Harry Byrd never left the Democratic party, but he refused to support its nominees in the last seven presidential elections. His states’ rights fetish in effect took the Mother of Presidents out of the mainstream of our national politics. This great disservice culminated in 1956 when Virginia, which might have set an example for the South in civilized adjustment to the school desegregation decision, instead embarked on its doomed campaign of “massive resistance.” The scars are on the literacy of Prince Edward County to this day.
Then good Harry Byrd:
Harry Byrd will be honored in our history not for his mistaken ideology, but for two other things. He was a watchdog of the Treasury and a foe of waste. But before he went to the Senate, Byrd was also (1926–30) one of the best governors Virginia ever had. He streamlined its departments, modernized its roads and passed the first tough antilynching law in the South. In Virginia and in every other state there will always be too few, not too may, Harry Byrds.
Almost fifty years on, do we still feel that way?