Harry F. Byrd
Harry Flood Byrd Sr. (June 10, 1887 – October 20, 1966) was an American newspaper publisher, politician, and leader of the Democratic Party in Virginia for four decades as head of a political faction that became known as the Byrd Organization. Byrd served as Virginia's governor from 1926 until 1930, then represented it as a United States Senator from 1933 until 1965. He came to lead the "conservative coalition" in the United States Senate, and opposed President Franklin D. Roosevelt, largely blocking most liberal legislation after 1937. His son Harry Jr. succeeded him as U.S. Senator, but ran as an Independent following the decline of the Byrd Organization.
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- If we can organize the Southern states for massive resistance to this order... the rest of the country will realize that racial integration is not going to be accepted in the South.
- Excerpt from Byrd's 1956 announcement of Virginia's strategy for responding to growing pressure from the U.S. government and U.S. Supreme Court to end racial segregation. As quoted by Ty Seidule in Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner's Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause (2020), p. 66
Quotes about Byrd
- Incontestably what runs Virginia is the Byrd machine, the most urbane and genteel dictatorship in America. A real machine it is, though Senator Harry Flood Byrd himself faced more opposition in 1946 than at any time in his long, suave, and distinguished public career.
- John Gunther, Inside U.S.A. (1947), p. 705
- When the Supreme Court issued its decision in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, it overturned one aspect of the carefully constructed system of the racial police state in the South. Virginia did not accept the Supreme Court's decision. Initially, the Virginia governor Lindsay Almond counseled moderation, but the U.S. senator Harry Byrd, who controlled Virginia politics with an iron fist, reacted with fury when he heard Almond would acquiesce to the highest court in the land. "The top blew off the U.S. Capitol," Almond recalled. Byrd announced the state's strategy in 1956: "If we can organize the Southern states for massive resistance order... the rest of the country will realize that racial integration is not going to be accepted in the South." Almond was soon on board, declaring, "We will oppose with every facility at our command, and with every ounce of our energy, the attempt being made to mix the white and Negro races in our classrooms." Virginia followed that pronouncement with laws to back up its position, ordering schools to shutter rather than integrate.
- Ty Seidule, Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner's Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause (2020), p. 66-67
- In 1958, Charlottesville and Norfolk schools as well as those in Prince Edward and Warren Counties closed by order of the governor. Thousands of schoolchildren went without education for half a decade so Virginia could, once again, maintain its racial code. The general assembly also created a voucher system using public funds to allow white parents to send their children to private schools. The federal courts ruled the closures and the vouchers unconstitutional, but Harry Byrd would not give up. He tried to persuade Governor Almond to call out the National Guard. One unverified account of the meeting suggests Byrd ordered Almond to shoot children if necessary. Almond allegedly replied, "I'll do it, Harry, if you put it in writing." White supremacists rarely give up their power without a fight. Almond finally relented, and token integration began peacefully in February 1959.
- Ty Seidule, Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner's Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause (2020), p. 67