, 1975. Interview A-0311-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series A. Southern Politics. Southern Oral History Program Collection (A-0311-1)
Author: Virginius Dabney
Description: 567 Mb
Description: 143 p.
Note: Interview conducted on June 10-13, 1975, by Daniel Jordan and William H. Turpin; recorded in Richmond, Virginia.
Note: Transcribed by Joe Jaros.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series A. Southern Politics, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Editorial practices
An audio file with the interview complements this electronic edition.
The text has been entered using double-keying and verified against the original.
The text has been encoded using the recommendations for Level 4 of the TEI in Libraries Guidelines.
Original grammar and spelling have been preserved.
All quotation marks, em dashes and ampersand have been transcribed as entity references.
All double right and left quotation marks are encoded as "
All em dashes are encoded as —

Interview with Virginius Dabney, June 10-13, 1975.
Interview A-0311-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Dabney, Virginius, interviewee


Interview Participants

    VIRGINIUS DABNEY, interviewee
    DANIEL JORDAN, interviewer
    WILLIAM H. TURPIN, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
This is an interview with Virginius Dabney at his home in Richmond, Virginia, on June 10, 1975, interviewed by William H. Turpin and Daniel P. Jordan. This will cover his early career as a newspaper man, his education, and his family life until about 1934.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Mr. Dabney, I wondered if you would mind beginning with just a brief comment about your ancestry?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, of course, my father was a Dabney and my mother was a Davis. My father was the grandson of Thomas S. Dabney who was the subject of a very interesting book by Susan Dabney Smedes, who wrote this book about her father, Thomas S. Dabney, my great-grandfather. He lived in Gloucester County, Virginia, and moved to Mississippi in 1835 because his tobacco lands were worn out. He started a cotton plantation in Hinds County, Mississippi, and was extremely successful and one year he was said to have cleared $50,000, which in those days was really money. I don't know how much more you want me to say about that, he was ruined in the war and everything was wiped out. On my mother's side, John A. G. Davis, who was the chairman of the faculty of the University of Virginia, my great-grandfather, was murdered on the lawn by a student. They were having riots at that time and Davis went out on the lawn to see what was going on and one of the students had on a mask, and Davis went up to him to try to pull the mask off to see who it was, and the fellow pulled out a pistol and shot him.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
What year was that?

Page 2
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
1840. The year before, the previous chairman of the faculty had been horsewhipped by the students. It was really a lively era.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
What was his middle name?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
John A. G. Davis. John Anderson Gardner Davis. I am a collateral descendant of Thomas Jefferson, I don't know how much of this you want me to put in. I am a direct descendant of Martha Jefferson and Dabney Carr. I guess that is enough.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Well, there is a Huguenot strain in your ancestry, isn't there?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, it isn't Huguenot, we might clear that up. For a long time, we thought that we were Huguenots, but Dr. Charles W. Dabney, who was president of the University of Tennessee and of the University of Cincinnati, after his retirement, did a lot of research and went to England and looked at a lot of graveyards and records and found that they spelled it various different ways. It was d'Aubigne in France, and then they came to England and it became Daubney, or [unclear] or various things. He wrote an article in the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography for April 1937, which clearly proves to my mind that we were not Huguenots, but were Norman French and then English.
DANIEL JORDAN:
You have a grandfather, I believe, who was a newspaperman and for whom you are named?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, my unusual name, Virginius. A lot of people ask me how I got it, so I'll tell you for the record. My grandfather was just born at the time that his father moved to Mississippi from Gloucester County. His father was so distressed at leaving the

Page 3
grand old state of Virginia that he named his son Virginius. That's how I happened to inherit the name, which is regularly misspelled by everybody. I have gotten seventy-five different misspellings of my first and last names. You wouldn't think that was possible. [Laughter] I have a collection upstairs in a file. But that's the way that the thing started out and how I came to have that name. Shall I get to my birth now?
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
I think that you might mention a little bit about your mother and father. Your father was a historian?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I was going to mention them after I was born, but . . .
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
All right.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
My father was a Heidelberg Ph.D. who came back to this country and taught in his father's New York Latin School for a year or so, and then went to Indiana University and was professor of history there. Then he came to the University of Virginia in 1889 as a low-ranking member of the faculty and succeeded the famous "Daddy" Holmes, George Frederick Holmes, when he became so old that he had to retire. And so, my father taught for forty-nine years at the University of Virginia, thirty-four of which he was the only history professor. He taught all the history and for nine of those years, he taught all the economics and for twenty-three years, he was Dean of the Graduate School. And at the height of his fame, he got $6000 a year. [Laughter]
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
He was a friend of Woodrow Wilson, I believe.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
He was a very good friend of Woodrow Wilson. One of Woodrow Wilson's nieces, I believe it was, wrote a book in which she says that my father was one of five intimate friends of Woodrow Wilson. He had a lot of letters from Wilson, which as you probably know, are in the

Page 4
University library, quite remarkable letters that are quoted by all the biographers of Wilson. He and Wilson had a very informal and relaxed relationship and kidded each other. Wilson was an entirely different individual in the company of his friends from those who saw him in public life and thought that he was very austere and difficult to get along with and aloof. He would write Father these very jocose letters and the only one that is not in the University of Virginia Library is the one that he wrote my father when I was born. He starts off, "O Thou Very Ass . . . " [Laughter] That's typical of their relationship.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
How did this relationship start?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
They were at the University of Virginia together and became acquainted there, and Father got close to him in the fraternity, he was his protege in the Phi Kappa Psi's.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Did your father have any particular points of view or convictions that made an impression on you and about which you can talk?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, yes, I think he did, definitely. He was, above all, extremely honest and honorable. He was so much so that I was very much impressed with that characteristic. I remember that I did something once that shocked him very much. I was supposedly trying to be a violinist—I never got to first base with the violin. I had to go downtown, walk down with my violin and take lessons and walk back. I was supposed to come straight home so that Father could teach me German or French; he was teaching me both of them. I got sidetracked. A friend of mine, John Staige Davis, lived on the way, going up Rugby Road, and I saw him in the yard and I decided that I wasn't going straight home, I was going to go in there and pitch baseball with him, which I did. We were throwing the ball back and forth and I looked

Page 5
up and saw Father coming up the road. I didn't think he saw me, so I ducked behind a hedge, like a fool. He went on by and I didn't think he had seen me at all. When I got home, I went to the water cooler that always stood in the hall, to get a drink. He was in his study, and he was very much hurt by my having ducked behind the hedge and he said, "Why did you hide from me?" I was so stunned that I said, "I don't know." I was so upset by that, and he was too. He never mentioned it again and I was careful not to do anything like that again. That's a very trivial incident, but it had significance for me.
[unclear] was not only a historian, but a very fine linguist, not only in French and German, but in Latin and Greek, and he read Sophocles about as easily as he did Shakespeare. He tried to transfer the latter capacity to me, which was an utter failure. I wasn't good at all at Greek. I did very well in French and German, thanks to his method of teaching, which was quite unusual and maybe unique for that era. He didn't go for grammar at all and memorizing grammatical rules. It was his thought that you could learn a foreign language in the way that you learned your own language. That is, start very young and stress reading and conversation and just forget about rules of grammar. So, we started out with French and German that way. I was about seven or eight years old and it came so quickly and easily that by the time I was thirteen or fourteen, I had read probably ten times as much French and German as the average college graduate, and for no good reason except that I had such a fine teacher. I was mediocre at Greek, but I was pretty good at French and German. He did it. If I had started learning grammar, declensions and conjugations and all that, I would

Page 6
have been right back where everybody else was.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Don't you think that it's a little unusual . . . I read someplace that you didn't go to a formal type of school until you were thirteen.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, my father and my aunt taught me until I was thirteen and went to Episcopal High School. It was an advantage because I was in a much higher form when I went there than the other boys my age. I graduated at sixteen, which was the youngest that anybody had graduated from Episcopal High School at that time. It took graduates through the first year of college so they could get advanced standing and get off a year. So, I got my B.A. in three years.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Was this your father's idea, that he teach you?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, it was. You'd think that it would be bad in some ways and maybe it was. I didn't see other boys during the morning, I never had to do any night work at all, which was extraordinary, now that I think of it. I seemed to get ahead faster than the other boys who were going to private schools around there and yet, I didn't do any homework at night and wasn't supposed to, thanks to the instruction that I had. I got along more rapidly than I would have, and the the sort of isolation during the morning didn't seem to make any difference. I played all kinds of sports and was pretty large for my age and really was better than most of the other boys. I didn't turn out to be any athlete later, but when I was younger . . . we had a track meet between the Boy Scouts of Richmond and Charlottesville. You'd think that Richmond would have much better athletes than Charlottesville, which then had about five thousand people or thereabouts. I was in the youngest group, which was, I think, up to fourteen and I was twelve. I won everything. I won the 50, 100, 220

Page 7
and the 440, but I never won any more track meets after that. I was bigger and longer legged or something.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Did your father have any particular political point of view that might have been influential?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
No, I don't think that he did because he was pretty conservative although he admired Woodrow Wilson a lot. He didn't agree with all of Wilson's ideas. He thought that Wilson was too liberal in some ways, and I became fairly liberal in my twenties and thirties and while he never argued with me about it, he was very careful not to take issue and be unpleasant in any way about it. I am sure that he didn't agree with me. For example, I do know one time when he thought I had gone off my rocker, when I advocated the federal anti-lynching bill in the 1930s. He couldn't see any point at all in having the federal government intervene in things like that. He was utterly conservative on the race question, really too much so.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Did your father instill a love of history in you? A major part of your career has been Virginia history.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, he surely did, very definitely so. When I took all of his classes except the Ph.D., it came very easily for me. Some things were hard for me, but that was easy, languages and history. I didn't have a good grade in math. They had something at that time at Virginia which the famous Professor "Reddy" Echols called "the loophole for the

Page 8
feeble-minded." [Laughter] It was a way to avoid advanced calculus, which I was anxious to do, and that was to take astronomy instead. So, I did. I jumped right through that loophole. [Laughter] I didn't go great guns in astronomy either, but I got by all right. It was interesting, whereas I can't get interested at all in advanced mathematics.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Well, you started very quickly writing books and apparently had an eye towards history. Do you think your father was primarily responsible for this? Wasn't Douglas S. Freeman editor of the paper when you joined the staff?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, he was. I think that my father had more to do with it than any one person and I think that in that respect, he influenced me a lot. I don't know whether I ever discussed it, my wanting to write history at that point was a rather premature thing to bring up. Of course, he did live until way after I had written two books, so, he did, as I come to think of it, have an influence on both of those books, The Liberalism of the South . . . of course, he wasn't very liberal, but he read it and complimented it very highly even though he didn't agree with it. He didn't say that he didn't agree with it, he just read it for accuracy more than anything else. The other one, Below the Potomac, which I dedicated to him, he also thought well of. He said, although there are some views that I'm sure he didn't agree with. So, he did influence me a lot in my interest in history.
DANIEL JORDAN:
We might talk a little about your mother. What about your mother's influences and some of her traits?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Mother was a quite different personality from Father.

Page 9
Father was very emotional and really shed tears on occasions when most people wouldn't think of doing so. Mother was not emotional at all, she was very affectionate, but she wasn't as demonstrative as he. She was quite an intellectual, she read a great deal. She was a member of the book club that they had had at the University for generations, one of the chief ones. They circulated books, somebody would bring a book or two each week and you were supposed to read that and pass it on to the next member. She was on the committee to choose the books that were read and she astonished me in her later years—she lived to be ninety-eight—by the things that she read and which I thought were very shocking. I mean, these modern novels, they don't hold back any punches at all, but she didn't bat an eye. I never discussed them with her, I was embarrassed to do it. [Laughter] She was very straightlaced in her own views. She loved to entertain, and always was having friends in for meals. She never turned down an invitation to a party.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
When did she die?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
She died in '73. She was twelve years younger than my father, who died in '47, aged 86.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Was the family very religious? I know that you are Episcopalian, was that a very important part of your upbringing?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
It was not particularly so, because Father was not religious at all. I don't know exactly what his beliefs were. I asked him once if he believed in the Hereafter and he said he did not and he didn't see any reason to, that he saw no evidence that there was any life after death and that we all went to dust and various chemical elements. He never tried to influence us, though, against religion. We always went to the Sunday School and church and Mother went to

Page 10
church regularly and Father always stayed home. He was not religious and she was. I am moderately so, I'm not as active as I might be. I belong to St. Stephen's Church here and was on the vestry.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Do you have any other recollections of your mother and father? I think that you are about ready to be born. [Laughter]
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I'm ready to be born.
DANIEL JORDAN:
You grew up in Charlottesville. Perhaps you could comment a little about life in Charlottesville in the early 1900s. Are there any recollections of it that might have made an impression upon you?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I was born in a house that's still there on Gordon Avenue. I don't know the number. The last time that I went by there, it was something called the Blue Ridge Health Center. [Laughter] It was built by my father, he was the architect, and I think that he said it cost $1500. It has been enlarged some, but it was plenty big enough for the family, even so, originally, it was just an ordinary frame house on a nice big lot and I think that it had four bedrooms and a living room and dining room, and a study which Father inhabited. There was nothing unusual about it, it was no architectural gem at all, just an ordinary house built about 1900. He and my mother were married in '98 or '9, I forget which. I grew up there for four years approximately and then we moved to a house on Rugby Road at the top of the hill, which is still there. Number 703. It was a somewhat bigger house. It was bought from my aunt who had bought it from somebody else and I have very few recollections of the first house in which I lived, but I remember a great deal about this other, which was on a ten acre lot. Of course, it (the area) is all built up now, and the lot is

Page 11
probably an acre and the rest of it has been sold off. Charlottesville, as I mentioned, was probably between five thousand and ten thousand people during my youth. There were practically no automobiles and everybody rode in buggies or hacks. We had a surrey with a fringe on top like the one in Oklahoma!, the musical show, and one horse which pulled the surrey. I rode the horse occasionally around for fun. It wasn't a riding horse and I wasn't a rider either, I fell off on Rugby Road and broke my arm when I was about ten years old. I was galloping down Rugby Road and the horse suddenly decided to turn left into Gordon Avenue and I just kept going straight and landed on my right arm and broke it. That was almost the last time that I ever rode. It didn't scare me particularly, but that horse wasn't any good anyway to ride and so, I did very little riding. I played games with the other boys around there all the time, baseball, football, and track, and basketball, and tennis, and I went swimming in the reservoir up on the mountain near the University Observatory.
DANIEL JORDAN:
You said that you were a scout?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, I was a Boy Scout. It is really remarkable to think back to that reservoir which was just a few hundred yards off the beaten highway, near the Observatory. Everybody went in without a stitch on, including university students, and it is amazing to me that some of the ladies of the community didn't just happen to walk by there. It wasn't a remote situation at all, just off the road about a few hundred yards, say. We made a lot of noise, shouting and yelling and jumping in and diving in and all that. And nobody ever thought of wearing bathing trunks. I played a little golf at that time over on the university golf links which have now been obliterated by the dormitories. I went fishing in the pond. There was a pond where

Page 12
the Nancy Astor tennis courts are. I robbed birds' nests and went on hikes and just indulged in the usual pastimes, There were no movies until I was older and of course, there was no radio or TV. Everybody walked everywhere and didn't think anything of walking a mile or two. I always walked over to classes at the university a half or three quarters of a mile, either once or twice a day. It never entered my mind that there was anything unusual about that, nor did it seem so to anybody else. There was an ice pond in front of our house, and we cut the ice there in the winter and put it in the ice house, which was in our backyard. I had a harrowing experience there one time. The ice house was under the house where we kept the surrey, and there was a trap door in the middle of the floor. Usually, the trap was down and you could just walk in there. Well, they had the trap door up, propped with a stick for some reason, there was no ice in the ice house, and it was seventeen feet deep. The lid, as I say, was propped up with a stick. I was about six years old and I was walking around, looking down in to the hole, and all of a sudden, I jarred the stick, or something. The stick fell from under the trap door, which banged down and knocked me in to the hole seventeen feet head first. Although I fell on my head it didn't seem to hurt me much, but naturally, I let out a horrible yell and a colored man who was nearby rushed down the ladder and salvaged me and carried me up the ladder.

Page 13
I had a few bruises, but that was all. It was a rather remarkable escape.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Were there any memorable events in Charlottesville, or occasions that stand out in those early years?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Nothing much except the circus. When that came to town, we were always excited for days, and went down and waited for hours for the circus to show up with the animals and clowns and beautiful ladies in tights on horseback. One or two cages were always closed and you would have to go to the circus to see what was in those. At the tail end of the parade there was always a tin calliope tootling some kind of tune.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Did they have any reunions of confederate veterans back in the early part of the century?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
They certainly had them, but I don't think that they were in Charlottesville, to any extent. They were always in Richmond. They had huge ones there every five years or so. They had meetings of the local camp of Confederate veterans in Charlottesville, of course, and we saw these old fellows in their faded uniforms around all the time. We always went out to the cemetery on Memorial Day and decorated the graves and somebody would make a speech.
That was fairly close to the Civil War, of course, just forty years or so. My father's father had been in the war and had a bullet in his chest the rest of his life.
[audio missing]
He was a captain on Gordon's staff.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
This was Virginius?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes. And Father was a red-hot Confederate always, although he didn't want to fight the war over again, he was very emotional about

Page 14
the Confederacy and what his father had been through.
DANIEL JORDAN:
There is no relation here with the Presbyterian theologian, Robert L. Dabney, is there?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
There is a distant connection, the same family. He was the ultra-reactionary of all time, pretty much against everything. I never knew him, but it was his son, much more liberal Charles W. Dabney, who researched the family and found that we were not of Huguenot ancestry.
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
And then your grandfather, Virginius, for whom you were named, was he a Mississippian, and how did your family get back to Virginia?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
None of those that you mentioned was born in Mississippi. Thomas S. Dabney, my great-grandfather, was born in Gloucester County, Virginia. Virginius Dabney, my grandfather, was born in Gloucester County. They moved to Mississippi and he grew up in Mississippi. The war came and various ones went into the war, the place was wrecked during the war. After the war, he was ruined financially, my great-grandfather, Thomas Dabney.
[audio resumes]
He lived there in dire poverty for fifteen years. Finally, when he was in his eighties, he moved to Baltimore with some of his daughters. The former slaves moved into the house and it burned down in the '90s. So, there is nothing left of it, really. A few bricks. I went there in 1940 and couldn't find a trace except these remnants.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
So, Virginius was in Baltimore, is that right?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I don't believe he went to Baltimore. His father and his sisters were in Baltimore. He was in the Civil War and

Page 15
then came to Richmond for a few months, and lived with relatives. Then he opened a boys' school in Middleburg, Virginia. He operated that for about five years. He was then asked to be headmaster of Princeton Prep. He went there and stayed one year and couldn't stand it, it was so straightlaced and puritanical that they wouldn't even let him smoke. That was too much for him. He made $5,000 clear that one year, more than he ever made in his life. [interruption]
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
I'd like to get your family back to Virginia.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
All right, at your service. What now?
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Well, we got your great-grandfather, Virginius, starting at Princeton Prep.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
He was my grandfather.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Your grandfather.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, well, he left Princeton Prep because they wouldn't let him smoke. Then he went to New York and started the New York Latin School and he operated that for a number of years, ten years or maybe more. He had a hard time making ends meet. There are very glowing accounts of the school which I have, so I think that it was well run from a scholastic standpoint, but not from a financial standpoint. I don't think that my grandfather was much on business matters. He finally gave it up and went on the New York Commercial Advertiser as an editorial writer. He also wrote a very successful novel; it's quite old-fashioned now and a lot of people would think that it was implausible but at the time, it was

Page 16
very highly praised and went into about six editions in a few years. The name was Don Miff, which was a child's pronunciation of "John Smith." It's a very fantastic title, which never would have occurred to me. But anyway, it was compared to Rabelais and Thackeray and Sterne and I don't know who all by the reviewers. He wrote a second book called, Gold That Did Not Glitter, which was much less successful. Virginius Dabney was an advisor and reader for various New York publishers and finally ended up as a deputy collector for customs for New York City. I think that the reason for that was because he had a stroke and was just slightly paralyzed and had a lot of friends in New York and they got him this job as the collector of customs. He died of a second stroke on the elevated railroad platform.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
That was in about '94, wasn't it?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
How about your father, where was he born?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
It happens that he was born in Memphis; I omitted one little interlude in my grandfather's career. After my grandfather was married, he moved to Memphis to practice law. He had taken law at the University of Virginia because his father wanted him to [unclear]. He did not like law at all, but he tried to practice for a couple of years just before the Civil War and he just couldn't stand the darn thing; and when the war came, he went into the Confederate Army and when he came out, he knew that he was through with the law. He married Maria Heath, who was the daughter of James E. Heath, who was the first editor of the Southern Literary Messenger. He was referred to as "first editor," althought he didn't have the title, but he was about the only one around who did any editing. The publisher, Thomas White, was a businessman and didn't know anything

