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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Virginius Dabney, July 31, 1975. Interview A-0311-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Byrd stymied Almond's appointment to a federal judgeship as political retribution

Because Almond contradicted Byrd's statewide massive resistant tactics, Byrd attempted to delay Almond's post-gubernatorial appointment to federal district judgeship. Ironically, Robert Merhige was appointed the position that Almond would have had. Merhige is best known for his 1972 ruling to desegregate and consolidate Richmond public schools, causing uproar among white Virginians.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Virginius Dabney, July 31, 1975. Interview A-0311-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

DANIEL JORDAN:
There is a sort of a notion that, not in a direct sense, but a notion that Almond sold out for a judgeship here. Does that have any real credibility? Later on, we know that Kennedy wanted to appoint him to a federal district judgeship here and Byrd apparently didn't like that. Kennedy made an interim appointment and now he is on the Court of Patents and Appeals, but was that a reward?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I never heard that. I think Kennedy might have looked around for somebody who had a moderate outlook on this issue and zeroed in on Almond, but I wouldn't attribute that sort of a motive to Almond.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Is it true that Byrd delayed the appointment?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
He almost wrecked the whole thing. If the Times-Dispatch and other papers hadn't hammered on Byrd time and again that it was unworthy of him to be doing that, he never would have given in.
DANIEL JORDAN:
I believe that in Kilpatrick's papers, there is correspondence on the fact and it shows that Kilpatrick favored the appointment of Almond to the district judgeship. Are you aware of that?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I didn't know that.
DANIEL JORDAN:
And that Byrd, of course, was very against it and one of the ironies of events is that Almond did not get the district judgeship and then later on, of course, Robert Merhige did. He came much later, but Almond today would be the judge. * VIRGINIUS DABNEY: Yes, but he would have retired by now. He has retired.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Yes, but he would have been on the bench. Just to pursue this ironic development one step further, the thinking is that if Almond had been the judge when the consolidation question came up, given his general philosophy and judicial temperment, that the decision would have been other than Robert Merhige's decision.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
That is, the counties and Richmond?
DANIEL JORDAN:
Yes.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I think probably so, yes.
DANIEL JORDAN:
So, in a way, Byrd unwittingly had contributed to the making of a situation that he hoped to alleviate and made it worse.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
It was overruled in the final analysis.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Oh, that's true. Almond said after the fact, that "I lived in hell," that he apparently suffered some social ostracism and the like from having broken with Byrd, and it was something that he regretted very much because he admired Byrd. Are you aware of any of that kind of pressure on Almond? After the fact?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, I think that undoubtedly he was spoken of sneeringly as "Benedict Almond" and things like that. He had a lot of bad hours because of it and I am sure that some of his long time friends broke with him, the people in the inner circles of the Byrd organization in particular.
DANIEL JORDAN:
And some of his later legislative proposals apparently were blocked in part, he thought, out of spite.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, primarily, I guess. He is not bitter about it at all now.