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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 >>

Dabney's lectureships at Cambridge and Princeton

Dabney traces his experiences as a lecturer at Cambridge and Princeton. Both lectureships involved a discussion of race relations and the New South. Dabney admits that Cambridge students were more interested in McCarthyism.

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:
You held very important lectureships, one at Cambridge and one at Princeton. I wondered if we might talk briefly about each. First the one at Cambridge.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
It was what was called the Fulbright Conference on American Studies. It was a conference held annually at Oxford or Cambridge for several years with the support of Fulbright funds and Rockefeller funds. It happened to be at Cambridge the year that I went. They had about eight lecturers from the United States on various categories of interest, all of which were supposed to be things that professors in English and Scottish universities would be especially interested in. We lectured and had informal discussions for several weeks. I was there for three weeks. Some remained longer, but I couldn't stay that long. It was a very stimulating experience. There were, I suppose, maybe seventy-five professors from all over the United Kingdom who were interested especially in the United States.
DANIEL JORDAN:
What was the content of your series of lectures?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, I was given a free rein to choose any subject that I wanted to, I was the only newspaper man in the group.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Had there been other newspaper men before you, or were you the first editor?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I was the first one. I chose three very lively topics, almost too lively. Namely, Anglo-American relations, the race problem in the United States and Senator Joseph McCarthy.
DANIEL JORDAN:
This would be 1954 and I am sure that the Supreme Court decision would already have been given in May.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
That's right, it was a few months after the Supreme Court decision.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Do you recall your general thrust of your comments on race relations?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I think that the general thrust was that we could live with this decision; that it was something that was inevitable; we did not know exactly how it would work out in this part of the country and were apprehensive concerning certain parts of Virginia which had made it clear already that they did not intend to comply, if they could possibly avoid it.
DANIEL JORDAN:
What about McCarthyism?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
It was at its height at that time. It was the most talked about subject in England apropos the United States. My feeling was that McCarthy was a disgrace to the country and a disreputable scoundrel, to put it mildly, who was getting much more attention than he deserved. The British press was unbelieveably absorbed in the McCarthy issue. They had him on the front page nearly everyday. I tried to explain that I had no use for McCarthy and also that I thought he was being played up entirely too much in the papers.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Would you tell us a little now about your lectureship at Princeton in 1939-1940?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Dr. Thomas J. Wertenbarker, the famous historian at Princeton, was on sabbatical for the session of 1939-40 and he needed somebody to fill in; he needed several people to fill in. He asked me to fill in for the second semester of that year from February to May. I went to Princeton every week and gave two lectures on successive days, and a seminar each day, all having to do with the New South.
DANIEL JORDAN:
This was a very difficult physical routine, I would imagine. You continued to be editor at the same time?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes. I was trying to keep from getting fired as editor and also from getting fired as a lecturer. I had to do a tremendous lot of work in preparing these lectures, since I hadn't done anything like that before. I then had to go up there for two days. I went overnight on the sleeper, and was unable to sleep on the car satisfactorily the whole time. I had to change trains twice to get there, on top of having to go in the sleeping coach. Coming back, I left in the mid-afternoon and had to change trains to get back that night around ten o'clock. I was usually pretty well exhausted when I arrived.
DANIEL JORDAN:
And Princeton, I believe had a sort of market place system whereby students, if they didn't like a course could simply withdraw.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
That's right, they could sign up for the course and then after they heard one or two lectures, they could drop out. Fortunately, none of mine dropped out; in fact, several came on.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Did you have any guest speakers in your lectures?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, since one aspect of the New South was TVA, I had Wendell Willkie, who was then on the verge of being nominated for president, and who had then been extremely active in the TVA controversy, in opposition to TVA. I tried to get David Lilienthal, who was the leading spokesman for TVA, to appear with Wilkie in order to give a guest lecture in opposition, but he was unable to arrange it. It went off very well; Willkie was quite attractive as a lecturer, and he was not unduly biased on the issue.
DANIEL JORDAN:
This was in the spring before his nomination later in the year?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
In April or May of 1940. The lectures went at least until the middle of May and he was nominated, I think, the next month.