Page 17
about editing and so James E. Heath, my great-grandfather on that side, was in effect the first editor. His daughter Maria married Virginius Dabney and when Father was born in Memphis, she died. Maria Heath died and then my grandfather went in the war, my father was brought to Richmond as an infant and cared for by relatives while his father was in the war.
DANIEL JORDAN:
I believe that we have touched on your early education under the direction of your father and I wondered if we might move now to Episcopal High School and your experiences there and the activities.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, I went there at age thirteen, my father went up with me on the train the day before, I never understood the reason why. We were supposed to be there on a certain day and we went the day before. We walked there from Alexandria, in those rugged individualist days, you didn't worry about walking three miles, so we just walked on up. I and one other boy were the only ones there that day. He is still living and a good friend of mine, John T. Lewis Jr. The Episcopal High School then was a little smaller than it is now, but not very much, it had about 185 boys. They had just finished two new dormitories which were regarded as the ultimate in luxury, I suppose, although they were just like horse stalls if you lived in them. [Laughter] Really, literally, it was just a stall with a curtain in front of it and a narrow bed and a wardrobe to put things in and one small chair with a straw bottom. No desk, no light, just the window. You were not supposed to stay in there, you weren't supposed to stay in there at all, it was just to sleep. You got up in the morning and got out of there and went to breakfast and came back and brushed your teeth and then you went to class and then you played in some game or athletics or something in

Page 18
the afternoon and then went to study hall at night.
I was, as I mentioned awhile ago, very fortunate in my previous instruction, since I was a couple of years younger than most of the boys in my class. I graduated at sixteen and I played on the baseball team, I was singles tennis champion. I was homesick as the devil the first year, like everybody else. The school did a great deal for me; I couldn't admire it more than I do. Mr. Hoxton, the headmaster, was a great leader of the boys, he was a tremendous personality and a great athlete, which was what we thought was most impressive. He was not particularly intellectual, which I find unfortunate now, but at the time, it didn't hurt me in the least. He was a charming gentleman, very upright, and honorable, devoutly religious, but he never discussed any cultural subject, as far as I can recall. On Sunday nights, the boys would call on him and on other teachers and he was very agreeable and would talk about almost anything except books or art. He was really just not interested in those subjects. When I went on the board of the school, some of us got together and decided that we were going to try to get an art course in the curriculum. There wasn't any when I was in the school. On the board, as I said, we brought the matter up and didn't get anywhere with Mr. Hoxton; he just didn't think that was the sort of thing that ought to be taught in a boys' school. Latin, Greek, and mathematics were the three things that he thought were fundamental, plus a few other things like English, government, and history. Well, after we

Page 19
butted our heads against a brick wall on that, I talked to Mr. John Stewart Bryan, the publisher of the paper I was working for, who was a great intimate of Mr. Hoxton. I asked Mr. Bryan to please get hold of Mr. Hoxton the next time he went up to the school and talk to him about an art course, which Mr. Bryan was all for doing. He did talk to Mr. Hoxton the night before the board meeting, and Mr. Hoxton was so completely converted that he wanted to build an entire building devoted to art. Well, none of us wanted to do that. [Laughter] We didn't have any money to do it with in the first place, but we did get the art course in, and after that, music, and music appreciation [unclear] It was a better balanced curriculum.
Another shortcoming was that we were not urged by the school to take advantage of the cultural opportunities in Washington. We had holiday every Monday and you could go to Washington once a month, if you had the money. If you were a monitor, you could go once a week. I was a monitor my third year, but I seldom had the money to go to Washington, even once a month. I had an allowance of 25¢ a week, which wasn't too unusual at that time. Some plutocrats had a dollar a week, which seemed astronomical to me. I would sometimes get money at Christmas and hoard it so that I could go to Washington. When we went to Washington, it seldom occurred to us to go to an art gallery or a symphony or to see the workings of Congress. We would go to a cheap restaurant and get lunch and maybe to a movie. We couldn't afford to go to any good restaurant; we would go to the Washington Lunch and get hotcakes with syrup. That was usually the extent of our splurge.

Page 20
The school did a lot for me in the sense that they had a fine honor system and very good instruction in the courses that they had. The teachers were remarkable; a number of them were quite exceptional, and made a lasting impression. While the curriculum was limited, it was typical of the era, and similar to that in most southern prep schools.
DANIEL JORDAN:
You were editor of the school paper, weren't you?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
No, I was on it but I wasn't editor. I was only fifteen in the beginning of my last year.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Do you think that this was the beginning of your leanings toward journalism, at that time, at fifteen?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, this is an interesting angle. I was on the school paper one term and tried out the next term and didn't get it. So, my experience was limited. I was not on the annual. I came to Virginia and tried out for College Topics; it's the Cavalier Daily now. I tried out for College Topics and didn't make that. I was on the annual and it did not occur to me during my college career to go in for journalism, especially since I had failed to get on the college paper. I always had some facility in writing; I didn't have any trouble with English, but I just never thought about going into journalism. When I was in my final year at Virginia, Mr. Hoxton, the headmaster of Episcopal High, wrote and asked me if I would be interested in teaching at the school next year, and I said I would. I didn't know what I wanted to do and I thought

Page 21
that would be a good way to spend a year. It wouldn't be wasted and at the same time, I would think about what I was going to do.
It still didn't occur to me to go into newspaper work until the middle of that year, when my father wrote me and said, "Did you ever think of going into journalism?" It was astonishing that I hadn't thought of it, and as soon as he said that, the suggestion appealed to me. So, I went down to Richmond to see Mr. Bryan, the publisher of the News Leader. He gave me a job effective that next summer, at the magnificent salary of twenty dollars a week, which was just about par for the course.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
This was about 1921?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
It was 1922, I came down in March of '22 and was to go to work the first of July.
DANIEL JORDAN:
We might comment a little on your stay at the University, moving beyond what you said, some of your activities and experiences.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
People you might have known there that you knew elsewhere . . .
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, the fact that I was only sixteen didn't seem to bother me. I maybe looked a little older, maybe looked seventeen or eighteen. [Laughter] Anyhow, I was very happy at the University. I was asked to join several fraternities and joined the DKEs. I played on the tennis team and went out for the baseball team and played a few games but didn't get a letter. I took a fairly conventional course. My father picked out the first year's course for me and unfortunately, his ideas of what I would like to take my first year at age sixteen were pretty ambitious. He put me in physics, astronomy, third year French, second year Greek.
Although third-year French sounded pretty ambitious, I didn't have any

Page 22
trouble at all, and it was due to his teaching. I hadn't had any French since he had taught me three years before. I didn't take any French at Episcopal High; I took German. [unclear] you how well he taught me, that I did better in French than in anything else. I taught French at Episcopal High when I went back. The second-year college Greek almost floored me. I had taken advanced standing in it and just barely got through that. Then, when I took the second year, I had a close call. Physics was very difficult for me; I got by, but there was a lot of math in it, which I did not relish. I did all right in astronomy and very well in French. In succeeding years, I didn't have any trouble at all.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Now, eventually, you were elected to Phi Beta Kappa there, weren't you?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes.
DANIEL JORDAN:
And I believe that you said you took your father's history courses.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I took three of them and I got 97 and 98 on two and 90 on the other. His American history was the hardest, and that's the one that I got 90 on.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Did you live in a dormitory?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
No, I lived at home. A lot of people would have thought that was a bad idea, but I didn't find it so. Nor did I ever consider going anywhere except to the University of Virginia. I think this showed that I was immature, in that I had never even considered going anywhere else. A lot of people would have thought, "This is going to be bad, going to the University of Virginia and living with

Page 23
my family. I probably ought to go somewhere else for a broader outlook and new experiences. I have gone to Episcopal High School and now to the University of Virginia, where everybody thinks pretty much the same way." But it just never occurred to me. However, I don't think that it damaged me in my college career. I just went over to the University every day and saw friends there, at the fraternity house and in athletics and the various organizations like the Ribbon Society . . .
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
What society?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
TILKA was the name; the letters stand for something else. I've forgotten what. It is much like Greek letters for fraternities, they stand for something too. After you find out what it is, it is largely meaningless.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Do you have any recollections of individual professors who made an impression on you?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, I do. Two English professors, Dr. Metcalf and Dr. James Southall Wilson, both extremely interesting lecturers. Richard H. Wilson, who taught French, a unique individual, a complete individualist. Some people would call him a crank. He didn't have anything to do with anybody, he had a walrus mustache and lived way down at the other end of town and seldom came to faculty functions. He was a great intimate of my father's in the early days, but he got on this jag of never seeing anybody and living down behind a wall on Park Street in Charlottesville. Father tried to get him to come out of his shell, but he never would do it. But he was

Page 24
a good French teacher. He was married to a French woman and spoke French always in class. For the final examination of third-year French, he told everybody that he wasn't going to ask any questions, but said, "You just come in here," there were about six of us, "You just come in here and write in French on any subject that you want to write on and any amount that you want to write." Well, there were six of us and five of us chose the same subject without ever knowing what the others were choosing. I'll give you ten guesses what that was. It was "l'amour." [Laughter]
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
That's great.
DANIEL JORDAN:
You don't still happen to have that essay around, do you?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
No, I wish I had. I got 95; I didn't know that I was that great an authority on "l'amour." [Laughter]
DANIEL JORDAN:
Do you recall any classmates that may have gone on to other careers about whom you have vivid recollections?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes. There was Edward R. Stettinius; he wasn't in the same class, but he was one of the most popular people in college. I didn't know it at the time, but he passed practically nothing. It was absolutely incredible. They let him stay in school; you couldn't stay more than a semester that way now. He made very low grades, which most people didn't realize at all. He stayed there four years and then went to Europe with one of the professors, Billy Patt, who was half Chinese, a charming and brilliant fellow. Ed went with him to Europe and nearly everybody thought his father was giving him a trip to Europe as a graduation present. I had left school a couple of years before. When he became Secretary of State, Time Magazine sent

Page 25
somebody down to get his grades and published the gruesome details. I knew Ed very pleasantly.
Arthur Kinsolving, now a retired Episcopal clergyman, was rector of Trinity Church in Boston, the famous church of Phillips Brooks, and was distinguished after that as rector of St. James Church in New York. He is retired and living in Baltimore. He and I applied for a Rhodes Scholarship and he got it.
Henry J. Taylor, who is a columnist, was there at the same time that I was.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Were his views conservative at the time, or was it the kind of thing that you really didn't think about?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I don't know. I was there only a couple of years with him and I didn't know what his views were. He was on the college publications.
William L. Marbury, who became a prominent lawyer in Baltimore was there; his father was equally prominent and had the same name. He was a brilliant student, talented in various ways.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Were there any particularly memorable events? In modern times, we can think of some like student riots and that sort of thing, but was there anything of an unusual nature that occurred at the University while you were there?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
No, I think that everything was pretty serene. The women stayed out of the dormitories. [Laughter] Practically nobody had an automobile; about two people in college had a car.

Page 26
World War I was in progress when I went to college in the fall of 1917. The U.S. had gone in the preceding April. I was sixteen and they were urging students of that age to stay in college until they were told by the government to enlist. Everybody wanted to get in; it was different from subsequent wars. I wanted to enlist and my parents were definitely against my enlisting then. We students who were underage organized a unit, drilled and wore uniforms and had a captain from the regular army to drill us. We called it the ITC, the Infants Training Corps. I got to be a corporal. [Laughter] Of course, many of the leading and older boys left then and the next year. The Armistice came in November, 1918.
DANIEL JORDAN:
The Armistice was on what day . . . November 11?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
November 11, 1918. I went to the University in September '17. In the fall of '18, another boy and I, Charlie Ferguson, whose father was Homer L. Ferguson, president of the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, decided that we just couldn't stand it any longer. The first week of November 1918, we were going to Washington and try to get in something. It was November 5. My father talked us out of going in the middle of the night. We were going to get on a train and just go. He said, "Don't be crazy, wait at least until tomorrow morning." So, we said, "All right, we'll wait until tomorrow morning." The next day was the false Armistice.
The war dislocated everything during that period, with

Page 27
the drilling and the special courses. I took military German instead of a regular German course and I had to go through the agony of taking some kind of automotive engineering in case I should end up driving a truck or something. This same Charlie Ferguson and I went through the ordeal of disassembling the rear end of an automobile; I never was more bored in my life. We got axle grease all over us and had to put on working clothes to keep from ruining our other clothes. Neither of us was the least bit interested . . .
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[TAPE 2, SIDE A]

[START OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]
DANIEL JORDAN:
Mr. Dabney, I wonder if you might mention for us some formative influences. This could be perhaps an individual, it could be something that you read, could perhaps be an event of the times. Something that maybe in the 1920s would have shaped some of your beliefs and values.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I began reading a lot at that point. I realized that I hadn't read as much as I should, except in my courses. I had to do a lot of reading for some of them, but I didn't do any outside reading to speak of, and I didn't during college keep up with current events well at all. I was just in the typical ivory tower. This is a horrible confession for me to make, but I never read a newspaper editorial in my entire life until I went on the Richmond News Leader! I'm really ashamed of that fact, but I just skipped the editorials. I don't know why, I just wasn't interested in current affairs.
So, when I finally decided to go into newspaper work, I began reading avidly newspapers and books in all my spare time. When I went on the paper, the first six months, I think I learned more about the world around me than I had

Page 28
learned in my entire life before. I didn't know, at that point when I went on the paper, anything about public affairs, what sort of government, say, Richmond or the state of Virginia had. I vaguely realized that the state had a government, I didn't know how many people there were in the legislature. I knew there was a governor, but I hardly knew who he was and I didn't know who the people were under him. All these things that I had just let go by, I soaked up like a sponge as a newspaper reporter. I learned so much about the capitol, and the city hall, and the things that make things tick in local, state, and national affairs that I had my eyes opened in a big way. I hadn't thought about race relations at all when I was growing up and in school. The fact that there were colored people was of course, obvious, but I wasn't thinking about whether they were getting what they deserved or not. One or two of them were working for my family and a washerwoman who did the clothes. They got something like four dollars a week, and I just didn't think about that, whether that was right or wrong. It was pretty much standard to pay a house servant, four dollars a week. They also got their meals and some cast-off clothes and things of that sort. Of course, four dollars a week was probably equal to twenty dollars a week now, but it wasn't nearly enough. All that just went by me until I got on the paper, and then I began thinking about social questions and working conditions and wages of people and whether they were adequate.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Did you start to read H. L. Mencken about this time?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I started reading Mencken at that time and Mencken in some ways was very reactionary; on the plus side, he was against puritanism, prohibition, and Babbitt and for freedom of the mind.

Page 29
On the race question he had a somewhat ambivalent attitude. He did not hesitate to dine with Negroes or have them contribute to American Mercury but he wrote of them in a manner which wouldn't be accepted today. For example, he referred to lynchings as "publicly frying blackamoors." Mencken influenced me a great deal. I found his writing extremely incisive and amusing and it opened my mind to concepts and attitudes that had not occurred to me before. I think that next to my parents, he was the greatest influence on me at that period.
DANIEL JORDAN:
How about Howard Odum? Was he active at this point?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
He was active, but I wasn't aware of his existence until 1930, or thereabouts. I came into personal contact with him in the late '30s and worked with him on the Southern Regional Council we organized in Atlanta. I'm getting a little ahead of the story here. On the paper, one thing that was so educational for me was that I asked for all kinds of assignments. I wanted to learn something about city government, state government, the courts . . . I had never been in a court until I came on the paper, I didn't know how they operated. I got awfully sick of covering police court, but it was good for me to do it. I had a beat called Southside and Chesterfield, which was one of the lowly assignments on the paper. I had to go over to South Richmond on a streetcar and go to the undertaker's first, view the corpses and get the details of whoever had been killed in an accident, and then go to South Richmond police court and see the cases that were tried there and what was done with them, how they

Page 30
were handled. I would go to hustings court and listen, and to a lady who had news of the BYPU. I had never heard of that organization; I found out that it was the Baptist Young People's Union. I'd get news of other churches. I never knew until then that Methodist and Baptist churches were named for streets, a locality, or a person, whereas Episcopal churches had names like All Saints and St. Paul's. There were all kinds of such things everyday that I picked up.
DANIEL JORDAN:
So, the newspaper itself was a sort of a liberating experience?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, very much. I found out what the other side of the tracks was like and what the world was like.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Did you have any trouble adapting to newspaper writing?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I was perfectly green at it and I was completely uninformed and uninstructed. I think I learned pretty fast. However, I had a shocking experience that gave me a lesson that I never forgot. They were sufficiently unwise to send me to cover a bank failure and to go to the State Corporation Commission for a statement on this bank failure. It was a Negro bank, operated by a very prominent Negro named John Mitchell, who was the leading Negro in Richmond. I was just as green as I could be, and I went to see the chairman of the Commission and asked him what he could tell me about failure of the bank. Well, he said, "I don't think that if I were you I would use this, but what happened was that somebody took valuable securities out of the bank and put worthless

Page 31
securities in their place, and that went on over a period of years, and finally, the thing just caught up with them and the bank collapsed." Since Chairman Adams of the Corporation Commission said he didn't think I ought to use this, I went back to the office and didn't write anything. Well, pretty soon, the city editor said, "Where's that bank story?" I said, "Well, the Corporation Commissioner told me what happened, but he said that he didn't think we ought to use it." The city editor said, "What? Didn't think that we ought to use it?" I said, "Yeah, that's what he said." He said, "What is this that we shouldn't use?" I said, "Well, he just thought it would be better if we didn't publish the facts." The city editor exploded, "What the hell has he got to do with it? Can you write it?" I said, "Yeah, I can write it." I hadn't made any notes at all, but I thought I knew what the commissioner said. So, I wrote incorrectly that "State Corporation Commissioner Adams said that the president, John Mitchell, took valuable securities out of the bank and put worthless securities in their place." What he had said was that somebody had done this. This was the crucial point. Well, the Corporation Commissioner hit the ceiling and said that he had been misquoted which he had, and the managing editor got after me in a big way and said that it was a horrible mistake, which it certainly was; it was absolutely inexcusable. I thought I might be fired. I ran into one of the Bryans, who said, "Why in the world did they assign you to that? Why didn't they get an experienced reporter? It is going to cost us about $10,000." Which at that time was real money. Fortunately, in a stroke of luck, what I said happened had actually happened. Mitchell had taken the good securities out of the portfolio. He

Page 32
never did sue, but I was absolutely miserable until the statute of limitations expired. I felt that if I wasn't fired immediately, I thought that I would be fired when he sued. The fact that Mitchell had done exactly what I had said he had, saved my hide. But after that, believe me, I was careful.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Took your notes more carefully.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, I would always verify things with the utmost care.
DANIEL JORDAN:
With the newspaper, I believe that you eventually came to specialize in political topics.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I don't know if you would call it specializing. By 1925 or '26, I was assigned to Governor Byrd's office and some of the state offices along with it. So, I did become better informed by a long shot about those matters than I had been, and I wrote about them regularly. That was one of the things that I became most interested in.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Were the big stories of the '20s, in looking back, prohibition and Cannon's influence in politics?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, in the late '20s. But Cannon was also the big story in the 1900s, from 1906 to 1916, approximately. He was big news all that time. Then after prohibition came in, he was not nearly as active or in front of the news as he had been. Then later, when the agitation arose to repeal prohibition, he began moving back into the front of the picture. He was the spokesman, in Virginia at least, for the prohibitionists, and he also became active on a national scale in 1928, in the Al Smith-Hoover campaign when he led the fight against Smith.

Page 33
DANIEL JORDAN:
You covered that campaign in Virginia?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I did and saw a little of the bishop personally and covered some of his speeches and became interested when I heard from some of my friends among the Methodists that he was going to be tried on various charges. They tipped me off to the fact that he was going to be tried in Dallas, for example, a couple of years before it happened. I decided to write a book about Cannon, to be published at the time that he was tried, when he would be on all the front pages, but I couldn't get any publisher to risk it. I now see that they were perfectly right because he would sue at the drop of a hat. His regular technique, when there was something of a controversial and critical nature involving him, was immediately to file suit, whether he was guilty or not and he would frighten the defendant into paying a couple of thousand dollars not to have to go to court. That happened over and over. Some of those concerned decided that they weren't going to be bluffed. The Philadelphia Record was one and a Catholic paper in Buffalo was another. I quote both of them in the book on Cannon, which I couldn't get published until several years after he died. By that time, most people didn't even remember who he was. The younger generation wanted to know, "Who is Cannon?" They had never heard of him. He was dead as a publicity factor in 1949, when the book came out.
DANIEL JORDAN:
What were some of his character traits that made him successful for awhile, in that he dominated politics for a brief period in 1928?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, he was absolutely brilliant and he knew how to

Page 34
mobilize the drys into a solid phalanx, so much so that he put prohibition over in the referendum of 1914 by a substantial margin and was the boss of the state in any area that he wanted to be boss, for a couple of years from '14 to '16. Then he gradually faded out. He had one of the best political minds of anybody that I ever saw. He was a true politician. He knew how to lobby and how to intimidate people in public life. He knew from A to Z about everybody in the legislature, how they had voted in the past, how to threaten them with dire retribution if they didn't vote right in the future, and he had them jumping through hoops. A lot of those who had voted wet turned around and became dry. In the Al Smith-Hoover campaign, he organized the South in the most expert way and carried Virginia to the astonishment of most of the politicians. They thought they were going to hold it. He mobilized the anti-Catholic vote and the Ku Klux vote in the most blatant way and then became righteously indignant if anybody said that he was anti-Catholic. I don't know if you've gone through my book or not, but I've got verbatim statements of the most violent anti-Catholic character made back in 1908, '09 and '10.
DANIEL JORDAN:
We've both read the book and one thing that struck me as a small thing, but nonetheless interesting, is that he and Mencken apparently became social friends.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
That was really curious. Mencken studied him like a frog under a microscope. He found Cannon fascinating and would have him and and Mrs. Cannon to meals. They had pleasant relations, at least on the surface.

