You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

Dick Hall-Sizemore

As a life-long resident of Virginia for seven decades (there, I have said it), I have seen many changes.  Occasionally, reminders of these changes are especially striking. One of those stark reminders occurred about 10 years ago. I was sitting in on a General Assembly committee meeting in which the Chief Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court gives sort of an annual report to the legislature. The Chief Justice at the time was Leroy Hassell, the first black chief justice. It suddenly hit me: Wow! The Chief Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court, an imposing black man! Virginia has really come a long way over the last 30-40 years.

I just finished a remarkable book that brought more reminders. The book is We Face the Dawn: Oliver Hill, Spotswood Robinson, and the Legal Team That Dismantled Jim Crow by Margaret Edds. The author combines the best of two worlds: thorough and detailed scholarly research and the writing of a journalist.

Growing up in Halifax County during most of the events described in the book, I was oblivious to most of what was going on. Of course, I have since become aware of the general history, but, it was good to get into the details and have my many misconceptions corrected.

Of course, I was aware, if subconsciously, of the prevailing atmosphere and attitudes of whites in Virginia in the 1950s that Edds describes: blacks were inferior, separation of the races was natural, the NACCP was evil, Northerners were trying to destroy the Southern way of life, etc.  I absorbed those attitudes and, to my chagrin, it was not until my senior year in high school that, at the prodding of the girl that later became my wife, I began to shed them.

Today, there has been a sea change. In Halifax County, the newspapers extol the achievements of black, as well as white, students. A few years ago, a black circuit court judge was honored upon his retirement. It is not uncommon to see mixed-race couples in the shopping center or in the restaurants.

In Richmond’s Capitol Square, the changes are on dramatic display. In one corner, there is a statute of Harry Byrd, the architect of Massive Resistance, followed by several statutes of Civil War figures. Then in the opposite corner from Byrd is the large, striking memorial to the black Prince Edward County students who led the school walkout that resulted in the case that was part of the historic Supreme Court desegregation decision. That memorial includes a sculpture of Oliver Hill and Spotswood Robinson, the black Richmond lawyers who were part of the inner circle of lawyers who worked for decades with the NAACP to overturn the Jim Crow laws that Harry Byrd defended. Down the hill from the Civil Rights memorial is a state office building named for Oliver Hill. Across the street from Capitol Square and the Byrd statute is a state office building named for Barbara Johns, the student leader of the Prince Edward school walkout.

Although Virginia still has problems and shortcomings, as are pointed out daily on this blog, there is no question that the Commonwealth is reinventing itself in the 21st Century.

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14 responses to “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    Re: ” Although Virginia still has problems and shortcomings, as are pointed out daily on this blog, there is no question that the Commonwealth is reinventing itself in the 21st Century.”

    You are a compassionate soul Dick – but too generous!

    I was born and largely raised in Va (Marine Brat) and have lived here since I finished high school – the better part of 70 years – many in Spotsylvania , some in Caroline… born in Norfolk, and like probably Dick did – went to a segregated high school and was well aware of the way that black folks were treated and too many white folks were just fine with it – were “proud” of their “southern heritage”… and all that ROT!

    But what amazes me is the number of folks that I know that lived in Virginia that just “don’t remember” all this “bad” stuff going on .. it certainly hasn’t been well taught in the schools and the often second thought/expression that ” I was not responsible for any of that – it was before my time”.

    Then we’ve had this ridiculous concept, now thoroughly discredited that we live in a “post racial” society – oh wait… NOW… it’s “identity politics” like it was not in the Jim Crow era and well after it even after the Civil Rights Act had to be written to essentially disown our own Constitution and Supreme Court “rulings” on race.

    Thank you, Dick.

    I have little patience for today’s “deniers” of our awful race history and even modern day adherents – both white supremacy and closet racists who couch their words, but they are unmistakable in sentiment..

    “We” are changing, yes – especially in places like NoVa but in a lot of RoVa – we’re still separated by church and ironically by schools.

  2. Oliver Hill and Spotswood Robinson are Virginia heroes, and I’m glad to see that the state is formally memorializing their contributions in tearing down Jim Crow and moving Virginia toward its founding vision of equal rights for all. Just a thought. Martin Luther King Day is an official state holiday. Couldn’t we create more name recognition for our home-town heroes by renaming it King-Hill-Robinson day?

    1. djrippert Avatar

      And the Byrd Machine tried desperately to have Hill and Spotswood disbarred. Yet the plaque that accompanies the statue of Harry Byrd says only, “governmental restraint and programs in the best interest of all the people of Virginia.”

