How massive resistance ended over Harry Byrd’s wishes.

Orange County native Lindsay Almond was elected governor of Virginia against Harry Byrd’s wishes in 1957. Byrd had eliminated five statewide seats, winnowing the number down to the three we know today, in order to make it easier for him to control the outcome of the elections. (I wonder what those five seats were, and whether we should consider recreating them today.) Almond had managed to get the Democratic nomination and elected without kissing Byrd’s ring.

What the two did share — or appeared to share — was the zealous support of segregation. Almond went on TV in January of 1959 and told the state’s citizens that, despite the Virginia Supreme Court’s demand that schools be opened up again, he was determined to “destroy every semblance of education for thousands of the children of Virginia” before he’d give in “to those who would overthrow the customs, morals and traditions of a way of life which has endured in honor and decency for centuries and embrace a new moral code prepared by nine men in Washington whose moral concepts they know nothing about.”

Just a week later, Almond spoke before the General Assembly and, to the shock of the assembled legislators, had come 180° on the matter. The courts had ruled, and it was time to integrate the schools.

It’s what happened in that week — the conversation between Byrd and Almond, and the power struggle that was going on behind the scenes — that makes this such a great story for students of Virginia history. Read all about it in the Autumn 1998 VQR.

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »

15 replies on “How massive resistance ended over Harry Byrd’s wishes.”

  1. They were the Secretary of the Commonwealth, the State Treasurer, the Auditor of Public Accounts, Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Commissioner of Agriculture.

  2. Yes, thanks to integration we now have a school system strongly supported by the parents, that is safe, clean, drug free and prepares our youth to become productive members of society….Oh, wait, that was BEFORE court ordered integration of our schools…

  3. I don’t think we need to gilt the lily, or see virtue where there was none (Gov. Almond) – segregation was acceptable to the vast majority, near totality of White Virginians (including Almond). Segregation was buttressed by a pantheon of conventional wisdoms, pseudo-science, and atavistic certainties. It was a fully fleshed belief system.

    It is too easy to look back and see Separate-But-Equal as ridiculous. In its time it was thought to be a generous concession, which only amplifies the strange state of mind that existed. I believe Almond would have easily gone to his grave with segregation in place if he thought he could get away with it. He couldn’t.

    What Almond did was more akin to applying the example of Lee at Appomattox – he led the capitulation for the larger good, because surely there were lesser men who would ride a lost cause straight to hell. That makes him an attentive student of history, not a hero. Just saying.

  4. Ladies and gentlemen, Waldo Jaquith, the state’s last supporter of the failed federal social engineering experiment on our Virginia public schools!

    Honestly Waldo! How can you miss the deterioration of our public schools since the loss of local control and neighborhood schools? This is not about race, but about the loss of local governance and parental involvement in their local schools.

    Your mischaracterize my previous post and completely ignore the point. We need to return to neighborhood schools governed by their locally elected boards, free of federal intervention, and that is what I am advocating here.

    Before the federal government mandated who could go where, the Byrd administration had enacted a law that provided for school choice, without regard to race. City students could select a school to attend from a list of three or four schools at the elementary level. Had the Byrd plan been allowed to work, we could have seen a more gradual process of the blending of student populations and the prevention of the emergence of the thousands of white-flight academies and the suburban exodus that resulted from the federally mandated integration programs.

    All the federal mandate accomplished was the destruction of thousands of good neighborhood schools and the acceleration of the divide between the rich and the poor. Today in Virginia, much like a Third World nation, the rich are either home schooled or attend racially pure, private academies. All who remain in the public schools are those who can’t afford to escape to safer, cleaner, private schools.

    I don’t expect someone of Waldo’s age and inexperience to understand. But those who lived through this era in Virginia recall how superb many of our neighborhood schools were and what a rich and productive learning environment they provided, before federal destruction of local governance.

    I think that the lesson from this is that government closest to the governed is usually best. The Byrd administration understood this concept and was a highly principled group of dedicated Virginians, organized from the local court houses all the way to the Senate. A few like to look back and complain that the Byrd “machine” was a corrupting force, but when one examines the record, although this group of Democrats was highly organized, one finds few instances of public officials associated with Byrd who were anything but dedicated members of their community.