Page 35
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
You obviously didn't think a whole lot of Cannon as a person, while you might admire him as a politician or as . . .
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
He was a brilliant individual, nobody was smarter. I didn't admire him in any other way.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Is it just because he did things that you thought were a little bit questionable?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, surely. I think he was a sincere prohibitionist, but the methods that he used to put it over and the things that he did in his personal life . . . a bishop of the Methodist Church gambling in bucket shops, hoarding flour during the war contrary to law, and so on. That's enough for us.
DANIEL JORDAN:
And then to add to that, this sort of self-righteous air.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Oh yes, and to be a bishop of the Methodist Church and preach to everybody else.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
He apparently got away with quite a bit of money under various circumstances.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
He did. There's that thing about selling his house in Washington. He knew it was going to be condemned by the Supreme Court, but he pretended that this was his home, and that he didn't want under any circumstances to give it up. He didn't let on that he knew it was going to be condemned, so he stuck them for all it was worth. He took the money and probably

Page 36
gambled in bucket shops with it. He didn't buy any home then. It was six years or more before he bought a home in Richmond.
DANIEL JORDAN:
The big election was '28 and of course, the stock market crash was in '29. Do you have any impressions of the impact of the crash and the beginning of the Depression in Virginia? I have sort of heard it both ways, that somehow, Virginia didn't suffer as much as other places.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
That's true, it did not. It suffered an awful lot, though. Virginia wasn't in as bad shape as some of the others, but it certainly was a grim period. Everybody got salary cuts or got fired. I got three salary cuts, my father got two or three, everybody was scrambling around trying to make ends meet. Businesses were closing, thousands were out of work. It wasn't as bad here largely because of tobacco and nylon. Nylon prospered because silk became too expensive, and the big nylon plants expanded. Tobacco held firm and maybe increased its sales.
DANIEL JORDAN:
I think about this time too, in 1928, you moved from the News Leader to the Times-Dispatch. Could you comment on why you made the move or what was involved?
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
It was not owned by the same family?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
No, it was not. I was offered more money and more interesting work. I was given a weekly column to write, a feature article on the editorial page, and better hours. On a morning paper, you would normally have night work, but they made a special dispensation for me for some reason that I wouldn't have to work at night except when there was a big election or something of the sort.

Page 37
I had had to go down early in the morning on the News Leader, but I went down later and worked into the afternoon on the Times-Dispatch and that suited me better. I also thought that I had more future on the Times-Dispatch.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Who was editor of the Times-Dispatch when you went? Who hired you?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
The managing editor hired me actually, Allen Cleaton. The editor, LaMotte Blakely, who was an extremely talented young fellow, was a heavy drinker and finally committed suicide. Then, they got a couple of others in there who were from New York and didn't know a darn thing about Virginia. One of them was some sort of executive on the New York World, which was a tremendously fine paper, but he didn't know beans about Virginia and wasn't any good as an editor anyway. He finally left and they got the former managing editor of the New York Evening Post, who was a nice person, much nicer than his predecessor, but he didn't know anything about Virginia either, and he finally left. That was when they made me chief editorial writer.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
You were writing editorials during this period?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, on a small scale. I didn't have much time to do it really, and I was in Europe for six months on a fellowship when the publisher wrote me and said that he was appointing me chief editorial writer and that Vincent Byers, the editor at that time, was leaving as soon as I got back.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Who was the publisher at that time?

Page 38
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Charles P. Hasbrook, who died recently.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Was he the owner?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
He was one of the owners. The major owner was in Norfolk, Samuel L. Slover, who owned the Norfolk paper, and part of the Times-Dispatch.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
The Bryan family owned the News Leader.
DANIEL JORDAN:
And all the while, Dr. Freeman was the editor of the News Leader?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Right.
DANIEL JORDAN:
When you were with the News Leader, did you work with him?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
To a very limited degree. I didn't write any editorials; he was always very friendly to me. He helped me, he told me that whenever he wanted to give a story to the news staff, he always asked for me to take it. He said he thought that I was more accurate.
DANIEL JORDAN:
In the meanwhile, I guess that you had been doing some courting, you were married in 1923.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
That's right, I had been courting for a couple of years before I managed to make the grade. VMI was very much in the picture. [Laughter]
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
VMI was?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, I had a hell of a time getting her away from VMI. She went up there for five years; I never heard of anybody doing that.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
And whom did you marry?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Douglas Harrison Chelf. Her name was Douglas. That's another confusing thing. Everybody thinks that she's the husband. [Laughter]

Page 39
DANIEL JORDAN:
I believe that we've covered the major topics and unless there are some other afterthoughts, we are going to get all of this on transcripts later, so this might be a good place to stop.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I'm trying to think if there's something else.
DANIEL JORDAN:
I have a question about another point. I understand that there was sort of a literary circle in Richmond in the '20s with Ellen Glasgow and James Branch Cabell and the Reviewer. Were you involved in any of that or impressed by any of it or influenced in any way by it?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I was a novice at that time. The Reviewer was started at just about the time that I went on the paper. I read it and I knew Miss Glasgow and Mr. Cabell and was entertained by both of them from time to time in their homes, but I didn't know either of them well. They were both very nice to me and very helpful. The New York Herald Tribune asked Cabell to write an article for their magazine about Miss Glasgow, and he asked me to do it, which I did. She read my Liberalism in the South and gave me a very nice quote on it for advertising. She had a party for Gertrude Stein, and my wife and I attended. I have a unique autograph of Gertrude which you might like to see. It's on the Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, which of course, was actually by Gertrude Stein. I met both of them at Miss Glasgow's and took the book over to the Jefferson Hotel, and she autographed it in typical Steinesque style. Notice that she says, "Mrs. and Mr. Virginius Dabney." [Laughter]
DANIEL JORDAN:
Will you read that into the tape. I keep forgetting that

Page 40
we've got to keep the machine in mind.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
This is what time period, Mr. Dabney?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
1935, approximately. Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein were here and Ellen Glasgow had this party and I got her autograph on the Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and the autograph says, "To Mrs. and Mr. Virginius Dabney in memory of a pleasant meeting, in memory of a pleasant Richmond Times-Dispatch, in memory of a charming Virginia, and in memory of a charming visit to Virginia. Gertrude Stein, Alice Toklas." One other thing that you might want me to mention was the six months that I spent in Europe; I was a reporter when I went over.
DANIEL JORDAN:
This is 1934?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
1934, on a fellowship from one of these German foundations. It has two different names . . .
DANIEL JORDAN:
I believe that it's the Oberlaender Trust. I can't pronounce the German, though.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Carl Schurz Memorial Foundation and there was another name, the name of the man . . . Gustaf Oberlaender who founded the Oberlaender Trust. This was a fellowship to the German-speaking countries for six months. They didn't want me to get into the Hitler propaganda swirl, so they didn't say what I was coming over there for, which was actually to study the Nazis. They announced that I was coming over to "study periodical literature," which was complete nonsense. I went to the Berlin library once and looked at a magazine and that was my study of periodical literature. They didn't expect me actually to study that subject.
[END OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]

[TAPE 2, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 2, SIDE B]
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
They allowed me to go to Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Paris in addition to pretty much every part of Germany. So, it was a wonderful six months and my wife and four-year-old daughter were with me. It was enormously helpful to me in my subsequent journalistic work, particularly with the Nazi issue, which was becoming more and more acute. When I got there, Hitler had been in office one year, the Blood Purge occurred while I was there, as well as the assassination of Chancellor Dolfuss of Austria. When I got back, I was all steamed up to write about Hitler, and I was just as sure as anyone could be that he was getting ready to start a European war. People in '34 and '35 were saying, "It isn't going to happen." A lot of them were fooled and said, "He is just trying to rebuild Germany, and he is going to be satisfied with Danzig and the Sudetenland," et cetera. I never had any idea that he would be. I wrote a series of editorials at the time of the Austrian Anschluss and the seizure of Czechoslovakia that caused a lot of comment, not only here but in other parts of the country. I think that it was probably the best series of editorials that I ever wrote on anything.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
There were a number of newspaper editorialists in this country who took the other side and were sympathetic to Hitler during this time. I presume that you were not sympathetic to the Nazis.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I should say not. True, we didn't see much overt persecution of the Jews in '34. What the Nazis were doing then was smashing store windows of Jews. We didn't see that, but it had happened before we got there. Some of the Jews were wearing the Star of David by compulsion and we saw only one sign the whole time that we were there that was blatantly anti-Semitic. It said, "Jews not wanted. City Council of Dinkelsbuehl." That is a little town near Nuremberg—a most charming place except for that sign.
[Recorder is turned off and then back on.]

Page 42
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
This is a second session of an interview with Virginius Dabney, editor emeritus of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, at his home in Richmond, Virginia, on June 12, 1975 and conducted by Dan Jordan and William H. Turpin. The session today will be concerned with his responsibilities and duties as an editor from 1936 until his retirement in 1969. Generally, it will cover what he considers to be his responsibilities as an editor, some comment on southern liberalism and his books in that area, awards and honors that he received as an editor and some of the issues, events and controversies that he wrote about as an editor, FDR and the New Deal and the race question. Mr. Dabney, for the first question, I would like to ask you . . . I'd like to know why you became an editor as opposed to a newspaperman and then I would like to know what you consider to be the responsibility of an editor. Is the responsibility of an editor to be a moulder of public opinion, a leader of public opinion, or merely a reflector of public opinion? Should an editor guide the public or should an editor merely reflect what the public is thinking?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, I wanted to be an editor because I thought it gave me an opportunity to comment on and interpret what was happening, rather than simply to record what was happening. It seemed to me to be a more responsible role and one that I took more interest in than just reporting the news, which I did for eleven years here in Richmond. I was just about fed

Page 43
up with it, to tell you the truth. Unless I could move to some more important area as a reporter, such as a Washington correspondent, I thought that I had about hit the end of the road on reporting.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Didn't you report for the New York Times during this period a number of times?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, for nineteen years, beginning in 1929—in the "Watchtower" section, so-called. At first, it was simply on events in Virginia every week in the Sunday Times, and then they gave me several states. Then toward the end, they reduced the frequency of the articles to about one a month. I had to try to keep up with everything that was going on in several states. I finally got worn out with that and just quit because it was too much of an effort to read papers from North Carolina, South Carolina, and I think West Virginia, and write about all that once a month. It took too much of my time, so I finally dropped it after nineteen years. While I had the title of editor, I was not editor of the whole paper but of the editorial page. Some editors have the responsibility for the news department as well as for the editorial page. I did not and didn't want to have it.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Why do you think that you were selected as editor of the editorial page of the Times-Dispatch in 1936? Why did they select you?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, nobody ever told me. But I had written for Scribners and American Mercury and The Nation and the Virginia Quarterly Review during the period when I was a reporter. I suppose that made them

Page 44
conclude that I was possibly ready to comment on the news, not just to report it. I was overseas on a six-month grant from the Oberlaender Trust in 1934 and during that time, I got a letter from the publisher, Charles P. Hasbrook, saying that Vincent G. Byers, the editor, was retiring or resigning at the end of September '34, and that he would like for me to be chief editorial writer. The fact that I was over there in Europe for six months may have helped also in my ambition to be editor. He said that I would take over as soon as I got back the first of October and that if I demonstrated the proper capacity, I would be made editor later.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
That came in 1936?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
That came in 1936. I also had written during the 1920s for the Baltimore Evening Sun, which was the one that Mencken wrote for every Monday. Somebody wrote in the same spot on the editorial page the other days of the week. I met the editor of the Baltimore Evening Sun, Hamilton Owens, here in Richmond at James Branch Cabell's house about 1924 or '25 and he asked me to be the regional correspondent for the Evening Sun. I did write a dozen or so articles for the Evening Sun, which brought me to the attention of Mencken, for one thing, and also some of the things that I wrote stirred up quite a row here in Richmond.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Would you consider your writings in these national magazines and the Evening Sun and so forth fairly liberal for the time?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I would say that they were liberal primarily on issues like prohibition and the backwardness of the state in general. They were not particularly liberal on economic and social issues at that time. I did not write about the race problem just then. It gradually

Page 45
dawned on me that we were very reactionary on the race issue, not only in Virginia, but all over the South, and it also dawned on me that many of the big business people were exploiting labor and being utterly unconscionable when it came to permitting people to organize in unions. That came gradually into my consciousness in the early '30s. I think that the Depression helped to awaken me to that.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Did you have any type of arrangement with John Stewart Bryan, who was your publisher at that time?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
No, I didn't. You see, I was just a reporter on the News Leader, and I left in '28 and went to the Times-Dispatch.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
OK, the publisher there was . . .
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Was Charles P. Hasbrook.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Did you have any type of arrangement of what he expected of you as an editor, what your rights and responsibilities were, what your duties would be, the extent of your determination of what the editorial page should be, after 1936?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
After 1936, Hasbrook left and was succeeded by Mark Ethridge, who was well-known. He had been editor in Macon, Georgia, and made a big impression there and was then brought here from the Washington Post. I don't know exactly what he was on the Washington Post, something very special, but I don't know what. They got him to come down to Richmond as publisher of the Times-Dispatch. He didn't stay very long because Barry Bingham on the Louisville Courier-Journal lured him there and put him in charge. We didn't have any particular understanding about my position on issues. He was quite liberal and I was tending in that direction—

Page 46
probably more than I am now. Yet I sometimes wonder whether my position now is much less liberal than it was then; at that time, the issues were so different, and what seemed liberal in that era would be much less so today. Anyway, at that time, I was regarded as decidedly liberal. I was involved in the Southern Regional Council, which was trying to stir things up in the South generally on labor, race, sharecroppers, and things like that.
DANIEL JORDAN:
I wonder if you might comment on your sort of overall philosophy of what the editor should be and what the role of the editor is and then we might move into the topic of liberalism, which is of course, important.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
My feeling is that the editor ought to try to lead public opinion. Some people say that you shouldn't expect to have any influence as an editor, but it doesn't seem to me that that is a sound viewpoint. I may not have had any influence, but I hoped to have some. When I was writing signed articles every Sunday, I tried to, for example, influence public opinion in behalf of Al Smith and against Herbert Hoover. I wrote on the strikes in North Carolina textile mills and how the employers were beating up and even shooting union organizers, which seemed to me to be pretty outrageous. I wrote on prohibition a lot and the indefensible things that were happening there. Prohibition agents were shooting people for carrying whiskey in their cars. I didn't believe in prohibition anyway. My father was a director of the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment and that didn't go over well with some of the dry legislators in the Virginia General Assembly, one of whom tried to get him fired from the U. Va. faculty for being a director

Page 47
of the Association Against the Eighteenth Amendment. I think that an editor ought to take a position and not just reflect what is happening. He should try to be ahead of the public and mold the public opinion in a certain direction, as he sees it.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Now, we mentioned southern liberalism, and you wrote an important book on liberalism in the South and were regarded as a southern liberal. I wonder if we might move into that general topic and perhaps begin with a sort of working definition of what liberalism in the South would be in the 1930s and '40s.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I think that a southern liberal at that time was in favor of doing something about the rural South, getting some kind of better deal for the sharecroppers, white or black, also try to change race relations gradually. Everybody knew that it couldn't be done quickly, but we wanted to move toward a better relationship between the races and a better deal for the blacks. We felt that segregation was here to stay, at least for the present. You couldn't even talk about abolishing segregation at that time. I was not in favor of it and very few people were. The Southern Regional Council was trying to bring about progress for the Negroes within the "separate but equal" formula. It became more and more obvious that there wasn't any equality. As a practical matter, the schools, overall, were not equal, housing conditions were not, the manner in which the streets were maintained in the cities was altogether unequal. We tried for some years to see if we could bring about changes so as to move substantially in the direction of equality, but we just couldn't get many people to go along. Most businesspeople

Page 48
thought that we were stirring things up unnecessarily. "Why don't you just shut up and let it go away?" was the attitude. We didn't think anything would ever happen to improve matters substantially if we did shut up.
There were some Negro leaders who were very aware of the difficulties. In Richmond there was Dr. Gordon B. Hancock, who was a Negro minister and a graduate of Colgate and Harvard who had studied at Oxford. He was a very sane, moderate man. He knew the difficulties that existed and realized that you couldn't go headlong just trying to tear into everybody with a meat-ax, as Mencken was doing—trying to force people to change. You had to persuade them and show them the reasonableness of what you were trying to do. The Southern Regional Council got just a handful of white business and professional men and women who would cooperate. One bank official and one lawyer worked with us, but by and large, you just couldn't get most leading whites to go along. Colgate Warder joined up and then a few ministers and newspaper editors. We made little headway. Dr. Hancock made a quite significant speech at one point in which he said, "It is important that the leadership on the race issue and the leadership of the Negro race be in Atlanta rather than in New York." He felt that if we kept it in Atlanta, we could control the situation and move on gradually. But we couldn't get enough people to see that, with the result that the NAACP in New York began moving very much faster than we thought was wise and pushed aggressively for the Supreme Court decision that came in '54. We were hoping that we could bring the South along more rapidly and delay that decision until we were more ready for it.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Is it possible to "type" a southern liberal in the '30s and '40s? We are dealing with a small number of people, of course, but what kind of person would have been in the southern liberal movement?

Page 49
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
You mean the type of individual . . .
DANIEL JORDAN:
Or the names . . . well, both. I think that you covered some of the principles, but I am interested in the types of individuals. There was a handful of newspaper editors perhaps, or academic types?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well yes, those were two of the principal categories. Howard Odum was one. Ralph McGill was one, Mark Ethridge . . . I'm trying to think of some other individuals.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Louis Jaffe. Didn't he win a Pulitzer Prize?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, he was one. I don't think that he was at that first conference in Atlanta in '44. The Durham Conference of Blacks occurred in the fall of '43 and they had issued a statement or manifesto asking for progress in certain areas, but they didn't ask for integration. They specifically stayed away from that. They wanted to work within the separate but equal framework at that time.
DANIEL JORDAN:
I think that we will pick up the Southern Regional Council shortly, but could you comment on the evolution of your own views? I think that you said your father was on the conservative side. The Depression apparently made an impression on you, Mencken made an impression on you, but how do you account for your own liberal views at the time?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I've been puzzling over that, Dan, and I am a little bewildered to know myself. It seems to have been a gradual process. The textile strikes in the South awakened me to the injustices in that area. Seeing the conditions under which Negroes in Richmond lived and over the South, the unbelievable squalor and the conditions in the schools. The fact that these black children were going to school in totally unsatisfactory buildings with teachers who weren't really

Page 50
well trained, and the children were having to bypass white schools to go miles to colored schools. The wage scales that were paid to domestics . . . when I was young, I just never thought about that at all and even when I was in college. But later on, it just seemed that they couldn't possibly lead a decent life on these really ridiculous rates of pay. There was no minimum wage, and they were simply paid what people were accustomed to paying and had been paying for generations. All that situation combined to gradually awaken me to the fact that something ought to be done. The conditions in industry were weighted heavily on the side of management. I joined the newspaper guild before it affiliated with the CIO. It was just an organization of newspaper reporters and newspaper people in the early '30s. We were conscious of the fact that the pay of newspapermen was absolutely preposterous. I remember that we got a star reporter from Birmingham, one of the top men down there on the Birmingham News, and paid him $28 a week. That was the sort of thing that was going on. There was a two-week vacation if you didn't get sick. If you got sick, you got no vacation. I got the measles one year and the pinkeye on top of it and I got no vacation at all.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Well, Mr. Dabney, any one of these points that you are talking about that you supported or opposed are things that are pretty traditionally accepted in Virginia. Pretty traditionally accepted by the newspapers of Virginia, the business community of Virginia. I'm talking about the lower wages, the anti-labor thing, the anti-guild thing for example. How could you support these things and work for what has to be considered an establishment newspaper, the Times-Dispatch? How could you support these things or fight against these things that you

Page 51
have mentioned, when obviously they were supported by the Richmond community to a great extent, the business community and the newspapers?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, I was very much criticized for it. People thought that I was some kind of wild-eyed idealist, a balmy individual who was not aware of the realities and "why did I keep stirring things up?" I may be getting ahead of the story, but I first began working on segregation on streetcars in '43. Is that too far ahead?
DANIEL JORDAN:
Well, we'll be picking it up again, but it might serve as an illustration.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, it does illustrate the point. Many of my friends were against that, feeling that I was trying to change something that had been going on for generations and that if I just wouldn't talk about it, there wouldn't be any trouble. A friend of mine now, who is a prominent surgeon and retired, he's in his eighties now and has now completely changed on the race issue. At that time, he was a good friend of mine but he didn't know what in the world had gotten into me to be stirring this thing up. He came to see me and said, "What do you want to do this for? You are just making things worse. If you don't write about it, it will subside. The Negroes are perfectly content." Well, he told me the other day, "I have changed completely my views on this whole question."
DANIEL JORDAN:
Were you ever socially ostracized or threatened?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Not really, no. I wasn't persona grata with some people, but they didn't say anything much, they just sort of shook their heads.

