Benjamin Muse was born in Durham, North Carolina, on April 17, 1898, and was educated at Trinity College (now Duke University) and George Washington University. He volunteered under the British flag in World War I (1914–1918), after which he served fourteen years as a diplomat with the U.S. State Department. In 1935, Muse won election to the Senate of Virginia as a Democrat from Petersburg. After initially supporting the, however, he began to oppose the policies of U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1936, he resigned his seat in the face of heavy Democratic criticism, ran again as an Independent, and lost. He received the 1941 nomination for governor with a platform of abolishing the , among other liberal reforms, but lost to the Democratic nominee, After enlisting in the U.S. Army during World War II (1939–1945), Muse moved to Manassas with his family and began publishing a small newspaper. In the 1950s, as the civil rights movement accelerated the campaign against legal segregation, Muse achieved national renown through his “Virginia Affairs” column in the Washington Post and his commentary on southern racial politics in liberal magazines such as the Nation and the New Republic.
After the Brown decision, Benjamin Muse labeled himself a “fighting moderate” who advocated the “invaluable process of gradualism” in order to save public education while complying in good faith with court-ordered integration. When Virginia’s political leaders instead adopted the Massive Resistance policy of closing public schools to evade Brown, Muse denounced their actions as “impetuous, immoral, and dangerous.” He called racial integration a “matter of conscience and Christian principles” and repeatedly attacked influential segregationists such as Byrd and James J. Kilpatrick, editor of the Richmond News Leader. At the same time, Muse lamented that leaders of the National Association of Colored People (NAACP) had become “uncompromising and unrealistic advocates of sweeping,” especially by pushing for prompt action in rural . In an effort to resurrect the middle ground, he proposed to begin integration immediately in the cities of northern and western Virginia, which he hoped would be a peaceful demonstration that would eventually reduce the fierce segregationist resistance in the Southside and Tidewater areas.
In the autumn of 1958, white opponents of Massive Resistance formed the Virginia Committee for Public Schools, evidence of the political uprising of formerly “silent moderates” that Muse had been predicting since the beginning of the crisis. After Governorclosed public schools in Charlottesville, Front Royal, and Norfolk, state and federal courts struck down Virginia’s Massive Resistance policies in January 1959. Muse quickly wrote a book, Virginia’s Massive Resistance (1961), to counsel white leaders in other southern states that defiance of the Supreme Court would not succeed. Between 1959 and 1964, as head of the Southern Leadership Project established by the Southern Regional Council, Muse traveled across the region, advocating voluntary compliance in visits with hundreds of political and civic leaders. Muse initially believed that moderate white leaders acting in good faith could bring about peaceful and meaningful school desegregation, but by the mid-1960s he had recognized that pressure from civil rights groups and intervention by the federal courts were also necessary to defeat Jim Crow.
Benjamin Muse continued to chronicle the civil rights movement through the 1960s, writing two works, Ten Years of Prelude (1964) and The American Negro Revolution (1968). In 1982 he published a memoir The Twentieth Century As I Saw It. He died inon May 4, 1986.
- Virginia’s Massive Resistance (1961)
- Ten Years of Prelude (1964)
- The American Negro Revolution (1968)
- The Twentieth Century As I Saw It (1982)