Author: Ronald L. Heinemann

an Emeritus Professor of history at Hampden-Sydney College
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Tyler, James Hoge (1846–1925)

James Hoge Tyler was a successful farmer and cattle rancher who parlayed his reputation as “the farmer’s friend” into a political career, serving as a member of the Senate of Virginia (1877–1879), lieutenant governor (1890–1894), and governor of Virginia(1898–1902). Tyler served at a tumultuous time in Virginia politics, as the Readjuster movement shook the political order only to fall to a reinvigorated conservative Democratic coalition that would dominate the state until well into the twentieth century. Despite the drama of the era, Tyler was a conciliatory gentleman politician of the old school who was elected to the governorship largely due to his fortuitous backing of free silver. He lacked the political skills or ruthlessness to make a mark in a time dominated by political rings, railroad money, and divisive rhetoric.

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Trinkle, E. Lee (1876–1939)

E. Lee Trinkle served in the Senate of Virginia (1916–1922) and as governor of Virginia (1922–1926). Born in Wytheville and educated at Hampden-Sydney College and the University of Virginia, Trinkle practiced law in his hometown before beginning his political career. He served first in the Senate of Virginia as a Democrat and moderate Progressive who supported prohibition and woman suffrage. Although Trinkle ran a failed campaign for Congress and boasted only a modest legislative record, circumstances conspired to make him a compromise choice for governor in 1922. His term was notable for his struggle with up-and-coming Harry F. Byrd over control of the state Democratic Party. The primary issue was funding for the state highway system. Trinkle preferred bonds and Byrd preferred what became his signature “pay-as-you-go” method. Voters overwhelmingly defeated a $50 million bond issue in 1923, essentially curtailing Trinkle’s aspirations for higher political office. Trinkle signed the Racial Integrity Act in 1924, supported the New Deal under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and served as chairman of the state Board of Education from 1930 until his death, in Richmond, in 1939.

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Spong, William Belser Jr. (1920–1997)

William Belser Spong Jr. was a Virginia lawyer and politician who served in the House of Delegates (1954–1955), the Senate of Virginia (1956–1966), and the United States Senate (1966–1973). He was born in Portsmouth on September 29, 1920, to William Belser Spong and Emily Nichols Spong. He attended public schools in Portsmouth and attended Hampden-Sydney College before receiving a law degree from the University of Virginia in 1947. Spong served in the 93rd Bomber Group of the Eighth Air Force during World War II (1939–1945). He was admitted to the Virginia Bar in 1947 and practiced law in Portsmouth. At the same time he lectured in law and government at the College of William and Mary.

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Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park in the northern Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia was created in 1926 to preserve an area of natural beauty and provide recreational opportunities for the people in the surrounding region. Long populated by Siouan- and Iroquoian-speaking Indians, the area was first opened for settlement by whites early in the eighteenth century. When the National Park Service expressed an interest in a park in the Appalachian Mountains, a group of Virginia businessmen, in league with then-state senator Harry F. Byrd Sr., championed a “skyline” drive through the Blue Ridge. Byrd’s fund-raising and administrative skills proved to be crucial to the project, especially in the wake of dwindling federal support during the Great Depression. The 160,000-acre park (which has since grown to almost 200,000 acres) was dedicated in 1936 and the Skyline Drive completed in 1939.

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Secretariat (1970–1989)

Secretariat was an American thoroughbred considered one of the greatest of all American racehorses. Best known for winning in 1973 horse racing’s Triple Crown—the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes—Secretariat was the first horse to accomplish that feat in twenty-five years and one of only twelve horses ever to do so. Twenty years after his death, Secretariat still holds the Kentucky Derby track record.