Page 52
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
How about your publisher? Any reaction from him?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
No, he was remarkably nice about it. What happened was that when the papers merged, Mr. Bryan became publisher of both papers in 1940 and the agreement was that he was not to interfere with the editorial policy of the Times-Dispatch. You see, he had published the News Leader over a long period. He acquiesced in that because he thought it was desirable to have two conflicting points of view. Nobody wanted to cook up opposing viewpoints arbitrarily, but if the two editors were in sincere disagreement, there would be no objection—at least within limits. Even when I broke loose on the streetcar thing, he didn't raise any fuss. Actually, Mr. Bryan was a liberal on the race issue.
DANIEL JORDAN:
You mentioned your surgeon friend changing his mind. I know that you were quoted at the time of your retirement as having felt that you had become more conservative on some questions through the years. Looking back at the 1930s, have you changed your mind about any stands that you took then, or if you could do it over so to speak?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
No, I don't think I have changed my mind in any substantial way. The reason that I suppose I am regarded as conservative is that I really am conservative in relation to say, Ted Kennedy, or McGovern, or Arthur Schlesinger Jr. These are what we call "liberal" today. I consider myself conservative by comparison with each of them. And I certainly vastly prefer Governor Mills Godwin to Henry Howell. I believe that if Henry Howell were elected governor, he would do a lot of things that are contrary to what I think is good for Virginia. He seems to me to be demagogic and intellectually dishonest. But as for the race problem, I am in favor of everything that I favored in 1934.
[END OF TAPE 2, SIDE B]

[TAPE 2, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 3, SIDE A]
DANIEL JORDAN:
Well, unless you have something else that you want to say on southern liberalism, especially in the '30s, we might move into some awards and honors that you received for your editorial work. What we would like to do is just to mention some of these and have you give us the circumstances that led to your winning the award. Not so much the selection process, but the situation that you commented on that led to your receiving the award. In 1937, you received a Lee editorial award of the Virginia Press Association and what was that for, Mr. Dabney?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
That was for editorials on the government of Henrico County, which was a typical Virginia county with a courthouse ring. The members there did not want to change anything, which is true of many counties still. Henrico was a heavily populated county on the edge of Richmond. It needed better management than this one-horse type of administration that had endured since the colonial era. A movement was launched for the adoption of a county manager, one of the first movements of the kind in the United States. I ran a series of editorials urging adoption, and got the prize.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Was that county manager form of government adopted?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes.
DANIEL JORDAN:
In 1939, you received an honorary degree from the University of Richmond and part of the citation mentioned your contributions to brotherhood.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I suppose that was on the race issue, because I had been pretty active on that at the time.

Page 54
DANIEL JORDAN:
In 1944, another honorary degree from William and Mary and one from Lynchburg College. Were they for a stand that you had taken?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I imagine just in general, that I was more liberal than most people and was trying to change things in racial and industrial areas and trying to get rid of the poll tax.
DANIEL JORDAN:
In 1947 came the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Was that awarded in '48 or '47?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
It was awarded in '47 but given in '48. It's always very confusing, I never know whether to say that I got it in '47 or '48.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Well, it's good to have you say it, because we've seen it cited both ways.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I never know what to say myself. It was for editorials in '47 and no particular editorial or series was mentioned. It was simply for the work during the year, so I don't know what it was for, and I don't think I did anything great during that particular year.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Do you suspect it might be a cumulative thing over the years, for your leadership as an editor rather than one particular editorial or one series of editorials? It may just have been recognition of you as an editor over the years.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, I got an inside tip that the latter was the case. I can't quote who told me or exactly what he said, but that was what it was for.
DANIEL JORDAN:
OK, in 1948, a national editorial award from Sigma Delta Chi.

Page 55
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
That was for the effort of the Virginia General Assembly—which became angry at the Times-Dispatch for editorials attacking it for many things—to investigate the paper. We had a series of editorials, one of which in particular said that no matter what they did or what the Byrd machine did or anybody else in the government did, we were not going to be intimidated.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Then in 1952, another editorial award from Sigma Delta Chi.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
That was for the editorial endorsing Eisenhower for president and criticizing the Truman administration.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Are you the only man to receive two awards from Sigma Delta Chi?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I was for a good many years and then about three years ago, somebody else got a second award.
DANIEL JORDAN:
We will pick up some of the more recent awards later, last session, but we wanted to touch on editorial awards in this time period. We might move now to your assessment of FDR and the New Deal, assessment as editor of the Times-Dispatch in the 1930s. You have been quoted as saying that you were an avid New Dealer at the time, which suggests sympathy, of course, but could you comment on your general reaction to what FDR was trying to do and what the New Deal was all about?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I think that FDR did a great deal to set the country back on the right track. I think the general approach to social and economic problems in this country was ultraconservative. We had Hoover, whom I admired in a great many ways, but his ideas were outmoded. I don't think that he did the things that were necessary to get us out of the Depression, whereas Roosevelt was largely instrumental in putting into

Page 56
our governmental system things like social security, the Securities and Exchange Commission, bank deposit insurance, things that got us out of this really incredible mess that we were in. Some of the things he did were extreme, poorly thought out, and unsound, and were rightly thrown out by the Supreme Court, but nevertheless, he put people to work and got us to believing that we could get back on our feet. I think his leadership was good in creating a better morale. I don't think he was honest at times; in fact, he was pretty devious and you couldn't trust him. Many times, I didn't know whether to believe him or not. From that standpoint, I was highly skeptical, but I think that on the whole, he did much that was necessary.
DANIEL JORDAN:
What about TVA and the concept of regional planning?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I'm not an authority on TVA, but it did a lot for the region. However, if it were carried to the extremes that some people wanted to carry it, with other TVAs all over the country, it would have been highly undesirable. I am not a believer in giving the entire public utility industry to the government. I believe that would have been the ultimate result.
DANIEL JORDAN:
As I understand it, the state of Virginia was slow to participate in some of the New Deal programs, some social security programs and some relief programs. Did you comment editorially on that in the 1930s?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Very much so, and we tried to take the hide off the legislature on that. For example, unemployment insurance, they didn't go in for that at all. They had to have a special session because the

Page 57
Virginia Manufacturers Association defeated it at the regular session. So, they had to come back and spend a lot of time and money the next year putting unemployment insurance on the books, something they should have done in the first place. Senator Byrd was extremely slow to accept Roosevelt's program. I think that he finally admitted that social security was necessary and good, but he certainly didn't admit it at first. He tried to defeat it.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Weren't Senators Glass and Byrd in the latter part of the '30s against most of FDR's programs, the programs that you generally supported? You obviously had a falling out or a difference of opinion with the two senators.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, they were opposed to practically everything at that time, almost everything. Glass was not only opposed, but also so vitriolic that it was unbelievable.
DANIEL JORDAN:
He was a former newspaperman too, I believe.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
That's right. Of course, I didn't like the court-packing thing at all. I think that was the first time that the Times-Dispatch really took out after FDR in a big way.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Did you support editorially FDR in all his elections?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes. With diminishing enthusiasm.
DANIEL JORDAN:
You were a member, I believe, of the Southern Policy Committee that was formed in 1935?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Right.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Could you comment on what that was about?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
We were against the poll tax. We were for less politics in appointments and more civil service.

Page 58
Generally we were trying to bring more efficiency and economy into the government.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Now, that's not the same thing as the Southern Electoral Reform League, is it?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
No, nor the Southern Regional Council.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Yes, we'll pick those up later on. Well, did this Southern Policy Committee have a hand in shaping some tenant farm legislation?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes. The Bankhead Bill, I think we had a lot to do with that.
DANIEL JORDAN:
And what kind of work did you do? Was it a matter of investigating and reporting and making recommendations?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
We had meetings periodically, mostly in Atlanta and heard from the authorities on various subjects. Howard Odum was active in it, Julian Harris, the editor of the Columbus paper in Georgia . . . it was not a very big group, about thirty, I think.
DANIEL JORDAN:
What was your role? Were you just a member?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
That's all.
DANIEL JORDAN:
But then you supported it, obviously?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes.
DANIEL JORDAN:
In retrospect, would you change any of your views about Roosevelt and the New Deal? You've given us your assessment and the stands that you took. Looking back, would you modify any of that?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Not very greatly, I don't think I can state any specific thing.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Some historians say that Roosevelt's greatest contribution was the restoration of confidence.

Page 59
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I believe that. It's a very poor analogy and I hesitate to even make it and there is no similarity at all between Roosevelt and Hitler, except that Hitler gave Germany confidence too, when Germany was down and out.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Well, we might move next into some sort of miscellaneous issues and events and controversies in the '30s and '40s. You have mentioned several times a very important one and that is the poll tax question, and I wondered if you would comment in general on what your position was, and then we might move from that into some more specific questions.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, of course the poll tax had to be paid for three years and you had to pay it six months before the election There wasn't any doubt at all that it was designed to keep many citizens from voting. The Byrd organization would see that enough of its people were paid up, and they could be pretty sure that a large percentage of the others would forget all about it until it was too late. Those who got excited three months before an election were too late. That happened in thousands and thousands of cases.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Well, there was an element of corruption then, as well as an attempt to limit the franchise. Corruption being that people would buy up past fees and that . . .
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
The county treasurers would stimulate their followers to pay up or would see in one way or another that they were qualified.

Page 60
Some of them would pay the tax for the voters and then collect later, or there would be a regular slush fund to pay the poll tax. And the absent mail ballots, which you haven't mentioned, created another issue, fraudulent mail ballots where thousands of people in one county in southwest Virginia would be voted by mail. Somebody would go around with a little black bag or a little black satchel full of absent voter ballots and he would get people to sign them and he would take them to the polls.
DANIEL JORDAN:
As I understand it, the poll tax became involved in a celebrated murder trial of a person by the name of Odell Waller, who was a black sharecropper, and it had to do with the nature of the selection of the jury. You editorialized on that, and I wish that you would sort of comment on what the issues were that were involved.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, the sharecropper murdered his landlord, as I recall it, a white man with whom he had some kind of business dealings. A group concluded that juries in Virginia were improperly chosen because they had to be qualified voters. That meant that all of Odell Waller's category of sharecroppers and poor people generally were eliminated from juries, and therefore the juries tended to be anti-anybody like Odell Waller. I was one of a group which came out publicly urging that Waller be given a life sentence instead of electrocuted. I think maybe I caught more flak on that than on anything that I ever did. People thought I had really gone off my rocker for trying to do something for somebody who obviously killed his landlord and they couldn't see what the poll tax had to do with it. I pointed out that the United States government couldn't impose any penalty higher than

Page 61
life imprisonment, and all that we were asking was that Waller be given the penalty that he would have gotten from the U.S. or in half the states of the Union maybe, for the same crime. There was a real row about it.
DANIEL JORDAN:
You know, the interesting thing about this is that it is an early example of concern about the nature of a jury and the effect that it has on trials. Of course, a lot of modern day controversy is over that same question. In this same sort of vein about the poll tax, did you have any feelings about federal actions on the poll tax? Of course, there were many proposals and we now have an amendment to the Constitution.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
One of the arguments that we regularly made for getting rid of it in Virginia was that they would pass a federal law abolishing it if we didn't do it ourselves by state action. The Byrd organization was in firm control, partly due to the poll tax, and they didn't have any idea of going along with that.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Well, what was your stand on the federal legislation? I believe that legislation was proposed in the '30s to abolish the poll tax by the action of the federal government.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I've completely forgotten about that. I don't remember. I think I probably said that we ought to do it ourselves.
DANIEL JORDAN:
And then closely related to the poll tax would be your participation in the Southern Electoral Reform League, which I gather was concerned about issues like the poll tax.

Page 62
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, I've forgotten all about that organization.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Let's see, in 1941, it was created, the Southern Electoral Reform League.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Did it ever get anywhere or do anything?
DANIEL JORDAN:
I was hoping that you would tell us that. [Laughter]
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I don't think I can remember. There was one thing during that period that you may not be aware of, or you may be getting to it. This was the federal anti-lynching law.
DANIEL JORDAN:
That's the next subject. If you want to go ahead and comment on that . . . Virginia had a strong anti-lynching law, I believe, passed in Governor Byrd's years, but there was proposal for federal action.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
We at the Times-Dispatch were really in the lead on that. And we got a lot of other papers in the South to support it too.
DANIEL JORDAN:
And you favored federal action in this instance?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, because while Virginia had a good record, lynchings kept on happening in other states and I just thought that it was time to put a stop to it. I wrote an article for The Nation on it, and although many other southern papers came out in favor of it, the bill never was passed until a much later date.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Well, this brings forth a larger question and that is, when did you think it was proper for the federal government to act as opposed to the state government? In the lynching case here, you felt that federal action was needed, but in some other instances, I believe that you would favor state action.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, I just thought that it was better for the state to

Page 63
do it if they would and could. But if we couldn't get them to do it, I thought that maybe it was better in some cases for the federal government to act. On the poll tax, maybe it's not logical, but I didn't favor federal abolition of the poll tax because knew how violently the powers in Virginia would feel about the federal government imposing repeal on them. In the case of lynching, they weren't having any lynchings, so they weren't so excited about that. But in the case of the poll tax, it was something that they could do if they wanted to but wouldn't. We kept thinking that maybe we could get it done. We got fairly close once or twice. I think one house passed it at one point.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Another category involving federal action, of course, was prohibition. Would you say that most of the support for that issue was spent when the prohibition amendment was repealed, or was it a continuing issue in Virginian politics in the '30s, after it was repealed.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
It was pretty dead after that, they put in the ABC system and there wasn't much controversy. Bishop Cannon came back and tried to get some kind of legislation through, but nobody paid any attention to him. The most astounding and incredible thing that happened during the '30s, after repeal, was that amazing episode of burning up all the studies of alcoholism's effect on the human system.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Would you comment on that in general? It does seem incredible in retrospect.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I don't understand it yet, because prohibition had been repealed and we thought that

Page 64
nobody was going to get excited again. The legislature passed a law requesting the University of Virginia medical school and the Medical College of Virginia to combine in producing a paper on the effect of alcohol on the human system for use in the public schools. It was duly produced by doctors from the two institutions.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Where?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
One at the Medical College of Virginia and one at the University of Virginia.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
When?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
1937. It was very good, it was as moderate as it could be, and the State Board of Education said that it was absolutely first class and ordered ten thousand copies for distribution to the public schools. Whereupon, before it had gotten to the legislature, the month before, I think, the Times-Dispatch got hold of a copy and revealed that it contained a couple of mild statements that alcohol in small quantities was sometimes beneficial and another statement that you cannot legislate morality by law. Those were the only two things that could get anybody the least bit upset. But the minute that this got in the papers, the WCTU and the Anti-Saloon League got busy along with the Methodist and Baptist churches, and an avalanche of letters and telegrams descended on the legislature when it met. They had stuff piled high on their desks, all of it demanding that this outrageous study be burned up. Only one or two members had read it and they thought it was good. The other 138 voted to shovel all the copies into the

Page 65
capitol furnace.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
You mean that ten thousand copies had been printed?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, a thousand had been printed. They shoveled all 998 of them in; they saved two of them, the state of Vermont reproduced the study for their students, but all the other copies were sent into oblivion.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Did you editorialize on that?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, indeed! [Laughter]
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
There's a statement that in 1934 you came out for hotel drinking or you had some reference to hotel drinking. What is hotel drinking?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I don't remember exactly, but I think it was legal drinking in restaurants or hotels.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
By the drink?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, such as we have now.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
That wasn't adopted in Virginia until . . .
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
It was two or three years ago.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
'71, something like that.
DANIEL JORDAN:
I believe that you also favored, about that time, bringing horse racing to Virginia?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, legalized pari-mutuel betting. I think we advocated it.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Was that a very controversial thing, as it is now?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, the same group that was for prohibition was against it. Other well-meaning people believed that a lot of high-powered gamblers and others like the Mafia might get a foothold here, as they have done with other racetracks.

Page 66
DANIEL JORDAN:
Was fundamentalism pretty well spent after the 1920s, or were there any issues in particular in the '30s and '40s?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
It never was bad in Virginia at any time.
DANIEL JORDAN:
And the Ku Klux Klan never was very powerful in Virginia, either.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
That's right. To a limited degree in the 1920s, especially during the Al Smith era. It was more active then than at any other time.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Was the blue law question controversial during the '30s? Can you recall any editorials on the blue laws?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I don't believe it was.
DANIEL JORDAN:
How about the incident that some entitle "Edith and Her Pappy" and about which you wrote?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
[Laughter] You certainly dug into something, I don't know where you got that.
DANIEL JORDAN:
1935.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yeah. Edith Maxwell, who lived in Wise County in the mountains, came home late one night, and her father berated her for being out so late and she apparently hit him in the head with a lead pipe or something. Anyway, he died. Well, an uproar was started by the Hearst papers in particular. This was a backward mountain region they said and the inhabitants were out of tune with

Page 67
modern customs and attitudes. Edith actually went to the movies occasionally and wore "store-boughten" clothes, as they put it. The "mountain curfew" tolled every night at nine o'clock and people who stayed out after curfew got in trouble. Edith did stay out after the curfew and she hit her pappy with a lead pipe when she returned. Her story was that she tapped him with a slipper, but the prevailing feeling was that she really had murdered him. I can't remember exactly what her defense was, how she could have claimed that she killed him with a slipper. And as I recall, she got away with that at the first trial but then was tried again and convicted. I wrote an article for The New Republic about the case called "Edith and Her Pappy."
DANIEL JORDAN:
And your role was just to try to get the facts straight and try to sort of turn back the sensational account by the Hearst papers and others, which reflected, I guess, on Virginia mores and lifestyles.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
And the whole southwest Virginia mountain area. A lot of people there go to college and are educated citizens. They aren't all just hillbillies.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Well, a more serious subject. Organized labor made some great strides nationwide in the 1930s and I know that there were some dramatic incidents in the South involving labor violence. My question is, what

Page 68
position did you take on the right of workers to organize? Were there any dramatic incidents in Virginia in the '30s and '40s?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Not nearly so much as in other states to the south, particularly the Carolinas. I came out in advocacy of the Wagner Act in 1935. That almost gave Colonel Slover a stroke; he was the principal stockholder and he sent a telegram raising the devil. One position that we took was that the employers in North and South Carolina who were shooting people in the back for organizing unions ought to be prosecuted.
[END OF TAPE 3, SIDE A]

[TAPE 3, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 3, SIDE B]
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Were you in favor of the basic right to organize, or was it more of a law and order type of thing?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I was in favor of the basic right to organize. I was also not in favor of the abuses that came along with the sit-down strikes in the late 1930s, when a lot of the automotive workers in Detroit just sat down all over the factories and took possession of them. I was opposed to John L. Lewis shutting down the country in the middle of the war, but I thought and think, that the right to organize is a basic right.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Will you comment on Governor Tuck's confrontations with organized labor? I understand that he wanted to turn into militiamen or state employees, workers that were on strike to keep certain operations going like Vepco.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I think he probably violated the law. It never

Page 69
came to a showdown. I don't think he had a right to do that, but it seems to have worked. He got away with it.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Did you editorialize on it at the time?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I'm trying to remember just what we did say. We jumped on Tuck at one point for exceeding his authority.
DANIEL JORDAN:
I have one final or general category for the '30s and '40s. It has to do with state services and public education. I know that in your book, Liberalism in the South, you give very high marks to the support of public education through the years and Virginia's record was very poor through the '30s and '40s in public education and state services. My question is, what position did the newspaper take in the '30s and '40s on that?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, we were particularly aware of the low state of the black schools. There wasn't any justification for having separate and wholly unequal schools. At times, we expressed dismay over some of the things that were going on in the public schools. We also deplored the kinds of Ph.Ds they gave in education, and the methodolgy that was used, the sort of impractical approach to things, the training the teachers got.

