harry byrd jr.By Peter Galuszka

One of the most important figures who defined much of what was wrong with Virginia in the 20th century has died at age 98.

Harry F. Byrd Jr., the son of the man who set up the one-party system of control in the state smitten with the democratic ideals of  Thomas Jefferson, passed away in Winchester, the small town at the tip of the state where publishing little newspapers and growing apples somehow became the launching pad for great political clout.

Byrd was a three-term U.S. Senator best known for supporting Massive Resistance against court-ordered school integration and maintaining a limited government dogma that gave Virginia attractively low taxes but has starved the state for revenues as it grew.

Otherwise, Byrd, who grew up as a child of the privileged elite partly in the Richmond Executive Mansion where his famous father was governor, did little.

He was famous for introducing very few bills on Capitol Hill, other than ones supporting a rollback of a moratorium of chromium ore controlled by the white-controlled government of Rhodesia and letting the late Confederate General Robert E. Lee become an American citizen again.

Otherwise, his role seemed to be playing patrician and supporting a Virginia controlled by an elite of white men. Hardly a visionary, he was a naysayer who helped split the Democratic Party after the turmoil of the 1960s.

While many newcomers to Virginia hardly know his name, Byrd has his apologists. The Richmond Times-Dispatch saw fit to print his obituary across half of its front page this morning. The newspaper, which until last year was controlled by the Bryan family which shared Byrd’s views, has been reeling for years from its association with Byrd.

Political reporter Jeff Schapiro, who wrote the obituary, described a scene in 1958 where TD publisher D. Tennant Bryan traveled to the Byrds’ Southern-fried estate to tell them that the newspaper was finally not supporting the Byrds’ Massive Resistance policies any more.

Note the irony:  A supplicant publisher must travel to the mansion to apologize and tell the Big Men in the white suits that the newspaper can’t be racist any more. It is amazing what the TD will do to rewrite its history. But it is important for Virginia to hold to the real version and remember the Byrds for who they really were.

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8 responses to “The Death of Harry F. Byrd Jr.”

  1. larryg Avatar

    Oh come on guys..surely someone as something to say here….

  2. DJRippert Avatar

    Racists should not be honored. Rt 7 in Fairfax and Loudoun Counties should not be named Harry F Byrd Highway. It is wrong.

  3. MoiraEve Avatar

    Great article, Peter! You said about the only honest thing anybody will say about Harry F. Bryd, Jr. and his legacy.

  4. Larry, I know very little about the late Senator. Nothing to say, except RIP.

  5. @TMT/others… here’s an article on the FHWA website…. about Byrd and his role in Virginia roads. it explains a lot …


  6. wesghent Avatar

    Those of us over 70 remember the Byrd method pretty well. White , male and repressive all the way. If you think it doesn’t linger in places like Norfolk, think again. Harry jr. had one qualification: his old man owned the playing field and the ball. Women and blacks were excluded, along with anyone who didn’t kiss Harry’s ring. Massive resistance became the classic case of modern bigotry, and Richmond Newspapers’ owners and one editor, j.j.kilpatrick, sold it all across the South. Norfolk’s Virginian-Pilot refused to go along, and won a Pulitzer for its editorials. The General Assembly has tried to punish Norfolk ever since, and has succeeded in fund-denying ways. No road money is the worst case, blocking port traffic and stalling the entire state. The Byrds were Democrats, but their successors are today’s odd-ball Republicans, with their no-tax pledges and pseudo-moral stands on abortions, marriages and other individual rights. The cost of their reign has been great, as were the monarchies of old. But no petty thieves in office, back then … .

  7. thanks for sharing… the provided link tells a lot more about Byrd than just his influence on roads.

    He would be a Tea Party type today with the exception of the gas tax.

    He did not believe in big govt – opposed the New Deal, helped kill the CCC, etc … EXCEPT when it came to roads.

    He claims credit for the Shenandoah Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway which the Fed govt paid for – if the State govt acquired the land. Something modern Conservatives would have nothing to do with but he did because he believed in roads.

    His support of gas taxes was base on his views of pay-as-you-go rather than using bonds that had to be paid back with other taxes.

    He is the guy that had the state take over all roads – only one of four states to do so and his support was in part because he believed that farm-to-market-roads would help farmers get their goods to market and help companies get their products to farmers.

    But Byrd opposed the New Deal .. and I’m not sure if that included opposition to the rural electrification program – which would have had similar benefits to farm-to-market roads.

    so part of what I get from learning about Byrd is his paradoxical almost arbitrary beliefs in what govt should do and not do – in part not only whether should do something at all but almost as important, if govt was going to do it – whether it should be the Fed or the State.

    even then his views seemed contradictory –

    he believed the Fed got should collect gas taxes and give them back to the states… seems totally inexplicable…

    and as said before, he aligned himself with racists – just as some modern day conservatives seems to (or at least seem to have no problem with racists in their party, will not publically denounce them, etc).

    but what you cannot say about Byrd – is that he played no role in Va and roads. good, bad and ugly, he certainly did.

    but alas he was also a chauvinist as well as a racist.

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