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Robertson, A. Willis (1887–1971)

A. Willis Robertson served in the Senate of Virginia (1916–1922), the United States House of Representatives (1933–1946), and the United States Senate (1946–1966). His career closely paralleled that of his friend and mentor, Harry F. Byrd, the leader of the Democratic Party in Virginia. They were born within two weeks of each other and only a few streets apart in Martinsburg, West Virginia, in 1887. They began their service in the Virginia state senate on the same day in 1916, and arrived at the United States Congress—Byrd to the Senate, Robertson to the House—on the same day in 1933. Though he stood with Byrd on many issues, including civil rights, Robertson asserted his independence from Byrd’s political machine, the Byrd Organization, throughout his twenty-year senatorial career. Robertson differed from Byrd in his views on foreign policy and in his support of Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and 1956; in addition, Robertson was not a strong supporter of Byrd’s Massive Resistance policy. In 1966 Robertson lost his Senate seat to William B. Spong, a more liberal Democrat from Portsmouth.

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Pollard, John Garland (1871–1937)

John Garland Pollard was a progressive Democrat who served as delegate to the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1901–1902, attorney general of Virginia (1914–1918), and governor (1930–1934). Handpicked by Harry F. Byrd Sr. to be his gubernatorial successor, Pollard left a legacy as governor that was clouded by the fact that he took office on the eve of the Great Depression. While independent-minded, Pollard was never able to get fully out from under the thumb of Byrd (supposedly he would remark while patting his belly that he had become so rotund by “swallowing the Byrd machine“). Byrd’s control over Pollard and Virginia’s political environment was particularly evident in the initiative to legalize alcohol when Byrd went around Pollard to senator William M. Tuck to gather the General Assembly together in order to push through a state referendum to repeal Prohibition and establish the state-run Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. Outside of politics, Pollard was an educator and member of several public and philanthropic commissions and organizations. As a practicing attorney, he wrote Pollard’s Code of Virginia, which became an often-consulted reference work on the laws of Virginia. He also served briefly as a professor of constitutional law and history at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg. In 1936 Pollard helped to found the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, the first state art museum in the United States, and served as president of the museum’s board of directors.

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Peery, George Campbell (1873–1952)

George Campbell Peery, a Democratic ally of Harry F. Byrd Sr., served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives (1923–1929) and as governor of Virginia (1934–1938). Peery made his first mark on Virginia’s political map and brought a great victory to the Democratic Party when he wrested control of Southwest Virginia’s “Fighting Ninth” Congressional District from two decades of Republican occupation. As Byrd’s handpicked choice to replace outgoing governor John Garland Pollard, Peery instituted a number of reforms and policies of lasting impact. A Byrd Organization disciple, Peery valued economic thrift and small government, but was not afraid to support more progressive policies when they were politically and economically advantageous. He advocated, for instance, increased funding for public education and recommended that the state adopt an unemployment insurance plan. Peery also created the Department of Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control to regulate alcohol sales and consumption in a post-prohibition Virginia.

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New Deal in Virginia

In March 1933, the newly inaugurated president of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a Democrat, addressed the problems created by the Great Depression by announcing a vast array of federal programs that came to be known as the New Deal. During the first 100 days of his administration, a Democratic Congress created the “alphabet agencies” (so called because of their well-known abbreviations) to deal with unemployment, economic stagnation, low farm prices, and home and farm foreclosures.

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Moton School Strike and Prince Edward County School Closings

On April 23, 1951, students at Robert Russa Moton High School in the town of Farmville, in Prince Edward County, walked out of school to protest the conditions of their education, which they claimed were vastly inferior to those enjoyed by white students at nearby Farmville High School. The strike, led by student Barbara Johns, is considered by many historians to signal the start of the desegregation movement in America and resulted in a court case that was later bundled with other, similar cases into Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Brown by mandating public-school desegregation, and Virginia state leaders responded with an official policy of Massive Resistance. When, on January 19, 1959, both a federal and a state court simultaneously ruled the state’s actions unconstitutional, the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors closed its public schools rather than integrate them. They stayed shuttered for five years. Another U.S. Supreme Court decision—Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward—finally forced the county’s schools to reopen in 1964.

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