Page 70
DANIEL JORDAN:
Did you ever favor increasing taxation to improve public services?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I don't remember doing that.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
I have a statement here that for example, you backed a state sales tax and a statewide bond referendum, both aimed at helping education. This was some information that I gained from the files at the Times-Dispatch. Apparently sometime during your editorship, you supported a state sales tax.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
That was very much more recently. That was during Godwin's administration.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
During his first administration.
DANIEL JORDAN:
I believe that during the early period, the state often had a surplus that could have been spent for improvement of education, but apparently never was to a full degree. Do you recall any of those instances? I believe that Harry Byrd Jr. had a bill for returning the money to the tax payers.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, he did. The Byrds in general were in favor of keeping as big a surplus as they could and maintaining the credit of the state above everything else, never going into debt for anything. If you had a surplus, just hang on to it, you might need it some day. That was the policy.
DANIEL JORDAN:
And in particular, it did not go to public services or education?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
That's right.
DANIEL JORDAN:
In reflection, can you think of any other controversies or issues in the '30s or '40s in which you were involved editorially? Outside of, say, political elections, which we will get into tomorrow?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
No, you have both done such a thorough job of taking up

Page 71
all these things that it is amazing. I can't think of anything else.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Well, the final category is certainly important, and that's race. We have some specific questions, but two large subcategories would be the interracial movement in the South, of which you were a part, and then the campaign to desegregate the streetcars. We might start with just a few specific incidents and situations. One would be the Barbers Bill. This was before you were the editor, but nonetheless, you had some feelings about it. What did that entail?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Every time it came up, I wrote one of my Sunday articles about it. It entailed an effort on the part of the Barbers Union, which was entirely white, to institute two things, a Board of Barber Examiners and examinations that could be rigged so that you couldn't possibly pass them if they didn't want you to pass. The Board of Barber Examiners was to be made up of white barbers and the questions were framed by those barbers and they let the cat out of the bag in a publication which I got hold of, a union publication. It said flatly that they were getting a dollar and a half for haircuts in California and if they could just get this thing in, they could up the price in Virginia. A dollar and a half in that era, for a haircut, sounded like something out of this world. There were some sample questions in the barbers' magazine about what to ask. "How many hairs to the square inch on the average scalp?" "What is the erector pilli muscle and what is its function?" I remember those two. They would get a colored barber and ask him those things and say, "Well, you don't know this and you can't barber." So, everytime that it came up, I'd drag it out and write it all over again and we would defeat it everytime. Finally, they brought in a bill so mild that

Page 72
it was passed. My colored barber tells me that it doesn't bother him at all; it's purely for inspection of the shops by the health department, which is the way it ought to be. I think they have a board with two whites and one colored and they are not discriminating against anybody.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Now, you also wrote about the idea of having regional educational institutions where blacks could go to be trained in medicine and other professional lines. Could you sort of elaborate on that idea?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes. I think that it came up in veterinary medicine first. It was obvious that it wasn't feasible to have a school of veterinary medicine in every state. The idea was broached that you could have a very good one somewhere and you could send students there, whether white or colored. Then the idea came that there ought to be a good medical school for blacks that they could go to, and a good law school and each participating state would pay the cost of sending a student to that institution instead of letting them in the white institutions. That certainly seemed better than nothing. They weren't going to let the blacks into the white institutions, so that seemed a lot better than what we had. The year I lectured at Princeton, Professor Edward Corwin, who was one of the great constitutional authorities, told me that he thought that was constitutional and I put in Below the Potomac what he said about it. Of course, it didn't have any permanent effect,

Page 73
but it was useful for a time and probably is still in veterinary medicine.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Is this about the time that the SREB was pushing regional educational development? Are you aware of that?
DANIEL JORDAN:
I'm not aware of that.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
The Southern Regional Education Board.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
In Atlanta? It's still there, isn't it?
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Yes, it still is, but this was in the '40s, I believe, when they were pushing . . .
DANIEL JORDAN:
That's why it was not necessarily a segregation question, but some thought this would be a sound approach to education at large.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
The SREB, in that particular case, I think that there were some Supreme Court decisions that had thrown some doubt as to the validity of this on a segregated basis.
DANIEL JORDAN:
A case in Missouri, I believe.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Texas was involved in it, a law school or something.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Well, we might move next into some of the major topics dealing with race and one, it would seem to me, would be the southern interracial movement, and we might start with just sort of a comment about some of the philosophy of interracial cooperation, which in some locales in the South would be a very liberal idea in itself. Would you comment on sort of what the attitude of the movement was and then we will get into the particulars? What was the purpose and philsophy of interracial cooperation?
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
And why did you specifically get involved in something like this? What was your feeling toward the organization and movement?
DANIEL JORDAN:
We'll get into the specific organizations next.

Page 74
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, I think those that were in that movement thought the time had come to do something about the inequalities that existed. Blacks were human beings like whites, and they weren't being treated the way that they ought to be treated. It was felt that somehow, we ought to get a grassroots movement started to do something that would remedy the situation to the extent that we could do so. That was the general idea, and I felt that way. As I mentioned yesterday, I had not thought about it at all in my younger days and just forgot about it, but the more I came in contact with it as a newspaper reporter and newspaper editor, I became more and more vividly aware that things weren't as they should be, and that these people were citizens and they ought to be treated as such. A good many other people gradually awakened to that thought
DANIEL JORDAN:
And the context in the '30s and '40s would have been within a segregated framework? There was no advocacy of . . .
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
We weren't advocating integration then.
DANIEL JORDAN:
We might mention some of the organizations and get your reaction. I guess that one of the pioneers would be the Commission on Interracial Cooperation, which Mrs. Ames was very active in.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
When that started, it was a very useful group and also regarded as a very liberal thing by most of the southern whites. They did a good job mainly in bringing white and black leaders together just to discuss things, which never had happened before to any extent. That was a plus, but after these discussions had been going on for a decade or so, the blacks in particular realized that this had gotten to the point where it wasn't getting

Page 75
anywhere and they wanted to do a little more. That led to the Durham Conference.
DANIEL JORDAN:
What was your role in the Commission on Interracial Cooperation? Did you participate in any of the meetings?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
No, the first time that I got into any organization was the Atlanta Conference that followed the Durham one.
DANIEL JORDAN:
But you did subscribe to the literature, I think they had a clip sheet and some kind of periodical which you did receive?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
The Interracial Commission?
DANIEL JORDAN:
Yes.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes.
DANIEL JORDAN:
You dealt with Mrs. Ames also, I believe, or corresponded with her?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, I did. It's possible that I was in that Richmond or Virginia interracial group, but I don't remember any specific meetings.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Did you deal with Mrs. Ames enough to offer an assessment of her?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Very vaguely. I know that she was a fine person with great goodwill, but I don't really have anything else to say.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Were there any other Virginians who were actively involved in that at that time, people that you had known through the years or subsequently have come to know?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
On the Interracial Commission?
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Yes, this is a very early thing in the '30s.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Dr. S. C. Mitchell at the University of Richmond was certainly one of the leaders. Dr. Gordon Hancock, whom I

Page 76
mentioned. Tennant Bryan was the chairman. He became much more conservative on the race issue later but for many years has been on the board of Virginia Union University. Some of the ministers, "Ted" Adams, for example, was quite active.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
We're talking about newspaper people, educators and ministers
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Louis Jaffe.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Louis Jaffe was a member of that.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Let me ask about another group that was created in Birmingham in 1939, the Southern Conference on Human Welfare and your reactions to that.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I was supposed to be on the program of that meeting, chairman of one of the groups. I became suspicious that the Communists were pulling the strings behind the scenes, which turned out later to be the case. About a week before they met, they chose Hugo Black as the outstanding southern man in public life. At that time, Hugo Black was as radical as [unclear] as anybody in public life.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
The fact that he came from Alabama.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
He was a Ku Klux Klaner, and he was really pretty demagogical. I was fairly liberal at that time, but when I saw that he had been chosen, I thought, "What's going on here?" They could have chosen any number of people who were moderately liberal, but they got the most ultraliberal person they could find who was prominent. I

Page 77
found that a man named Gelders who was running the show was strongly suspected of being a Communist. He had been beaten up by some goons employed by the industrialists, and knocked unconscious; he was trying to organize a plant. I was on his side on account of that, but then I found out that he was a Communist. I forget who I got in touch with, but I learned that the conference was a cooked-up job by a handful of people. There were three of them, including this fellow, who was something like the executive secretary of the Conference. So, I wired them that something had come up and I couldn't come down Francis P. Miller, who went down there and didn't know exactly the score when he went down, came back and told me that the Reds were in control. Frank P. Graham was one of the best-hearted people in the world and utterly naive; he would believe anybody who seemed to be on the side of the downtrodden, it didn't matter who it was, and Gelders fooled him completely. Not only did Frank go down there and participate in the whole thing, but when he came back he kept after me to join the organization. He wouldn't believe me when I told him that I had found out it was Communist-dominated. I think he must have finally waken up to the facts, but it took him years.
DANIEL JORDAN:
We want to talk at length about the Southern Regional Council and perhaps we should establish a little background before we get into the formal origins. It seems to me that the background might include the impact of World War II on race relations. Many people believe that this

Page 78
is a real turning point for a lot of reasons. Apparently you perceived that things were changing as a result of the war and wrote an article entitled, "Nearer and Nearer the Precipice" in the Atlantic Monthly, in which you offered an assessment of race relations and also some advice as to what might be done. Would you summarize your feelings in that article and some of the context of World War II in race relations?
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
And the reaction to that article.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes. At that time, race relations were becoming increasingly tense. It looked as if we were going to have riots in various places. I thought that we in Virginia were in danger of these riots. Some of the more radical Negro leaders were pushing for integration now and threatening to march on Washington. Rumors were going around that people were to be assassinated with ice picks; everybody was getting so tense that it seemed to me that a halt had to be called, at least temporarily. My article was very badly received by the blacks. In fact, one of them compared me to Hitler and called me a racist. I turned out to be correct as to my prophecy that the riots were on the way because the Detroit and Harlem riots occurred that summer. The article appeared the preceding January. I didn't know whether the piece would do any good; I was just alarmed over the situation and hoped that maybe people would wake up to the danger.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
In that article, did you suggest a withdrawal of progress that

Page 79
had been made, or just a stop in any further progress or just a caution in proceeding into some radical changes that had been suggested?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I certainly didn't suggest that things go backward. I think . . . I haven't read the article in a long time, but I think I said that things should remain at the status quo until we could win the war, and that all this agitation and stirring up of people's emotions was damaging to the war effort
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
This has been called the really low point of esteem that people held you in as a liberal of the South at that time. Do you think that's correct, do you think that you got the most criticism of your position at this time?
DANIEL JORDAN:
Among so-called liberals, let's say.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Of the liberals.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, there might have been other low points, I don't know. I think that it was probably just as low during massive resistance. We can talk about that later.
DANIEL JORDAN:
In the meanwhile, of course, there had been a famous meeting in Durham of black leaders, I believe that came in '42.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes.
DANIEL JORDAN:
I wonder if you would comment on that meeting and then take it into the Atlanta meeting the next year.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, that meeting was a group of southern black leaders who perceived that the Interracial Commission wasn't getting anything done and that it was desirable to have a meeting of minds to get the white leadership and black leadership in the South together so that they could perhaps map out a program. It was not to include integration at that point. I'm sure that everyone of those black leaders had that as

Page 80
the ultimate objective, but they did not mention it then and neither did we mention it when we responded in Atlanta the following spring. We accepted their manifesto as reasonable and said that we would work together to try to do something to carry it out and then formed the Southern Regional Council to try to implement those ideas.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Your role in Atlanta was as a delegate, but you could have been the chairman, is that correct? I think that you deferred to someone else, maybe Ralph McGill, I've forgotten who did become the chairman.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Ralph did become chairman. I don't remember whether I could have or not.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
We understand that you had declined to be considered as chairman of this Atlanta group because of the controversy over the article, "Nearer and Nearer the Precipice." You were afraid that this would be a negative impact on the formation of this Atlanta group.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
It sounds logical. I know that they asked me to be chairman later and I didn't do it. Whether they asked me to be chairman at that time, I don't know.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Was that the reason that you refused later?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I don't recall that I had a specific reason. I think the main reason was that it involved so much time and work and I just didn't think that I could do it. It was during the war, I had no staff of editorial writers at one time and a limited staff the rest of the time, and I was exhausted everyday after work. I couldn't take on anything like that.
DANIEL JORDAN:
There was a continuation committee that sort of led from Atlanta to the Southern Regional Council formation and you were the temporary chairman of that. Or you oversaw it. Do you recall your

Page 81
role in that committee?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
And at what point was this committee formed?
DANIEL JORDAN:
I believe that it was formed after Atlanta.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
After Atlanta. That was when I was asked to be chairman. I know that I was asked sometime after the Atlanta meeting, and not very long after it. It was here in Richmond.
DANIEL JORDAN:
There was a meeting in Richmond.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, and that was when I was asked to be chairman.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Do you recall any other Virginians participating in the origins of the Southern Regional Council, say in the Atlanta meeting or the Richmond meeting or in the formation of the Southern Regional Council?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Wilson Brown, a banker here in Richmond, the vice president of the State-Planters Bank, was a participant. He was almost the only businessman that anybody could persuade from any state to come to one of those meetings.
DANIEL JORDAN:
That was a weakness, I guess, of the organization.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes. Edmund M. Preston, who was a lawyer in the biggest law firm here, was an active participant.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Was there a controversy that you are aware of between Mrs. Ames and Howard Odum on the eve of the formation of the Southern Regional Council? The controversy involved Mrs. Ames's fear that the new organization would consume her group and that Odum would naturally work for a more regional kind of an approach.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I can believe that there was, although I don't know about this. I know that some of the blacks that we met with at one time or another in the Atlanta meeting, said very bluntly to Dr. Ashby Jones, who was at one time chairman of the Interracial Commission, that the Interracial Commission was accomplishing nothing and that it was time for a new organization to take over. He

Page 82
was quite shocked. I remember that he was speechless. He had never realized the lack of confidence that the blacks then had in the Commission after it had been operating for some time and had made some useful contributions, but had gotten to the end of its rope.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Now, Howard Odum became the first head of the Southern Regional Council and I know that you had worked with him in some instances and perhaps had read some of his basic works. Could you offer an assessment of Odum, who is regarded by many as sort of a key figure in the '30s and '40s in the South?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I think that he was. He was a pioneer. He saw a lot of the failings that we had overlooked. He had a national reputation. He was hopeful of getting big foundation money for this Regional Council and making it much more effective than it was. He failed to get it, partly because—I understand but I don't know this—but partly because Frank Graham was so enthusiastic about the Southern Conference for Human Welfare that the foundations were confused as to whom to give money to. [unclear] through [unclear]. Anyhow, we didn't get it. We had just a small amount to operate our Atlanta office.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Initially, you were a charter member of the Southern Regional Council and on the board of directors, I believe, for some time. Did you disassociate yourself from the Council at any point? I know that eventually, it moved into a more activist role and formally endorsed the concept of integration as a desirable goal.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, at that time, I was not in favor of integration. That was about ten years before the Supreme Court decision. I gradually

Page 83
became disenchanted, not because of that, but because of frustration with the organization. They couldn't get anything done, couldn't get business and professional people to join; the Council was moving with such glacial speed that it was really frustrating. I didn't go to a couple of the annual meetings and at one of those, they came out flatly for integration, at which time I was not in favor of it, and so I resigned.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
That was about 1951.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
It may have been that late, I forget just when; it may have been the late '40s.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Was Lillian Smith a member of the SRC at the time that you were?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
No, she was not. She may have become affiliated with it a little later.
[END OF TAPE 3, SIDE B]

[TAPE 4, SIDE A]

[START OF TAPE 4, SIDE A]
DANIEL JORDAN:
Well, in November, 1943, you ran an editorial advocating the desegregation of streetcars and you made some other proposals, I believe as well, that black policemen should be used in the black sections of town and that a black staff be employed at an all black sanitarium. Could you tell us first of all, sort of the origin of those proposals and why you decided to advocate those particular things at that particular time?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, as to the streetcars, they were enormously crowded during the war, everybody was riding them on account of the gas shortage and gas rationing. It was extremely awkward for blacks to get on at the front of a streetcar and have to push through a whole dense mass of white people to get back to the rear. It didn't seem to make any sense. People were inconvenienced, and if people didn't want to come into contact with

Page 84
blacks and some of them didn't, they had to rub against them all over the place. So, it just seemed to me a practical thing, and also it appeared that it didn't really make any difference whether they sat in the front or the back. It caused a great furor. I had no idea that the avalanche of letters we got would be three to one in favor of what I was advocating. Nevertheless, the minority disagreed with great fervor, and there was a real row about it. There were favorable editorials in the New York Herald Tribune, the New York Post and the Boston and other papers up there. I sent copies of our editorial to all the leading southern editors urging them to aid in doing away with segregation on streetcars and buses. Not a single one backed me up. Not Ralph McGill, not Barry Bingham, not anybody, except the Kinston, N.C., Free Press, a small daily.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Did any of them write you and give an explanation of why they would not?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
No, they didn't acknowledge it.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Well, Mr. Dabney, this was quite a change, even though it might be very practical, wasn't this quite a change from your previous position of separate but equal? This is a change ending segregation, for whatever purpose it may be, and ending it at some point. Wasn't this sort of a break for you?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I suppose it was. It was kind of an entering wedge, actually. I felt that sooner or later, there was going to be integration and that seemed to be a valid way to begin the process without doing anything

Page 85
else for awhile. So, I did urge that it be done. Nothing happened, the legislature did not move. It was brought up again two years later and we advocated again that it be done.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
You supported it two years later when it was brought up again? Editorially supported it?
DANIEL JORDAN:
Did the support pick up any support at all from other papers in Virginia in subsequent years?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
In subsequent years?
DANIEL JORDAN:
Say like '44, or whenever the legislature reconsidered it.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
No, it did not.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Now, you also, as I understand it, received very favorable response from a number of national figures who wrote you. Would you comment on that, perhaps some people who had criticized you earlier for "Nearer and Nearer the Precipice," or some of the NAACP officials who had perhaps been critical of some of your views and may have supported this and wrote you.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, they did and I don't have any clear recollections as to exactly who they were. I do remember an editor of the Pittsburgh Courier who was tremendously excited about it and thought that it was the beginning of the end of segregation.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
P. B. Young?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
P. B. Young of Norfolk was a good friend of mine. He didn't like the Atlanta article at all. I can't remember him specifically writing me about the streetcar thing, but I suppose he did. Some black columnists praised it, including one in his paper.

Page 86
DANIEL JORDAN:
Was part of the rationale that a movement of goodwill in this particular area would enhance the credibility of white leaders in the South to deal with race problems?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, I'm glad that you said that, because I forgot; that was one of the main considerations. It was part of carrying out the idea that Gordon Hancock had expressed, i.e., we wanted to keep the capital of the Negro race in the South and said, "If you can show some tangible evidence that the northern members of the race can see and feel is important, we in the South can control this situation." We felt that there would not be such a sudden and drastic change as occurred later.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Did the favorable general response, the letters to the editor, for example, encourage you to go beyond that stand, or did nothing else happen?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Not at that time. I've always felt strongly that the pace at which you do these things is very important. You can do things now, of course, in Virginia and Richmond that you couldn't even consider doing in 1954. Just taking it step by step, people become accustomed to the idea.
DANIEL JORDAN:
I guess that nothing was done on the proposal for black policemen in black sections of the city. Was that sort of lost in the concentration on the streetcar question, that proposal?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I'm trying to remember just when we did put those in. They were put in around '46 or '47, at the same time that we desegregated the public library. I was on the library board and there was no suit there, we just decided that we were going to do it and the main opposition

Page 87
came from the librarian, who was from New Hampshire.
DANIEL JORDAN:
And you had a role in that, as a member of the board?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Was there any editorial comment on the desegregation of the library? Did you support it, or did you comment afterwards, or do you remember whether you took any editorial position?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I may have, I know that two chief people on the paper, who were not enthusiastic about the streetcar thing were in favor of the library desegregation. They were beginning to change—Tennant Bryan and Jack Wise.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Now, John Stewart Bryan took over the paper in 1940, but didn't the Norfolk, Colonel Slover, retain some kind of interest until a little later date? Did he have some type of interest in the '40s?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
He had a minority interest, yes. He later disposed of it.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
That was about 1948, but Wise and Bryan were the . . .
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
They were the managers. John Stewart Bryan died in 1944.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Did they try to influence you during the streetcar controversy? I know that you ran several editorials at that time and of course . . .
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, I can tell you exactly what happened. I concluded that we ought to come out for desegregation on streetcars and I didn't even go down to see Jack Wise; John Stewart Bryan wasn't in town. I just called Wise on the phone in the building and said, "Jack, I'm going to have an editorial coming out tomorrow in favor of doing away with segregation on streetcars." He gasped a minute and said, "What do you want

Page 88
to do that for?" I said, "Well, I think that it's time to come out . . . " He wasn't in favor of it, but he didn't try to stop it.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
What about Mr. Bryan when he came back to town? Did he express displeasure?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
No.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
He didn't try to get you to change your views? How about on the library board? You said that . . .
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
They were in favor of that.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
They indicated this to you, that they supported a move such as this?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Not in advance, but when the library board decided that we were going to do it. I don't recall ever talking to them about it until after it was done.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Do you think that you had a lot more freedom as an editor during this period than they had on the News Leader, because of the circumstances of the acquisition by Mr. Bryan in 1940? Do you think that you had more freedom, do you think that they respected you more, your feelings more, your views more and gave you a freer hand?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, it's hard for me to judge that because Freeman was the News Leader editor and he had been editor since 1915 and was such a great figure in the community and everything else that I felt that he was just doing what he wanted to do and he and Mr. Bryan pretty much agreed on things anyway.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
When did Mr. Freeman leave the News Leader?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
[unclear] '49.
DANIEL JORDAN:
He died not long afterwards, I believe.

Page 89
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
In '53.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
It seems to me that with the awards, such as the Pulitzer Prize and the SDX awards and so forth, that you were certainly building a reputation as an editor during this period, the late '30s and '40s.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I hope so.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Well, do you think that this reputation helped shield you from some criticism that you might have gotten otherwise, or attempts to influence you?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, it did.
DANIEL JORDAN:
And probably in that same vein and we will get into this later, but I know that in several instances, you became an ardent spokesman for some very rich traditions in Virginia history. I am thinking of your Saturday Evening Post article on the first Thanksgiving and your article in the New York Times Magazine that sort of put Jamestown on the map again, and that sort of thing. Do you think that also helped your credibility as an editor? In other words, when you criticized the South, it was as somebody who loved the South and appreciated the South and you weren't an outsider, that people always resent, and that this, not merely protected you, but gave you a sort of stronger shield as an editor?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Perhaps so, I never thought about it that way, but it's possible.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Can you think of any other instances involving segregation and desegregation in the '40s? You mentioned the library, for example, and we talked about the streetcars. Were there other wedges in the wall of segregation in Virginia in the '40s? Let's say before 1954, the '40s and early '50s.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I can't think of any.

