Title: Oral History Interview with Virginius Dabney, June 10-13, 1975. Interview A-0311-1.
Interviewer: Turpin, William H.
Interviewee: Dabney, Virginius
Subjects: Press and politics--Virginia Virginia--Politics and government
Abstract: This is a two-part series examining the life and career of Virginius Dabney. In this first part of the series, Dabney describes his family background as one of Virginia's first families. His father's professorship at the University of Virginia put Dabney into contact with well-known intellectuals and politicians, including Woodrow Wilson and Edwin Alderman. He recalls the layout of rural Charlottesville, Virginia, before the technological and automotive boom. Dabney's relatively cloistered childhood was largely devoted to education: he learned several languages and was diligent in his other studies, also. His erudition aided his lifelong career as a journalist. Dabney recounts his early experiences as a reporter for the Richmond News Leader, where he covered state and national politics throughout the 1920s, including the virulent pro-prohibition campaign for Bishop James Cannon. Influenced by H. L. Mencken, his writing captured the attention of
Richmond Times-Dispatch managing editor, Allen Cleaton, and he later became the editor of the newspaper. In 1934, Dabney traveled to Germany on an Oberlaender Trust fellowship in order to observe the political changes developing there. Much of the interview focuses on his editorial stance as a southern liberal (among other things, Dabney describes the shifts in the perception of southern liberalism over time). Dabney contends that an editor's job is to interpret political and social events rather than merely report on them. His early involvement with racial issues in the 1930s and 1940s led to his role with the Southern Regional Council in 1944. The majority of the interview is spent evaluating the political leadership of Senator Harry F. Byrd Sr. Dabney compares Byrd's limited government ideology with the expanded federal bureaucracy under President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal policies. Dabney argues that Byrd's stronghold over state politics resulted from restricting the vote to his select voters; however, the aftermath of the civil rights movement expanded the franchise and signaled the end to Byrd's political machine by the mid-1960s.