      Interesting that Dick read a book by Margaret Edds but doesn’t mention Edds’ distaste for the statue of Harry F Byrd and, especially, for the plaque omitting all of the horrible behavior by Byrd and the other members of Virginia’s plantation society elite during the Byrd Machine’s reign of terror.

      Here’s a good Op-Ed by Margaret Edds and Robert Brink from earlier this year to set the record straight ….

      Jim – you weren’t raised in Virginia’s plantation society. You know better than to stand idly by while our plantation society elites put up a statue of Harry Byrd with a plaque that ignores the rat bastard’s actual record of racism. Personally, I’d like to see the statue of Byrd taken down. There have been plenty of Virginia governors. Only Virginia’s plantation society elites would pick that particular governor to honor.

      1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
        Dick Hall-Sizemore

        Edds did not discuss the Byrd statue specifically in her book. She did cover all the other machinations by the Byrd machine that are mentioned in the newspaper column, however. And I think that was my point–the state has come a long way since that time, which does not seem so long ago.

        1. djrippert Avatar

          It doesn’t seem that long ago at all. 1976 is within the easy living memory of just about everybody on this blog. That’s when the powers that be decided to erect a statue in front of the oldest continually operating legislature in the western hemisphere of Harry F Byrd.

          Even today the courts are striking down Virginia’s gerrymandered political districts because they seem racially motivated.

          A pipeline compression station is being run through a black community when the surrounding area is very sparsely populated. It couldn’t have been placed elsewhere?

          There are 101 schemes to help economically disadvantaged rural (read almost all white) Virginia but very little talk of helping inner city (read almost all black) Virginia.

          In 1971 in the conclusion of his book Virginia: The New Dominion Viginius Dabney wrote:

          “In almost every area – political, racial, educational, industrial and cultural – Virginia has entered a new era. The Byrd Machine is defunct and the state’s politics have become fluid and uncertain. The racial situation has been totally transformed.”

          That was written in 1971. Five years later a statue of a racist would be erected in Richmond. Fourteen years later our governor, at age 25, would appear at a party in blackface with a date dressed in klan robes. 46 years later there would be a white supremacist riot in Charlottesville where an innocent woman would be murdered. The white supremacists would be led by two Virginians, both graduates of the University of Virginia – Jason Kessler and Richard Spenser (born in Boston but a resident of Virginia).

          I’d say Mr. Dabney was a bit premature in his declaration of the racial situation being totally transformed.

  3. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Nice try, Dick, but the Left won’t let that argument go unchallenged four weeks before an election (and then we’re into 2020….). I’ve got about 55 years of Virginia time and family roots here to before the Revolution, and I have no illusions about the attitudes or practices of my Virginia ancestors (Democrats all….). My parents worked hard to break the cycle and I like to think they did. I went through the integration of my Roanoke high school and worked on trying to make that peaceful (it wasn’t totally.) I love this Northside Richmond neighborhood I live in. The glass half-full or half-empty argument is useless, as is arguing over the direction of the waterline. There are too many vested interests involved, too many votes to be swayed. A rational discussion is impossible.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      I don’t think the “cycle” has been “broken” much less the problem “fixed”.

      We have continuing significant problems in Virginia that are due to race – not the least is rampant poverty, terrible schools for low-income folks and jails with twice or three times as many blacks as their demographic percentages, and we STILL have people who say these problems are because people are members of the black race.

      It’s NOT Hate to make a hard point about this as pushback to those who insist it’s been “fixed” and it’s just more “victim grievance”, “identity politics”, virtue-signaling, etc… those words and phrases show not only a refusal to admit the problem but actually advocacy against it.

      I do not hate people who have this problem – but I will say what it is as long as we have folks who insist that it’s not a problem and then demonize those who say it still is.

      Elections will fix this for those who refuse to deal with the realities but it takes time and this may not be the cycle when it happens – but it will.

      Again – DJ has strong views, well articulated, often sarcastically but that’s not “hate”. And calling out the realities we still have with regard to race is not “hate” either. That’s actually how Virginia initially started to recognize it’s terrible race issue – with folks speaking out about it – and taking heat for doing it.

  4. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Well, he leapfrogged me (jerk), but with his truly nasty comment about our former governor and senator Rippert has made my point. You get it now, Dick? Don’t even go there. The ugliness, hate and discontent has overtaken this blog, and once again (Peter using the S word the other day…..)