  5. Well, now I understand! The problem is uppity colored folks messing up our lily white schools, bring down the test averages. Despite my “age and experience,” you have persuaded me that we should — nay, must — reintroduce Jim Crow laws and begin again our tragically abbreviated state eugenics program.

    And, as soon as possible afterwards, reinstitute slavery. Natch.

  6. Um…I live in Richmond VA and we do have neighborhood schools. There are also some ‘school choice’ options. There are lots of great public schools. Both of my kids are in public school and it’s not because we can’t afford private school. We chose public school.

  7. All who remain in the public schools are those who can’t afford to escape to safer, cleaner, private schools.

    Huh? What world do you live in? At best, a gross overstatement.

  8. Umm, J. Tyler, it’s hard to imagine how we could have had a “more gradual process of the blending of student populations,” since school integration was still a hot issue well into the late ’60s and early to mid-’70s. You can accuse Virginia of many things, but undue haste in obeying the law of the land on school integration is not one of them. And no one should have to remind you that those fictional, wonderful days of yore that you eulogize weren’t so perfect for everybody. I had a college suitemate who missed quite a bit of school early on because of Virginia’s policy of Massive Resistance. She was poor and white, and her family couldn’t afford the segregation academy in her rural county. Against the odds, she did finish high school, and went on to become an academic star at U.Va. But she was quite a bit older than the rest of us. I imagine for every student like her who persevered in spite of the obstacles placed in her path by mindless racists, many, many more just simply dropped out or did not get the education they needed.

  9. Your attempt to smear supporters of neighborhood schools with the allusion to Jim Crow proves that you are clueless and classless. Jim Crow has nothing to do with the return to local management, accompanied by the elimination of federal intervention in our schools here in the Twenty-first century, where most of us live, Waldo.

    Or I could write: “OK you convinced me. The Federal takeover of our schools that led to the White exodus to the suburbs, increased crime, higher truancy, increased drop-out rates, lower academic achievement and more teen pregnancies, were all positive outcomes (at least in Waldo world!).

    I realize that this is a Democratic blog, but I am surprised that at least someone here isn’t aware that both the NEA and AFT have been supporting a return to local governance and a return to our neighborhood schools for several years. While neither organization has gone as far as calling for the closing of the Dept. of Ed (as they should), AFT has railed against the litany of unfunded mandates doled out from D.C. each year, while lauding a multitude of neighborhood school success stories. The sooner the federal government is out of our schools entirely, the better for everyone.

    The last point I will make on this is to reiterate that the Byrd era school choice program would have been far better for Virginians, than the heavy handed intervention and mandates from the federal government.

  10. Hehe. The ‘Freedom of Choice’ program wasn’t meant to be a gradual integration of the schools. It was a scheme to avoid integrating the schools.

    Tha ‘heavy handed mandate’ from the federal government came from the supreme court after the Brown vs. the Board of Education decision determined that there was nothing equal about ‘separate but equal’ and later, after the courts grew impatient with the various foot-dragging schemes devised by southern states, when busing was ordered by the courts. Massive Resistance, Freedom of Choice, etc were all efforts to block integration. Indeed VA dragged her heels with ‘Freedom of Choice’ (resulting in essentially no progress in integrating the schools) until 1970. I find it pretty strange that anyone could take a look at the poor conditions in the schools for Black children prior to desegregation and decide that Virginians would have been better off violating the court orders to integrate. Better for whom? Certainly not better for Virginia’s Black citizens and their children…Or do they not count?

    Mr. Ballance is indulging in a bit of the old ‘lost cause’ revisionism here.

  11. You know J. Tyler, you really ought to check in with Ron Paul HQ before you go off touting the “Byrd era school choice program”, and saying it would have been far better for Virginians. Ron is a Country Club Republican with no plan for the poor…but I don’t think he fashions himself as a White Supremacist.

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