Page 90
DANIEL JORDAN:
I believe that we've covered pretty well, haven't we Bill, what we wanted to?
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
I think so. One last question, I sort of asked you this at the beginning of the session. Do you think that you were right? Would you have changed your mind and would you change your mind now about what you did in the '30s and '40s? Would you have moved faster toward integration or slower?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I don't think that I would change it appreciably, because I was going about as fast as public opinion would tolerate. I don't think that you could have gotten away with moving away out front on these things; people would have reacted so violently and there would have been a great backlash.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Do you think that at the same time there almost has to be somebody that gets out in front and the immediate reaction might be negative but . . .
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
There is a certain position there where you can lead and beyond which there is a backlash.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Well, tomorrow, we'll talk about Harry Byrd and the Byrd organization, the machine.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Thank you, Mr. Dabney.
[Recorder is turned off and then back on.]
This will be an addition to the first session of an interview with Mr. Virginius Dabney, the retired editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, concerning his early life and early education, his home life and so forth.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
For ten years, 1907 to 1917, I spent part of every summer

Page 91
at a little hamlet called Evington, eighteen miles south of Lynchburg on the Southern Railroad, on a farm where my great-aunts and uncles lived. It was a great experience for me, I learned about country life there and did some chores around the place with some other boys who were cousins of mine and who were there at the same time. We slept out in what was called the office, which was one of the outbuildings on this antebellum plantation. It was not a very ostentatious plantation, it was just a comfortable farmhouse with an "office" where my uncle and three or four boys slept. We enjoyed ourselves very much swimming in the creek, and went on coon hunts and fox hunts and possum hunts and squirrel hunts. All in all, it was a new sort of life for me because I had lived in an urban community during my early days and I look back on that with a lot of nostalgia. All my aunts and uncles are dead and the place has been sold. I haven't been back for quite a while, but that is just a part of my early training.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
What was your uncle's name, Mr. Dabney?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
J. Staige Saunders. It was the Saunders family. He was a bachelor and there were several old maid sisters of his and one or two married ones. It was a large family and they had a big vegetable garden and a watermelon patch and cantelopes and apples and grapes and everything like that. We had to bag the grapes, that was part of our job. I never got so far as to milk the cows, I couldn't quite master that technique and there was always someone else to do it, fortunately. We slept sometimes upstairs in the hayloft in the barn. One of the boys slid down in the hay in his sleep and landed on his shoulder or head. It didn't hurt him very much, although he fell from the second floor.

Page 92
DANIEL JORDAN:
Were there any hands on the farm?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes. A few black workers there. We helped them put rocks in the holes in the road. There were practically no automobiles in the community at that time, until just before I left in 1917. In the early days, everybody drove wagons or buggies; the roads were abominable and you had to pull rocks from the side of the road to fill up the mudholes. Going for the mail was a half-day's chore. You would get on a wagon or a horse and go three miles to the little post office at the railroad station and go to the store where they had all kinds of miscellaneous things. There was a blacksmith shop right there where a blacksmith shod horses. It was just an entirely different way of life from the present. Now, they have put a highway through there and people go through at about sixty miles an hour and everything has changed completely. The tempo of life is different and nothing is like it was.
DANIEL JORDAN:
They didn't have a summer baseball program did they?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
No, but we had a tennis court, so-called, on the front lawn, which was simply a flat place in the yard and we took dry lime and made lines. There were no backstops. Imagine playing tennis with no backstops. We must have gotten as much exercise chasing balls as we did playing tennis.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
That's the end of the addition to the first session.
[Recorder is turned off and then back on.]
This is an oral history project interview with Virginius Dabney, editor emeritus of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. This is the third session at his Richmond home, interviewed by William Turpin and Dan Jordan on Friday, June 13. The session today will cover Mr.

Page 93
Dabney's association and recollection of the Byrd organization as a reporter and as an editor. It will basically cover the Byrd organization from the early 1920s through the present time.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Mr. Dabney, the public record is rather full on Harry Byrd Sr.'s background and his youth and his early political career. We would like to get your assessment of some aspects of it. By that, we would like to get your view as to how significant certain of those early events might have been. We might start with the fact that he dropped out of school and went to work and never really had a complete formal education. Do you see any connection with that and Byrd's overall attitude about public education?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, I think that it has quite an application to much of his subsequent career, because he felt that he had made it without going to college, he had made it on his own. He didn't believe that the average person needed all the government help and assistance that the New Deal provided. He thought that it was creating loafers and ne'er-do-wells. He came along as a rugged individualist, made it all alone, put the Winchester Star back on its feet when it was practically bankrupt, and started raising apples and became the biggest private apple grower in the world. He went on from there to get into politics and in his political attitudes, he was much influenced by his own career, I think. He believed that other people could do it if he could do it, and he thought an awful lot of people were just sponging on the government when they could look after themselves. He came into office with the whole political organization behind him. Swanson and Glass were then the leaders. He came in as governor with such fanfare and a great majority in 1925 that he dominated the whole scene and froze out all

Page 94
competitors. He was a very personable man, extremely able to get along with people. He was a great backslapper with politicians. He studied the constitution of Virginia rigorously before he went in and he knew a lot about it by the time he took office. He had been in the senate, of course, for sometime before that. He was in his late thirties when he became governor. Byrd was extremely popular personally and he did not indicate in his campaign that he was going to try to make drastic changes in the government.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Let me ask you one other thing about that early career and you touched on it. We know that "pay as you go" was an important part of the philosophy of the Byrd organization and when he took over that financially ailing newspaper, the Winchester Star, it was in debt. As I understand it, he operated strictly on a pay as you go basis and got his newspaper back on a COD basis. It is an oversimplification to say that pay as you go, in a personal sense for Byrd, is associated with that early experience?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I would say so. The principle is exactly the same.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Mr. Dabney, wasn't there some type of federal subsidy that was used to advantage for circulation purposes by newspapers during that period? Are you aware of a . . .
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
A postal . . .
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
A postal subsidy that meant virtually . . .
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
There may well have been. I don't know that far back whether it was in effect, but I imagine that he took advantage of it if it was, but I just don't have any knowledge on that.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
He used the trains for circulation and it was much cheaper in certain areas used that in his pay as you go.

Page 95
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
It may well be, because later on he was very happy to get federal money for the unemployed in Virginia and he didn't want to spend any state money.
DANIEL JORDAN:
He also, I believe, was president of the Valley Turnpike, which began as a toll road. Is it leaping very far to say that his experience there and his notion of building roads, was to have money and not borrow?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
It is all perfectly consistent with his later philosophy. Yes, I do think so.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Wasn't he an early supporter of the amendment to the constitution, the Virginia constitution, to allow bonds for highway improvement?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
In about 1918, he was. Astonishingly enough, I didn't know that until I began writing that book, and I put that in, as you know. In a couple of years, he reversed himself and was vigorously on the other side for the rest of his life.
DANIEL JORDAN:
A sort of key point in that was the election of 1923 referendum and I suppose that he took a chance in a sense in coming out so strongly against bonds, but it turned out to be a very shrewd political maneuver.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
That was the beginning, really, of his rise to fame.
DANIEL JORDAN:
One other comment about the early period, you indicated that he was in the Virginia state senate. I wonder if he cut any figure at all as a senator? In other words, did he take any stands that were at all notable in this early part of his career other than becoming familiar with the way that the government worked? Was there anything

Page 96
signficant about that part of his career?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I don't know of any particular incidents. He was in there, I think, ten years and that was a good training ground for the political career that he was going to follow. He was Congressman Flood's nephew. Congressman Flood was a great power in Congress. Of course, Byrd's middle name was Flood and that helped him to get ahead. When he defeated that bond issue, as you say, that really put him in the front of things. I've forgotten whether he was chairman of the state Democratic committee before or after that. It was during that period.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Moving on to the governorship, there is a story that in 1924, when he was apparently thinking about his future, that Bishop Cannon told him not to run in the next gubernatorial race and that angered Byrd and he talked it over with his father who was a veteran politician and he decided that he would make his move at that point.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
He told me that; I had never heard it until he told me. He said that Bishop Cannon got in a taxicab with him at the 1924 Democratic National Convention in New York and Cannon just said, "We've decided to run Walter Mapp and we don't think that this is anytime for you to run." Byrd said that made him mad. He had not planned to run at that time, but that when Cannon said that and he told his father about it, they decided that he was going to run.
DANIEL JORDAN:
In that race, he did oppose Mapp, and Mapp was supported strongly by Bishop Cannon. Does that mean that Byrd was sort of the outsider as a candidate or did he have most of the organization with him, or did the organization split? It's a little unusual.

Page 97
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I would say that Byrd had a much better "in" with the organization than Mapp. Mapp had some pull, but he never had been as much of an insider as Byrd. Byrd's father was speaker of the house; his uncle was in the Congress, he was in the middle of the power structure.
DANIEL JORDAN:
How serious was Cannon about that election? I know that there are sort of ebbs and flows in Cannon's power and interest in politics. Did he go all out for Mapp?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I think so. He and the head of the Anti-Saloon League, who was then the Reverend David Hepburn, got out a famous pink slip. Do you know about that?
DANIEL JORDAN:
No.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, when the red-light districts were being outlawed and Byrd was in the senate, every senator voted to outlaw the red-light houses, except Byrd. He voted to keep them. Well, if you didn't know Byrd, you might think that he was some kind of patron of the red-light districts and that is exactly the impression that the Anti-Saloon League tried to create. They got out a pink slip, "Vote on Outlawing Legalized Prostitution," or words to that effect. Under "Yes," they had the whole senate but one and under "No," they had Harry Byrd. They sent that all over the state, and made many people mad, who knew pefectly well that Byrd simply thought that was a better way to handle the problem. It helped him, I think, and probably got him more votes than otherwise.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
What was his solution to the problem of prostitution?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
He just thought that it was better to have it legalized and in one place than to outlaw it and let it spread around all through the city.

Page 98
DANIEL JORDAN:
Byrd was governor from 1926 to 1930, and could you tell us what your vantage point on that governorship was, where you were located when you covered it [audio missing] and then comment on some of the major achievements of those years?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, I was a reporter on the Times-Dispatch assigned to his office and other state offices and I saw him regularly under many different circumstances.
[END OF TAPE 4, SIDE A]

[TAPE 4, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 4, SIDE B]
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Contrary to the expectations of the machine, he started off immediately by instituting a lot of reforms that they were not happy about. He was sensible enough to see that the time had come to get some [audio resumes] simplification and economy into the state government, which had just been spreading out, crawling all over the landscape and creating new bureaus and jobs to take care of the "boys." He knew that the group behind Mapp had a good deal on their side when they said that the state government was badly outmoded, that the machine was dying of dry rot and if something wasn't done, the whole thing was just going to go to pot. He knew that was a big political issue and that he must grab that issue when he got in and put across the reform that his predecessor, Governor E. Lee Trinkle, had tried to put across without sucess. Trinkle tried to do a good many of the things that Byrd put through later. Trinkle couldn't get to first base because he wasn't in with the organization to a sufficient degree. But Byrd, with his great personal appeal, and his ability to handle the politicians persuaded them in an almost miraculous way to put in a whole list of things that were absolutely

Page 99
essential and put the Virginia government in the forefront of such governments in the United States from the standpoint of efficiency.
The short ballot was the major reform that he managed to get through. He had a tight squeeze on that; there were, I think, three parts to that and they all were approved by a close margin. It limited the number of politicians elected to state office to three, the governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general, whereas a number of others had previously been elected. Most voters didn't know a thing about these latter officials they were voting for. For most people they were just names. The progressive thought in the country at that time was to have a limited number of officeholders elected and the rest appointed by the governor, and to hold him responsible if things didn't work well. Byrd put that through after making a great campaign, and was applauded over the country for it.
He had a survey made by the New York Bureau of Municipal Research which recommended a lot of things which were done, and some that were not. Their recommendations were screened by a committee of Virginians, who eliminated some of the recommendations, but enough remained. The number of departments was reduced from something like 90 to 14 or thereabouts, I can't remember the exact figures. Anyway, a lot of superfluous deadwood was eliminated. A good deal of money was saved; it doesn't sound like much now, it was either $400,000 or $800,000 a year, depending on who did the estimating. Neither figure sounds very big now, but in the early 1930s, that was an awful lot of money. So, Byrd became recognized as a great progressive, forward-looking governor. He

Page 100
put across the best anti-lynching bill that any state had adopted, in fact, the first that had any teeth in it, subjecting any participant in a lynch mob to a murder charge. So, he was very highly regarded and even a national figure. Roosevelt either wanted to get him into the cabinet or on the ticket as vice president.
DANIEL JORDAN:
One impact of his many changes was the centralized power in the governor and some people would regard that as paradoxical since Byrd, at least on the national level, opposed that notion and didn't like the idea of centralized power in the federal government. Do you have any comment on that?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
The point was made by me a good many times in editorials and otherwise that there was a direct conflict between his attitude on one hand and on the other. I never had any statement from him on it. He just kept on fighting centralization in Washington and did not try to explain why it was that he did it in contradiction to his attitudes in state affairs. That's just one of those unresolved mysteries . . .
DANIEL JORDAN:
Well, he had a very tough anti-lynching law but he also, I believe, allowed to become law a bill that made segregation the law in public assemblies like auditoriums in the same time period. Was that controversial legislation?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, that was a bill that John Powell, the pianist, espoused. Powell was a genius as a musician and the opposite when it came to public affairs. He got an absolute phobia about the race question. Somebody pointed out to him that public assemblies at Hampton Institute were mixed.

Page 101
It had been happening for years. So, John Powell was not only aroused by that; he got the idea that the amalgamation of the races was on the way, and that unless somebody did something at once, we would all be mixed breeds in a very short number of generations. He got so emotional that he just worked night and day on it. He was down at the Capitol lobbying and buttonholing people, and always after me every time he saw me, trying to convert me to that point of view. But he got the bill through the legislature, and as you say, Byrd let it become a law without his signature. I would think that he wasn't particularly enthusiastic about it but he also was not especially opposed to the idea. He was certainly strongly opposed to lynching.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Do you think that he saw both of these perhaps not so much as a race thing but as a desire to maintain a stablity of government, that lynching certainly would have disturbed the government and that if there had been enough emotion whipped up about mixed audiences, it certainly would have disturbed the government? Do you think that he may have looked at this simply as a way of maintaining stability?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
That may have entered into it. I'll give him credit for thinking that mobs murdering people was just outrageous and had no place in a civilized government. I believe he really thought that.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
When you were talking a few minutes ago about his pushing through the short ballot, which you said was nip and tuck for some time there, do you think that he was able to do this and these other things in this reorganization of government because of the magnitude of his own

Page 102
personal power of persuasion, or do you think that it was because of the power of the machine behind him? I think that he was not a very imposing person personally, was he?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
No, I don't think that he was particularly, although he was a very affable, genial man with people he liked. His great forte was his ability to organize, he was a tremendous organizer. All the politicians said that he could organize a campaign better than anybody they ever saw. When he got involved in a campaign, he would get on the phone and he knew exactly whom to call up in every county. He had it all in his head. He knew whom he could count on and what they could do, what happened in that county the last time that there was an election and how the vote stood. He was an absolute encyclopedia on all political matters. He had a right-hand man, E. R. Combs, who was a southwest Virginia product, reared in the old hard-boiled tradition of southwest Virginia politics, who knew how to organize; after Byrd told him what to do, he knew exactly how to do it. Combs knew where the bodies were buried. I don't mean that there was a lot of stealing of money or crookedness, but they were really hard-boiled when it came to putting the heat on people to make them vote the way they wanted them to. When a young man came into the Virginia General Assembly, Combs would make it very plain to him, in a gentlemanly way, just what he had to do to "make it." He was mild mannered and nice looking, and he would tell this boy, "Now look, son, we want you to get ahead in this organization. We're right with you now and we are going to cooperate with you and we want you to cooperate with us. That's all we

Page 103
ask." And brother, if they didn't cooperate, it was too bad, they didn't get on any committees and they were in the political doghouse. There are lots of examples.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Do you think, then, his masterful way of organizing a campaign, organizing the political process, was really what his strong point was?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
That and knowing the ins and outs of government, how the government operated and how to make it more efficient and more economical. He knew all that very well.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Do you see anybody on the current scene now that even approaches him in that type of organizational method?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I don't know how good Mills Godwin is. I think he is very good and I always have admired him. As for that particular ability, I doubt if he's got it to the same extent; Byrd had it to a superlative degree.
DANIEL JORDAN:
You mentioned Combs. Were there other key lieutenants at this early point in time, say when Byrd was governor, people in the legislature, or people like Combs who held other positions and were indispensable men to Byrd?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, I'm sure there were; the speaker of the house, for example, who changed from time to time, I can't remember exactly who was speaker when he was governor; his father, who had been speaker, had just died. His father didn't live to see him as governor.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Well, A. Willis Robertson, I believe, came on the scene about the time that Byrd served in the General Assembly. Were they close at that early point in time?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I think they were; they diverged later. At the time when they went in together, I think they were close. They were both from the Valley, and were both young men on their way up.

Page 104
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Mr. Dabney, Senator Byrd had been a newspaperman, a newspaper publisher and became governor. How was his treatment of the press of Virginia at that time? Was he open, was he receptive to be interviewed and so forth?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, he got along with newspapermen very well and made friends with them. He sent each of them a box of apples every Christmas. I got boxes of apples for the entire time that he was in public life until he died. During the '30s, when I was just blasting him from time to time, he kept on sending the apples, which I think was pretty admirable.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Not rotten apples either? [Laughter]
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
They were good. Winesaps from the Valley, great big boxes.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Byrd is often regarded as a great friend of business, but it is true that when he was governor, he did tangle with the oil companies and . . .
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Telephone too.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Telephone too. Could you comment on that.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes. He found out that gas was costing more in Virginia than in neighboring states and he didn't see any excuse for that—why Standard Oil or any of the others should charge more in Virginia than in North Carolina or Tennessee, which they were doing. So, he said, "I'm going to make them publish their prices in all these neighboring states." I forget the exact details of how he was going to do that, but that was the idea. He got a bill through the legislature somehow bringing out in the open the fact that prices in Virginia were higher. They put on a terrific lobby; he said he never had seen such a lobby. He put on all the heat that he

Page 105
could and he licked them. Then, the telephone company wanted to raise rates and to put the rates into effect after the State Corporation Commission authorized them and before the Supreme Court had passed on the appeal. They said that they would pay back any excess that had been paid in the interim if they lost the case in the Supreme Court. Well, Byrd said that he didn't think that was right, a lot of people would move away and never would get the money back and there wasn't any justification for their collecting the money until the final authority had said that they could collect it. So, he got a law through saying that they couldn't do that. In bucking these two powerful groups, he got a reputation for being quite a liberal. All in all, his administration was really something.
DANIEL JORDAN:
In this particular circumstance, we have to recount all the highlights of it, tourism and conservation and what have you. But is it fair to say that there is no question in the public mind that Byrd was an extraordinary governor and that he had been very successful with his efficiency program and his attempts to harness the government and to economize the government?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Some of the anti-machine politicians who were frustrated over being defeated so often would probably never admit that. For example, Governor Westmoreland Davis, who preceded Byrd by two administrations and was elected as an anti-organization governor because of a three-way race, never would give Byrd credit for what he had accomplished. He organized something called, I think, the Bureau of Research. He put to work several people who were supposedly analyzing what Byrd

Page 106
had done and finding out whether he really had saved what he claimed. Davis issued bulletins from time to time trying to show that Byrd hadn't really done anything worth mentioning, which was a lot of nonsense. He was just sour because he was out of office and Carter Glass had double-crossed him. He had appointed Carter Glass on the assumption that Glass was going along with him on anti-organization lines, and Glass promptly switched and went the other way.
DANIEL JORDAN:
This is in the United States Senate?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes. So, all that made Davis extremely bitter. Another who never was reconciled was Henry W. Anderson, who was very much of a leading Republican politician under the Hoover Administration, ran for governor against Trinkle and was a very able man, He made some of the most preposterous statements about Byrd's administration, that it was as big a dictatorship as Russia or Yugoslavia or something like that. He just didn't make any sense at all on that particular matter.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Byrd's success as governor with his particular philosophy may have made him overconfident about being able to deal with national problems. At a particular point in time, the 1920s, he was able to harness the government and economize a lot and that more or less reinforced ideas he already had, and when he went on the national scene, he felt sure that he was on the right track, that it had worked for him.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, of course, Roosevelt came out at first, for economy, so Byrd was very enthusiastic. Roosevelt said that we were going broke in no time if we didn't cut the federal budget twenty-five percent. It certainly sounds grotesque now. Byrd was all for that. He thought exactly

Page 107
the same thing and for the first six months of the year, he and Roosevelt were very close and then, as we all know, Roosevelt turned a somersault and went in exactly the opposite direction. From that time on, Byrd was anti-Roosevelt. He always called himself one of the original New Dealers because he was right with Roosevelt when Roosevelt went in, but he was just the opposite, he and Glass, from then on.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Before we leave the governorship, I would like to make one reference to the presidential election of 1928. We know, of course, that Cannon supported Hoover, the Republican candidate, and Byrd supported the Democratic nominee, Al Smith. My question is, did Byrd as governor, and at the very height of his prestige in a sense, go all out for Al Smith?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
He did indeed. He went all out for Al Smith, he did his level best. He went over to the Valley where there were a lot of Dunkards and Mennonites, both of whom have deep anti-Catholic feelings because of events centuries ago in Europe. He went over there and made a very personal appeal and asked them to please vote for Smith as a personal favor to him. He made speeches all around and did everything that he could. He knew that if he lost, it would be a bad blow to him and he would maybe lose control of the state. When it went by 24,000 for Hoover, he was down in the dumps for quite a while. He didn't know what was going to happen. He finally solved the problem by getting a good dry Baptist to run that Cannon couldn't assail effectively, John Garland Pollard.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Before we move into that election, it seems to me that it's very ironic in a way that Byrd went all out to defeat Hoover, because Hoover in many respects, it seems to me, is like Byrd. They probably shared ideologically a lot of positions. And yet, he probably worked as hard

