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.