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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Virginius Dabney, June 10-13, 1975. Interview A-0311-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Dixiecrat revolt in 1948 election

Dabney denounced the Dixiecrats in 1948. He explains how Governor William Tuck and Senator Harry Byrd attempted to remove Harry Truman from the ballot in Virginia, which ultimately divided Republican and Democratic votes. Dabney also evaluates Truman's presidential administration favorably.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Virginius Dabney, June 10-13, 1975. Interview A-0311-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

DANIEL JORDAN:
In 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. 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.
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.