Page 108
against Hoover as he did against any presidential candidate. At a later time, he went in the opposite direction and, in effect, bolted to the Republican presidential nominee.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
That's right. He seemed to feel very strongly obligated to support the party nominee, but later on, as you say, he certainly did not.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Do you think that that experience in '28 colored his views on his participation in presidential elections? Did he get burned and learn something from it and sort of rethink that notion of commitment to national parties?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
He certainly could have. He never told me that and I've never read that he said that, but I think that it is undoubtedly possible.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Would you comment on the next election, and that is sort of a key, the one that you mentioned in '29 that followed. Because, I guess that if Cannon had been able to win that one, the tide of politics in Virginia would have changed.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
That really would have been it. You see, Cannon came out of this 1928 campaign arrogant and egotistical and throwing his weight around, and demanding an apology from Byrd and all the other politicians who had attacked him in 1928 campaign. Of course, Byrd had about as much idea of apologizing to Cannon as of jumping over the James River at one leap. He just dug his feet in the ground and decided that he was going to lick Cannon or else. He knew that if he lost the next election, Cannon would be the boss, and he put every ounce of strength that he had into first choosing somebody that Cannon would find invulnerable and that Cannon hated, and that Cannon couldn't control. John Garland Pollard, who was then on the

Page 109
William and Mary faculty and had been a candidate for governor, was a bone dry and a Baptist and had been anti-organization. So, that was sort of a gamble. He didn't know whether he could get Pollard to go along. Pollard had run for governor against the organization candidate, J. Taylor Ellyson, and Westmoreland Davis was nominated. So, Byrd had to persuade Pollard to go along with his policies. Well, fortunately, Byrd's policies were almost those that Pollard had advocated years before without any success at all. Those were the days when the machine would not listen to anybody like Pollard, but then Byrd came in and saw that he had to do all these needful things, so Pollard fitted in exactly and went along with Byrd all the way through his administration. It was the Depression, and it had to be economy all the way. Pollard went along with Byrd in not putting up any appreciable state money to help the unemployed. I think Pollard had been sort of brainwashed on that one, because what they did was just spend money on highways which they would have spent anyway. They put the unemployed to work on highways and let the federal government pick up the rest of the tab.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
In your book, you mention that one of the things that caused Pollard's victory, defeat of Brown, was a series of stories that held Cannon up to ridicule as a gambler and stock plunger and flour hoarder and so forth. It may be that I am just a little bit cynical in the light of Watergate, but where did those stories come from? Who originated those stories and how did they happen to come out at this particular time? What newspapers were involved, did you break any of them?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
No, I did not. They broke in various papers. The papers were

Page 110
anti-prohibition and anti-Cannon and pro-Al Smith. Carter Glass dug up some of it, he was violently anti-Cannon, although he was a dry. He dug up the flour hoarding thing, I think. As for the bucket shop gambling, this guy, Harry Golden, as he is now named, was the bucket shop gambler that Cannon dealt with. His name was then Goldhurst.
DANIEL JORDAN:
He went to jail for it, didn't he?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Now, which Harry Golden are you talking about?
DANIEL JORDAN:
The famous . . .
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
The writer?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes. It's the same. He was Harry Goldhurst running a bucket shop in New York, and Cannon had been dealing in stocks here in Richmond with John P. Branch, who was a great Methodist layman, very much on the q.t. Various people knew that he was doing it, but the papers couldn't get anything on him to show that this great pillar of righteousness was gambling in stocks right here in Richmond. But then, Golden or Goldhurst got in trouble with the authorities in New York for operating a bucket shop, and when they went through the books, here was Bishop James Cannon as one of his big patrons. So, it all came out in the wash right there and it really blew the lid on him. Cannon had bought $477,000 worth of stock with a payment of $2,500 and made about $9,000 through Mr. Goldhurst.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Moving on with Byrd . . . [Laughter] I hate to, [Laughter] but in 1932, Byrd was the favorite son candidate for the nomination of the Democratic Party. Was that a very serious sort of thing?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I didn't think so at the time, but I have been looking at some of

Page 111
the papers that have come out since, and it looks as though Byrd thought that he really had a fairly good chance. Most people didn't think so, but Mr. William T. Reed, a wealthy Richmond tobacconist, who was a great friend and backer of Byrd, put up the money to take a bunch of people and a band to Chicago and they put on a parade around the hall. Of course, I don't think anybody else much thought that he was going to get anywhere, but I believe now, in light of recent discoveries, that Byrd did think so. He at least thought that he had a chance.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Was Byrd offered the vice presidential nomination?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I think he was. He was offered either that or chairman of the national committee and I remember distinctly going to see Combs, his chief cook and bottle-washer, after that. Byrd had denied that he was offered anything like that, whatever it was, he denied it publicly. So, I was talking to Combs about it and I said, "I see that Byrd denied that he was offered that." He said, "Oh well, of course he was offered it, but he very properly denied it." Which was a good insight into the manner in which politicians operate. If you don't want to admit something, you just say that it isn't so.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Now, after the election, we know that Claude Swanson received a cabinet appointment. As I understand, there is some controversy about that. Perhaps Roosevelt wanted Byrd in the cabinet and Swanson was a sort of a messenger and Byrd took offense at that and said something to the effect that he, Byrd, was going to go after Swanson's seat and that Swanson had better take a cabinet position. Something to that effect.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Byrd and Swanson got at odds during the Smith campaign. Swanson didn't do a darn thing after saying that he was going to help. Byrd told me of his conversation with Swanson early in the campaign. He said,

Page 112
"Swanson told me, 'Just let me get into this campaign, I'm a bold operator, I'm going to get going on this thing.'" Byrd said, "That's the last I heard of him, he never did anything whatever." So, Byrd was very mad that Swanson left him holding the bag. Swanson also, having been pretty much the political boss when Byrd got in as governor, didn't like it when Byrd took over and squeezed Swanson out of state politics almost entirely. Byrd made it clear, I think, that he was going to run against Swanson for the Senate, no matter what. That was solved by making Swanson Secretary of the Navy and then Governor Powell appointed Byrd to Swanson's Senate seat.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Are you aware of any evidence to the effect that Roosevelt did want Byrd in the cabinet?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I don't know, but I think that he probably did.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Did anybody ever call to Byrd's attention in subsequent presidential elections, his anger with Swanson for failure to support the candidate in light of Byrd's—
[END OF TAPE 4, SIDE B]

[TAPE 5, SIDE A]

[START OF TAPE 5, SIDE A]
DANIEL JORDAN:
. . . we know that Byrd opposed much of what Roosevelt did and much of the later New Deal legislation. Are you aware of his supporting any important legislation that Roosevelt proposed? In the '30s.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Not on the domestic scene, but he always boasted that he supported everything in the way of strengthening the country against foreign aggression or in foreign affairs generally.

Page 113
DANIEL JORDAN:
Was his brother an influence there at all, Admiral Byrd?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
He may have been. I don't know that Admiral Byrd really took much interest in public affairs. He was so wrapped up in exploration that I doubt if he had much influence one way or the other.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Didn't Senator Byrd originally vote for the NRA?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, he did, although he said he believed it was unconstitutional.
DANIEL JORDAN:
I think that much of Byrd's pronouncements on the New Deal are a matter of record and we might move into the '40s unless there is anything in the '30s that strikes you as worth pursuing. I gather he did not support Roosevelt, didn't vote for him in '36, but on the other hand did not come out publicly for Alf Landon either, did he?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
No, he didn't. Would you like me to speak briefly about the clash that Byrd had with the Times-Dispatch in the '30s over our criticism of him when he voted against social security and unemployment relief and . . .
DANIEL JORDAN:
I think that we certainly want that in there, but we might hold it for the relationship between you and Byrd, in the next section of this session.
Is there anything significant about the '36 election, the presidential election between Landon and Roosevelt?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I don't remember anything. I suppose that Byrd went through the motions of supporting Roosevelt, I don't know specifically what he did. I don't believe Glass did, I think he came out against him. Glass was so vitriolic in his references to many of the things Roosevelt did that I don't believe Glass made any pretense of supporting him.
DANIEL JORDAN:
In 1938, Roosevelt tried to purge certain congressmen who

Page 114
had opposed some of his measures and Howard Smith was one of the congressmen. Was that a controversial measure in Virginia?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, of course, the entire machine was solidly behind Howard Smith and not only that, Governor Jim Price, who was not in Howard Smith's corner politically, although a Democrat, told Roosevelt that he was making a grave mistake in putting up this young fellow, William E. Dodd Jr., against Howard Smith. Jim Price told Roosevelt that Dodd didn't have a prayer, which was certainly true. Dodd was a perfectly insignificant nonentity. His father was a famous historian at the University of Chicago, but Dodd himself was a political nobody . . . he simply spoke in liberal terms and against Howard Smith and Smith just snowed him under.
DANIEL JORDAN:
In 1940, I know that Carter Glass was a vigorous critic of Roosevelt breaking the second term tradition and seeking a third election. In fact, I believe that Glass nominated Jim Farley.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, I think he did.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Did Byrd participate in the attempt to stop Roosevelt in '40? Do you recall any overtones of that campaign?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Let's see now, I get these conventions mixed up. I don't recall that anything very specific happened at that convention. That was when Wilkie ran, of course. Senator Byrd did not support Wilkie. Whether he went through the motions of supporting Roosevelt and remained regular and did nothing, I don't know.
DANIEL JORDAN:
In a related question about Glass, as I understand it, he was in a sense, physically ineffective for a number of years and in fact, did not meet roll call votes for many years and yet was a senator until '46. Was that controversial in Virginia? It's a delicate question, to be sure, but did that become an issue in Virginia politics?

Page 115
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
To some extent it did, not to the extent that you might imagine, though. Some people issued statements in the press asking why Senator Glass didn't resign since he had been bedridden for years and was not attending to his duties in any way. There was not any tremendous uproar. There was a lot of talking quietly among politicians about it. I know one man who was in Congress at that time in Virginia told me recently that Glass . . . he was from Glass's district, and Glass kept him from appointing postmasters and people in the district for a year or so and wouldn't do anything himself and just infuriated this congressman because it made all the machinery stop in certain areas because Glass wouldn't let him do anything and wouldn't do anything himself.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Did you take any type of editorial position on Glass's illness?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
You know, it's funny, I can't remember. I should have, I certainly think now that I should have and maybe I did, but I don't think so.
DANIEL JORDAN:
What kind of relationship did Byrd have with Glass when both were senators?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Very good. Glass treated Byrd as a kind of a son. He was a bit paternalistic and defended Byrd from attacks. Huey Long made a violent attack on Byrd in the Senate and Glass got furious and jumped up and walked over to Huey Long and banged his desk and told him not to do that again, or else. Things like that.
DANIEL JORDAN:
When Glass died in '46, there was somewhat of a scramble, I believe, for that seat and as I understand it, Byrd preferred Howard Smith, but of course, the position went to Robertson. Is there a story there?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, I think that the most interesting story is that

Page 116
Colgate Darden could have had it. He was offered it on a platter.
DANIEL JORDAN:
By the organization?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, but he didn't want it. He told me that he didn't want, under any condition, to raise his children in Washington. [Laughter] He said, "That's the worst place in the world and everybody wants to know 'What have you got and who do you know' and that's all they want to know about you. I'm not going to have any part of that and I'm not going to be any senator in Washington." It may be that Colgate even then had his eye on the University of Virginia, I don't know, but it is entirely possible and perfectly all right if he did want to be president of the University of Virginia, which he ended up being.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Was the selection of Robertson an upset as far as Byrd was concerned, or just something that he preferred not happen? Was it a big issue and confrontation or just some sort of maneuvering?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I think it was just maneuvering, I don't believe he felt strongly about it or bitter at all.
DANIEL JORDAN:
In '47 and '48, Byrd opposed some of Truman's foreign policy measures, for instance, the Marshall Plan and Truman's doctrine of aid to Greece and Turkey. Was that a controversial thing in Virginia? Do you recall how the newspapers reacted to it?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I believe that his opposition was mainly because it cost so much money and he didn't feel sure that it would work. We spent so much in the war and Byrd's instinctive hatred of spending large amounts of money, I think, influenced him more than anything else.
DANIEL JORDAN:
He did support NATO later on, but of course, that was a military alliance.

Page 117
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes . . . did he not support the Marshall Plan?
DANIEL JORDAN:
He opposed the Marshall Plan.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
He opposed that. I remember that he opposed the Truman plan for Greece, but I'd forgotten about the Marshall Plan. He had almost a phobia about going into debt.
DANIEL JORDAN:
In 1948, of course, we had the Dixiecrat revolt and do you recall Byrd's role in that? I know that he didn't support the Dixiecrats, but was he a party to it at all?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I can't remember clearly what he did. I know Bill Tuck, who was governor, was a Dixiecrat and made it fairly obvious. That was the year, wasn't it, that Byrd and Tuck tried to get that terrible piece of legislation through.
DANIEL JORDAN:
I would appreciate your comment on that. Perhaps first, a sort of identification of what it was and then any stand the paper may have taken on it.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, the idea was to beat Truman in any way possible, by fair means or foul, almost. And then to keep him off the ballot legally, which really seems weird indeed. That was such an outrageous proposition, we didn't know whether Byrd and Tuck had combined on it or whether it was just Bill Tuck. The Times-Dispatch came out as vigorously as possible against it immediately, and a lot of other papers did, too. Byrd and Tuck backed up very hurriedly and Byrd . . . I think I'm right, tried to pretend that he didn't have anything to do with it, but it turned out later that he had a lot to do with it and he had okayed it before Tuck saw that it was introduced in the legislature.

Page 118
As a result of the uproar in opposition, they substituted a kind of milk and water bill that never was used; I can't remember the exact terms of it. One other thing was that I got one of those Sigma Delta Chi Awards for an editorial on that and the General Assembly's threat to investigate the Richmond newspaper.
DANIEL JORDAN:
A slight detour; what was your assessment of Truman at the time? Say, from '45 until '52?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
My assessment then was very unfavorable. In later years, I wondered why it was so unfavorable, because I read the recent book, Plain Speaking, which gave all of his side of everything . . . of course, nobody else's side. [Laughter] And having had that soaked into me, I thought, "What in the world got into me to be so anti-Truman?" Then I read The Glory and the Dream by William Manchester, which goes over those years that you just asked me about and there were things that Truman did that were absolutely outrageous. He often behaved like a small-bore politician who did petty things. There were quite a few crooks in the government but Harry wouldn't admit it for years. The Internal Revenue Service was shot through with grafters, a number of whom went to the penitentiary. I think Truman himself was more honest than most politicians. It wasn't until recent years that I concluded that he really was one of the good presidents, despite these early shortcomings. Somebody said that "he gagged on the gnats and swallowed the lions." He made all these petty mistakes, but when it came to big issues, he usually made the right decision.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Virginia went for Truman in 1948.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, thanks to Strom Thurmond, who pulled enough votes away to throw it to Truman. Dewey would have gotten most of those votes.

Page 119
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Do you know what the newspapers supported editorially in that period?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
We either didn't support anybody or we supported Truman. I don't think that we supported anybody. We denounced the Dixiecrats, I know that.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Wasn't Byrd a big friend of Russell?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Was Byrd ever embarassed by the fact that he retained these powerful committee positions and yet on payday, so to speak, did not support the party in the presidential election?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, he must have given it a lot of thought and I don't doubt that he was needled a lot by his compatriots who were regular, but he just treated it as the lesser of two evils, I guess. When he made up his mind, he was about as hard to change as anybody I ever saw. He once told me, "When people get after me when I have made up my mind about something, it just makes me all the more determined not to change." And that's right. When he decided something, he had decided.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
After you became an editorial writer for the Times-Dispatch and later editor, did you have conversations with Senator Byrd, personal conversations, telephone conversations, did you maintain a fairly close relationship with him?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, it was all very friendly. When he introduced me to his friends up there he would say, "Mr. Dabney is a New Dealer." He would say that in

Page 120
a very jocose way. I knew that he didn't like it, but he didn't sound mad at all.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Even when you would have a falling out on a particular issue, you would still remain a certain friendliness?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Did you support his reelection campaign in 1952?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
For the Senate?
DANIEL JORDAN:
Against Miller, I believe.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Did you support him in 1956, I believe, 1957, when he talked about not running for reelection? He announced that he would not run for reelection in '57, somewhere in there, and then after a few months, he came back and started running, said that he would run for reelection. Did you express to him at that time support? I find that people who were even his archenemies generally asking or were concerned that he would run for reelection then.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I was glad that he ran for reelection. I think that we could list the reasons why he did it and you may want me to comment on that. There were, I think, two main ones. One was that it would split the organization wide open if he didn't. He was really worried because John Battle and Bill Tuck were squaring off to run for his seat, and Battle was from the more liberal side of the organization and Tuck was the ultraconservative, and they were taking up sides. The thing was jelling in these two directions and polarizing. There was going to be one hell of a row between these two factions and that would not have been to Byrd's liking at all. He had been the friend

Page 121
of both men and he persuaded Mrs. Byrd to let him reconsider and go back. The other thing was that he really was urged by people all over the United States not to get out of public life.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Did you urge him not to get out?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, I did.
DANIEL JORDAN:
We've gotten into the next category, which is Byrd the man and your relationship with him. We might pursue this relationship a little more. In the '30s especially, when you were writing editorials and taking positions that were contrary to his, would you hear from him about those positions? You apparently had a friendly relationship, but did he let you know that he was displeased or did he in any way try to pressure you or try to change your mind?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, he just expressed great dismay, if not anger, over our position. He said that he didn't know what we were trying to do and of course, he was upset by the letters that we ran. We didn't run all of them, didn't run the worst ones, only those that were signed and were fairly polite in their language. I told him that, I said, "Senator, you ought to see the ones that we didn't run."
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
At what period was this?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
In the '30s, about '35, or '36, along in there when he was voting against all kinds of welfare measures for the unemployed and social security measures and all of that.
DANIEL JORDAN:
And you were attacking his votes, as well?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes.

Page 122
DANIEL JORDAN:
Would he call or would he write, or would you hear indirectly?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, the main time that there was really a big confrontation, I was not there. Colonel Slover, the publisher of the Norfolk paper and a major stockholder in the Times-Dispatch, got hold of Mark Ethridge, who was the Times-Dispatch publisher at that time, and told Mark that he wanted him to meet him and Senator Byrd to discuss the paper's position. They had this meeting and Byrd, the minute that he saw Ethridge, practically rushed at him and was mad and red in the face. They had words, quite loud words, but it didn't end in any change of policy. Ethridge didn't back down. Slover was very much on Byrd's side and was much upset over the things being said by the Times-Dispatch, like supporting the Wagner Act and supporting Harry Hopkins whom Byrd and Slover both thought was a lunatic or nearly so.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Was this in private? Wasn't there a sort of public confrontation, too? There might have been a little pushing or shoving between Mark Ethridge and Senator Byrd?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
It might have been in the lobby of the Jefferson Hotel. I believe that's where it was. There was something in the Richmond Mercury the other day to that effect. I wondered how in the world they ever got ahold of that. They said the confrontation took place in the lobby of the Jefferson Hotel. It was in an article about the Jefferson.

