On this day in 1939, just two months before the start of World War II in Europe, the United States secretary of the Navy died in office. He was Claude Augustus Swanson, of the Swansons of Swansonville in Pittsylvania County. Made their money in tobacco, and in tobacco they lost it. Claude, meanwhile, went into politics. He was successful, which meant he was a Democrat and so right and tight with the Organization, as they called it, run first by Thomas Staples Martin and then by Harry F. Byrd (the elder).
Politics were different back then. Swanson could at once preside over the widespread disenfranchisement of African American voters in Virginia and take credit for some of the most important progressive reforms in state history. Ah, those were the days …
A version of this post was originally published on July 7, 2011.
IMAGE: Secretary Swanson (center) in 1937