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      Yes, I agree, Steve.

      Rabid hate is always ugly, and disgusting, and it comes in all disguises, but you always know it when you see it pop to the surface, after its lays hidden, but festering.

      1. djrippert Avatar

        And acceptance of racists and racism comes in all disguises but you know it when you see it pop to the surface, always after it lays hidden, but festering.

        That statue of Harry F Byrd is a monument to racism in Virginia.

        Reasonable people can debate Robert E Lee’s motivations for leading the Confederacy. There can be little debate about Harry F Byrd’s motivations relative to Massive Resistance. It was racism, pure and simple. Erecting a statue to an obvious racist in front of the General Assembly’s meeting place in 1976 says all that needs to be said about relatively modern Virginia.

    2. djrippert Avatar

      Ahh – how much fun it must be for you Richmond types to spout about “the real Virginia” in the Richmond area. How much fun it must be to spout about “occupied Virginia” in NoVa. Or the bizarre habit of suburban Richmonders claiming that NoVa is nothing but a series of strip malls (as compared to Midlothian, say). But when somebody starts calling out the long horrific history of racism, disenfranchisement, economic barbarism and other assorted crimes against Virginians perpetrated by the Richmond elite it is suddenly ugly, hateful commentary.

      1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        This comment of mind was earlier misplaced. Don, you are a variant of the KKK, living in a fantasy world fueled by your own self hate. You need to get beyond it.

  5. See that’s the unique thing: everyone here is a lifer. I talk to my state senator he is talking about his family here for 200+ years. That’s the central feature of Virginia politics/tax policy, as far as I can see. Yes those Northerners ruining the South, so let’s be mad at NoVA transplants and make them pay 95% of Va. state taxes. Good thing we are blue up here, so all is fair if you tax us extra, it is OK.

    1. djrippert Avatar

      In Virginia you have to imagine an area within the state. The endpoints are Richmond, Lynchburg, due south from Lynchburg to the NC border and the state line between Virginia and Maryland on the Eastern Shore. Inside those lines (counting the endpoints) is plantation Virginia. This is where Virginia draws its plantation society elite. The elite in plantation Virginia will look you in the eye and insist they are descendants of Pocahontas. They are deluded.
      They will wax poetic about the glory of the first families of Virginia and the deep affection they have for the Lost Cause. You know – the War of Northern Aggression, The Second Revolution, The Battle for States’ Rights. They are narcissistic. The elite from this area never let facts cloud their thinking. For example, they’ll tell you that Northerners invading Northern Virginia tipped the state from red to blue. Just ask them. They afre often wrong but never in doubt. Then ask them how that applied to recently bright red Henrico County – which is now quite blue. They’ll stare down into their bourbon and branch water and silently think happier thoughts. Thoughts of the days before the carpetbaggers came and rewrote the state constitution to actually allow for blacks to vote, as expressly required by the US Constitution. Good thing those carpetbaggers went back home and the plantation elite could write the 1902 constitution. In 1900 blacks made up 36% of the electorate. Then came the 1902 constitution written by Carter Glass and other members of the plantation elite. In succeeding elections the Virginia electorate was reduced by nearly half due to the literacy tests, poll taxes and other racist measures put into the 1902 constitution. Voter turnout in Virginia would not return to 1900 levels until 1952 when the state was twice the size it was in 1900. But just ask any of the plantation elite about the horrors of the carpetbaggers and their 1870 constitution. Hell, they may call you a carpetbagger for being from the North.

      The plantation elite once were Democrats but became Republicans when those nasty Kennedy boys started corrupting the Democratic Party – even in the South! They built the statue of racist Harry F Byrd, put it on Capitol Square and wonder why anybody from outside the plantation area finds that odd.

      In Virginia there are lifers from inside the plantation area and lifers from outside the plantation area. The Founding Fathers were almost entirely from outside the plantation area. I’ve always suspected the people of the revolutionary era from inside the plantation area were secretly Tories. Lord knows, they still seem to love the aristocracy of Dillon’s Rule and seeing those of us from the hinterlands paying alms to the rulers in Richmond.

      But like all bloated oligarchies the plantation society elites are dying. They physically lost Kentucky then West Virginia as fair minded people fled the aristocracy of asshats in Richmond. Now they’ve effectively lost most of the rest of the state. This November will be their final undoing. Maybe they’ll seek to secede from the rest of what is today’s Virginia. But to do that they’ll need a new state name. Kleptopolis? New Confederacy? Plantationia?

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