Page 123
DANIEL JORDAN:
Your recollection is of a private meeting, but a very heated one.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
It might have started when they greeted each other in the Jefferson Hotel. I think that's probably it.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
You were not at that meeting?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
No, I wasn't invited. Slover wanted to see the publisher of the Times-Dispatch and to let him and Byrd, the three of them, discuss what was going on.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Your boss was Mark Ethridge, the publisher at that time?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
He told you about this meeting.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Did he attempt to get you to change your mind or lighten up a little bit?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
No, he didn't.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Or did he say to give him more?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
No, he just said that we were going to go on doing the way that we were, which we did.
DANIEL JORDAN:
We might now have a sort of an assessment of Byrd the man. I know that this is very hard to do, but he was a remarkable person. What made him that way?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I think that he was extremely able. I have already spoken of his administrative ability, his organizational ability and did I say that his secretary, who had also been a secretary to three or four other governors, told me that Governor Byrd could do twice as much work in any

Page 124
given time as any of the other three governors that she had been secretary to. He was extremely honest. He was the most honest politician that I have ever known, except for his tolerating political skulduggery of various kinds in southwest Virginia primarily, and doing little things that politicians always do, like telling half truths to other politicians. [Laughter] He never told me an outright falsehood except once, and that was not really something that you write down as damning him forever. There was a fight for an appointment to the State Corporation Commission. I heard that he was going to appoint a certain person. I went to him and said, "Governor, I understand that you are going to appoint so-and-so to the Corporation Commission and you are going to take the man that is now on the Commission and put him on the Supreme Court." He said, "I never heard of such nonsense. You can deny that anytime that you want, there is not a word of truth in that." So, I duly wrote a story saying that this was reported, but not correct. It wasn't a week before he did exactly that. That's the only time that he ever did anything so flagrant.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Did he give you an explanation?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
No, he never mentioned it. It didn't make any political sense, I didn't think, for him to come out publicly with a thing like that and then do the opposite when everybody could see that he hadn't told the facts. But with the exception of that, I can't think of another time when he wasn't perfectly square with me or with anybody else. He insisted on his organization personnel being persons of good character. He would have a lot to say as to who ran for top offices. He would screen

Page 125
them every four years—who ran for governor, who ran for attorney general, who ran for lieutenant governor and he had to give them his stamp or the machine wouldn't be for them. If they had a shady record or anything like that, they didn't get it. That is one of the things that is most admirable about Harry Byrd and it explains the fact that Virginia, in my opinion, has had over the last half-century the most honorable government of any state in the Union.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Is this a point for getting into the organization, or do you want to pursue the personal qualities of Byrd?
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
I just wanted to ask you if this was something that Harry Byrd brought to the organization, this idea of the selection of the very best people available?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, I think that Senator Martin was a similar type. It is really remarkable that two such bosses should have arisen who were such honest men.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Were they related? I've heard that.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
No, they were not. That's stated in The Byrds of Virginia, but it's not a fact.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Well, we might move now to the Byrd organization as such, which is one of the most remarkable political machines, certainly in American history. Its longevity is practically amazing. We might approach it by talking about some of the qualities and characteristics of the organization. It seems to me that we would begin by saying that we must remember that there was an organization before there was a Harry Byrd. Is that correct? Could you sort of comment on that and the antecedents of it?

Page 126
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, yes. Senator Martin, whom I just mentioned, was in a similar position of running the organization from about 1893 until 1919 when he died. He was elected to the United States Senate over Fitzhugh Lee, to the consternation of the "ins" and the powers that be and he was a terrific organizer just like Harry Byrd. He was a behind-the-scenes organizer. He seldom spoke in public. He knew all the angles and he got in with the aid of railroad money, not necessarily anything dishonest, but the railroad put up the money. He was a lawyer for the railroad, the C&O Railroad. He got in with their help. From that time on he was the man who you had to see to get ahead in Virginia politics. He was an organizer, as I say, he worked through the courthouse rings. Each county courthouse was a center of politics, the officeholders and then the state legislature. Those people made a skeleton organization throughout the whole state and Martin worked with them. He died in 1919. Swanson and Glass were both prominent in public life at that time but there is not any clear view as to who was running the show after Martin died.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Hal Flood was also, I guess . . .
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
He was in there, too. As congressman, he didn't have quite the clout that the other two did and they were sort of a triumvirate until Harry Byrd won that bond issue fight and got into the forefront of things. He then took over. He organized things even better than Martin did and he entered the picture in a sort of dramatic way, first winning that bond issue fight and then winning the governorship. He was young, vigorous and attractive. [unclear] made a big hit nationally, and everybody was right in his vest pocket, practically. He didn't let many of the organization people get hurt in the reorganization of the state government. He took care of them as best he could, a few got left out, not enough to

Page 127
hurt him, and from then on, he had his fingers right on the pulse of everything that went on. He would pretty much handpick each governor, and the governor would do most of the running of state affairs. Occasionally, Byrd might ask some special favor. I don't think that he interfered a lot after he had put a governor in there; it was almost always somebody that he trusted. I think he liked to be consulted, but I don't think he was a dictator in the usual sense. He gave most governors their head more or less, but kept his finger on the pulse of state politics. He did not like people in Virginia to think that he was running the show. He wanted them to think that the governor was in charge. Actually, Byrd usually had the final say if any big issue came up. If something had to be decided by the top brass, he was right in the middle of that.
DANIEL JORDAN:
You mentioned earlier that individuals in the organization were very high type people and that is one of the great strengths of it. It has been said that it is government by gentlemen and of course, it seems to me that this alliance or organization with a lot of deep traditions in Virginia, back to the colonial period in fact, was always a powerful thing. But would you comment a little further on the type of individual who was active in the Byrd organization? Is it possible to generalize about the professions or that sort of thing? Who were the Byrd organization men, other than that they were the "better sorts?"

Page 128
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, I think that there were more lawyers than anything else, lawyers from small towns all over the state.
[END OF TAPE 5, SIDE A]

[TAPE 5, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 5, SIDE B]
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
There were large-scale farmers, members of the Farm Bureau Federation, for example, that type of individual who was not necessarily wealthy, but in comfortable circumstances. Every now and then somebody would get in who was anti-organization and would make a big play on representing the lower orders or the small farmers or the little people in the towns; they would get in, but they were always in the minority.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Could you name some of those over the period? I assume that you are talking about Henry Howell currently, and going back. Can you think of anybody right offhand?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I would say that Moss Plunkett, a Roanoke lawyer who ran for governor against Bill Tuck was one. Francis Miller, a really high type individual and not a demagogue, but a man who appealed to the less affluent members of society and felt that they were not getting a fair deal under the Byrd "better sort" doctrine, as you say. He appealed to all those people who fought the organization and were trying to get rid of the poll tax, which was one of the things that kept the organization in power.
DANIEL JORDAN:
I would like to move to the restricted electorate, but before I do that, is it true that you don't find in the Byrd organization a kind of mass leader that emerged in a lot of other southern states? T. Harry Williams called Huey Long a "mass leader". There is a sort of

Page 129
southern political type, a person who is often a spellbinder on the stump and the like. You don't find that type in the Byrd organization, do you? No emotional, often fiery, almost evangelical kind of person pitting one class against another class.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I know two orators of that type, who were not rabble-rousers. They were orators of the old school with much flamboyant phraseology and gesticulations. One is Willis Robertson and one is Lindsay Almond. They would have been topflight politicians in 1895, they were speakers in that tradition. Charles McDowell said in an article about Lindsay Almond, "He was an orator in the style of Orange Courthouse about the year 1910." [Laughter]
DANIEL JORDAN:
This wouldn't be your typical Byrd organization man, though, would he?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
No, I don't think so. I think most of them are more restrained and dignified and less flamboyant.
DANIEL JORDAN:
You mentioned the poll tax and that does get us into the fact that the organization did operate in the context of a restrictive electorate and not a lot of people voted and the poll tax, I'm sure, is a factor. Could you comment on that a little further?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, from the time of the 1901-02 constitutional convention, the poll tax was in effect. You had to pay three years in a row and six months before the election in which you wanted to take part. It immediately eliminated most of the black vote. It also eliminated a great many white voters. Many white voters in time came to make arrangements with the county treasurers, particularly in the

Page 130
southwest, to get their taxes paid up in one way or another, either to have it paid by the guy who was running for office, or some other way. The average citizen would forget about an election until a few months before or maybe a few weeks before and he might not have paid his poll tax. The organization people got busy well ahead of time and kept their boys and girls paid up.
DANIEL JORDAN:
There were other devices too, I believe, in the 1902 constitution for restricting the franchise. Did Byrd ever acknowledge any awareness of the fact that this small electorate was a factor in his success?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
No, I don't think he did so in so many words. It was just implicit in all of his actions and utterances that he didn't believe that the great mass of the people knew enough about affairs to vote the right way, that is, his way. He was afraid that if he let these hundreds of thousands of people vote, they would immediately start raiding the treasury and asking for handouts and all kinds of things that he opposed.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Wasn't this the publicly expressed view of Senator Martin and sort of a model of success for Byrd when he was growing up and Senator Martin was the leader of the organization? Didn't Martin express something along this line during the . . .
DANIEL JORDAN:
I believe that Glass, too, was a member of the convention and was . . .
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Senator Glass very vigorously. I don't remember any specific quote from Martin, but I don't doubt that he felt that way. Martin was bitter against Woodrow Wilson because he moved in on the

Page 131
bosses in New Jersey. They had a violent altercation at the dinner table of President Alderman of the University of Virginia. So much so that President Alderman had to try to change the subject and get them to talk about something else. They were almost throwing things across the table.
DANIEL JORDAN:
I am struck in looking at the organization by the variety of ways in which politics and government seem to merge, and what it means is that the organization can influence offices from the lowest level all the way through. It seems to me that there were several ways that was done, and I would like to sort of explore some of those. One might be the State Compensation Board. Could you comment on what that was? I think it was considered a reform but it still gave some leverage to the organization.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, that was supposed to be a good way to control the salaries of the local officials all over the state. It was a board of three officials appointed by the governor. That was in theory, I suppose a good way to do this, and actually, it was subject to all kinds of abuses if you got the wrong people in control of that board. As a matter of fact, many efforts were made to discover abuses and as far as I know, practically nothing was ever discovered, but it was a "gun behind the door" with three Byrd organization men on that board who could use it, if they wanted to, against somebody who got out of line when the chips were down on some issue. If a county officer didn't vote for the Byrd candidate for something and he was up for a salary increase, this board had a perfectly good way of just denying him the increase and pretending that it was for some other reason. I know that Jack Kilpatrick made a

Page 132
tremendous effort to try to find out whether the board's power had been abused and he couldn't find anything. He looked over vast numbers of records.
DANIEL JORDAN:
And Mr. Combs for a long time was the chairman?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes.
DANIEL JORDAN:
And simultaneously, he was the clerk of the senate, I believe, and secretary of the Democratic caucus. Would you comment on that sort of relationship or connection?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
The comment is fairly obvious. He was on the inside of everything, which was exactly where Byrd wanted him to be and you had to see Combs about many things in state poltics rather than Byrd. People could say, "This is the Byrd organization and everything is fine because Harry Byrd is in control." But he didn't want to be thought of as running any of the details, so Combs was just the man to carry the ball.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
What type of man would you call Combs? Would you say that he was a typical machine man, one that you described as an absolutely clean, honest person?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes. As I said awhile ago, he was from southwest Virginia and he no doubt had been involved in skulduggery out there up to his neck with poll tax payments against the law and phony mail ballots; that was just routine, in the southwest. He was clerk of Russell County and Byrd brought him here as, I think first, state treasurer and then he went on from there to various other things. He was suave, polite,

Page 133
never raised his voice. You would think that he was a diplomat from Europe, he was so smooth, and as somebody said, "He was the mildest man that ever cut a throat." [Laughter]
DANIEL JORDAN:
To your knowledge, did he keep records like General Marshall, who supposedly had a black book and all through this period supposedly marked down names of people whom, if he ever got the chance, he was going to help . . . was there a lot of bookkeeping involved here or was it just sort of a knowledge of people?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
If there was bookkeeping, I don't know about it.
DANIEL JORDAN:
What about the circuit judge in the Virginia system and how important was and is he?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Quite a cog in that whole county ring, of course. He was the top man in the county, he appointed a lot of the officeholders and still does in most counties . . . a lot of county officials and boards and things of that sort and was elected by the General Assembly, except in an interim situation when the governor appointed him subject to confirmation when the legislature next met. So, it was all kind of a wheel within a wheel with the county officeholders and the judge and the General Assembly and the governor all working together.
DANIEL JORDAN:
And the speaker of the house, as I understand it, had unusual powers as compared to speakers in other states.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
He appoints all the House committees. As you can see, it is a tremendous power.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Was this county manager form of government a solution to some of this county politics?

Page 134
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
A very great solution to a lot of it, but it is hard to get it adopted for that reason. It eliminates a lot of these county officeholders who do very little except sit around and play politics and draw their salaries and shake hands with the voters. It is the most inefficient, outmoded, indefensible system. Time and again there have been reports by students of government saying that we could get along much better with thirty counties than we have now, about ninety-six, and it would be more efficient and more economical. But in order to do it, you have got to get the people of the county to vote these county officeholders out.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
One of the citations that you received that we talked about yesterday, I believe, was for your arguments in favor of the county manager form government in Henrico County. Can we presume from this that you were not only arguing for county manager governments but also against this collection of power in the county seats?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Oh yes, I think that every student of government who has said anything has said that the old system is incredibly inefficient.
DANIEL JORDAN:
But from the organization's standpoint, I guess that it was a foundation of power.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
It was a godsend; that's why it is so hard to get rid of it.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Another characteristic of the organization, as I understand it, and one that I find rather unusual, would be flexibility. Apparently a lot of maneuvering went on and Byrd was prepared to accept as second choice somebody that he couldn't beat rather than split the organization. Is that a correct assessment? Could you give some examples, maybe?

Page 135
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Jim Price is the best example. Price was a Richmond member of the legislature and lieutenant governor who had never been an organization man. He was immensely popular, not only with the legislature but with the public. He was the leading Mason in the state and head of the Shrine and various things like that. He was very likable, attractive, a handsome man, so that he had a tremendous personal following. He announced that he was going to run for governor without consulting Byrd, which, of course, was the highest crime that you could commit. Well, Byrd didn't like that, and he decided that he was going to try to get somebody else to run against Price. He sent up a few trial balloons, all of which burst immediately. They didn't get off the ground. So finally, there was the most ludicrous sort of sudden leap onto the Price bandwagon by half a dozen key people in the Byrd organization. Not Byrd, of course, he had nothing to do with any of this; he would have you believe that he never had anything to do with state politics. Almost all of his chief lieutenants, right at Christmastime, announced that they had concluded that Lieutenant Governor Price was the man to be governor, and they endorsed him heartily. Price went in like a breeze. Then, when they got him in there, they just cut his throat from ear to ear. He couldn't get anything through the legislature. After he went out, Colgate Darden adopted a large part of his program and the machine put it through.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
The machine was not too happy while Price was in office.
DANIEL JORDAN:
He even removed Combs, I believe, didn't he?

Page 136
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, he went just far enough to infuriate the machine by removing Combs and two or three other people, but he didn't clean house. He might have built an organization of his own, but he was too kind and nice and gentle a person to really get rough. So, he booted out Combs and two or three other people and stopped there, with the result that he was just murdered in the General Assembly.
DANIEL JORDAN:
We talked about Byrd's philosophy in several instances and that is part of the success of the organization, the fact that it was an association of like thinking individuals. Is there anything that we need to add to what we have said about Byrd's philosophy? He obviously believed in economy and efficiency and the like.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
How about something on the machine's philosophy on race? What would you estimate to be, if there is such a thing as the machine's policy towards race?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I don't think there was anything but the status quo for the first half of this century. The issue of race was very little to the fore; the poll tax eliminated most blacks from voting. Hardly anybody was urging that much be done about this. Until 1954, the issue practically didn't arise. The machine was just accepting the status quo. Such black votes as there were went almost solidly to the Republicans. When Roosevelt came in, they voted Democratic on the presidential level, but they didn't vote that way on the state level.

Page 137
DANIEL JORDAN:
Geographically, where was the strength of the organization?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
More than anywhere else, it was in the southside, which had more blacks in it, of course, but they didn't vote. It was just solidly pro-machine all over the southside and later, when the race issue really became acute, that was the stronghold of "massive resistance."
DANIEL JORDAN:
You've mentioned earlier some candidates who opposed organization candidates. You mentioned Plunkett, for example, and Miller. Would you like to comment a little further on any of the attempts to unseat an organization candidate, from the standpoints of the types of candidates, or effective from the standpoint of platform of anti-organization candidates? You can take Miller as an example if you want to, in '49, or Plunkett in '45. Or anybody else.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I think they were generally complaining about the poll tax, mail ballot frauds, the small electorate and the way in which the organization kept control of everything through the small electorate. The lock that the organization had on all the top positions in the state government and most of the legislative seats, the judgeships. They just thought that it was a tightly controlled setup and they were on the outside looking in and the great mass of Virginians were not taking part in the political process in any significant way.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Were you sympathetic with any of the complaints or charges or frustrations?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I was for quite awhile, yes. Later on, when they didn't have any candidates that seemed to be as good as the organization candidates, I was not.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
What did you do in 1949?

Page 138
DANIEL JORDAN:
Miller, Edwards, and Battle were running.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I supported Battle, who was less conservative than Byrd, but not as liberal as Miller. He was a very high type person, able, and an honest man.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Do you regard Miller as the most able of the anti-organization candidates through the years?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, definitely and the best trained, the best educated.
DANIEL JORDAN:
And he had been in the General Assembly, I believe, hadn't he?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, he had been in the General Assembly, he had been a Rhodes Scholar, he had been in Washington.
DANIEL JORDAN:
We might now have an evaluation of the organization, unless there is anything else that you want to add to the structure of it and how it worked.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
No, I think that about covers it.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Well, I wonder then if you will give us an assessment of the positive aspects of it and then the negative aspects and then perhaps, the lasting impact of it.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, on the positive side, I think that the honesty of the operation was the best thing that you could say. They did have people in positions of authority who were not putting their hands in the till. It really is astonishing to me that as long as I have been around here in Richmond, over fifty years, there has been almost no dishonesty in the state government. One man who was clerk of the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals embezzled and went to jail. He is the only state official in all that time who has been convicted on any such charge, and it has been extremely rare

Page 139
in that whole half-century for such a charge even to be made. It is almost incredible. I have never heard of anybody being offered a bribe, either as a state official or as a member of the legislature. They haven't even been offered a bribe, much less taken one. I think I would have heard of some instances of that sort, if there had been any. Now, at times when the legislature is in session, of course, there is a lot of entertainment. Dinners are given for the legislators by various educational institutions and by the truckers and by maybe the hotel people—those who are interested in staying on the right side of the legislators. But that is sort of a mild way of trying to influence anybody, and it is hard to believe that anybody is going to be bought by a dinner at the John Marshall Hotel, which is about all it amounts to. What was the second part, now?
DANIEL JORDAN:
Well, the positive aspects of it and then the negative.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Obviously, this operation was a tightly controlled one, and a lot of people who could have made a contribution and could have served advantageously in public positions, in the state government or legislature, were frozen out. They might have done a better job than those who were in. It was a minority operation, with an astoundingly small vote in statewide elections during that whole period. Governors would be elected by something like eleven or twelve percent of the electors, or even fewer. That just isn't good. The level of government, within limits, was good. Not enough money was spent on schools or welfare, but the money

Page 140
was honestly spent. I don't think the black schools got their share at all, or the publicly supported colleges. They were given a small part of the budget, and just told that that was all they could have. The funds were not fairly apportioned. The result was that by the 1950s, Virginia was practically at the bottom of the list among all the states in expenditures for education, welfare, health, and similar things. It was really indefensible and it was all because the organization and its leader, Harry Byrd, didn't believe in spending money for these things, in the way that other states were spending. He felt that people could get along with less than most states were giving them, partly because of his own upbringing. When you look at the ranking of Virginia in those various categories, you were really made ashamed. The turnaround was due more than anything else, to Mills Godwin, who came in at the time when we were almost at the bottom of everything. He got the sales tax through and the amendments to the constitution, so that money could be spent in enormous quantities to bring Virginia up to where the state ought to be.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Do you want to assess the impact of the organization today, in 1975, say in the structure of government? Are there still structural remnants of the organization, in the General Assembly, for example?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, there is quite a lot, the short ballot is still with us and I think that it ought to be. As I understand it, that is regarded as the preferred governmental structure, with the governor held responsible.

Page 141
Of course, if you get a dictatorial type in there, like Huey Long, who could control the electorate, and make all those appointments, you are really in trouble. So, there is a certain amount of danger in that particular setup. The speaker's power has remained just as it always was, with the appointment of all house committees. The lieutenant governor has been somewhat shorn of his powers; they relieved him of some of his authority in appointing committees. The general organization of the state government is about as it was, I don't think there has been any great change. It was surveyed by the Zimmer Committee about five years ago, which made a lot of recommendations. I haven't checked on what's been done, but I doubt, now that the dust has settled, that a great deal has changed.
DANIEL JORDAN:
How about philosophically? There is still a sort of conservative feeling that government should be run on an economical basis and that state services are sort of secondary considerations. Do you think that that has changed?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I think it must have changed a good deal because the services are so much more adequate. Everybody has acquiesced in that; as soon as the constitution was amended, the referendum on the issuance of bonds was held and they were voted by the people. Mills Godwin and Linwood Holton both aided in the campaign. So, I think that the climate of opinion in

Page 142
respect to those matters is definitely much for the better.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Do you think that it is the climate of opinion or the larger electorate?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
It is a combination of both. The electorate has certainly had a big impact.
DANIEL JORDAN:
We might use that as sort of the final category and that is, what undermined the power organization after its joyous heyday.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Would you say that there is an organization now in Virginia and what undermining is there now?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, I can think of two or three things. The Supreme Court's "one man, one vote" ruling, civil rights legislation, the federal law abolishing the poll tax, all that just knocked the props from under the machine. As far as the electorate goes, they can't control it anymore.
DANIEL JORDAN:
You have a more urban electorate, too, haven't you, with different needs?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
The urban areas are growing much more rapidly, people are moving into the urban centers, whereas in past years, the county courthouses controlled the situation. Now, it is about a fifty-fifty balance and becoming more and more urban.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Is there any blame for this demise on Harry Byrd Jr.? Do you think that his father could have kept the machine, or part of the machine, in operation when he could not have?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I don't think Harry Byrd Jr. is interested in controlling the state situation at all. Apparently, all he wants to do is be a senator. He is not trying to run things in

Page 143
Virginia. I'm sure of that. If Harry Byrd Sr. were still alive, just hypothetically, I don't think that he or anybody else could have gone very far in controlling the situation as it exists. The whole basis of his operation has been shot out from under him.
END OF INTERVIEW