Twenty-One Frauds and Fables of the Virginia Gentleman

1)   Virginians Have Inherited A Rational And Gracious Society              

2)  The Virginia Gentleman is Defined by Breeding and Character       

3)  The Virginia Gentleman is Frank and Decent       

4) Virginia’s Agrarian Tradition Has Always Meant Respect For The Environment       

5) The First Virginia Gentlemen Were Skilled Masters Of Theirs And Others’ Destinies       

6)  Washington, Jefferson and Madison and Their Generation were Unique Leaders in the World
History of Democracy and Liberty                     

7) Slavery in Virginia Was the Good Kind of Slavery              

8)  Virginia’s Whites Stood Together for the Southern Way of Life       

9)  African-Americans were Bystanders During the Decades of Increasing Sectional Division Leading to the Civil War       

10)  White Virginia Rightfully Cherished a Noble Lost Cause                     

11)  Virginia’s Women were Quiet Handmaidens to Men, Not a Countervailing Force              

12) Virginia’s African-Americans Have Been Kinda Quiet Since the War              

13) Virginia’s Native People Vanished Long Ago, Replaced By Whites And Blacks              

14) Modern Virginia Conservatism Expresses Traditional Christian Values              

15) Modern Virginia Conservatism Has No Links to Slave-Holders

16) Modern Virginia Conservatism Has Broken with the Jim Crow Past              

17)  Today’s Virginia Politics Is Colorblind       

18)  Virginia Politics is Exceptionally Clean and Fair, Thanks to Virginia Tradition       

19) Virginia Is and Always Has Been Fair and Moderate in Punishing Crime                            

20) Virginia Owes No Reparations For Its Past              

21) A Radical Scalawag Like Larry Yates Might be Amusing, But He’s not Objective, and
He Has Nothing of Real Value to Say About Virginia      

A Section from “Modern Virginia Conservatism Has Broken with the Jim Crow Past”


Unlike many political bosses, Harry Byrd preferred to present himself as a quiet and dignified country
gentleman. This, of course, was posturing. Byrd inherited relatively little wealth, and was first a hard-nosed businessman and then a self-serving politician. But the image was consistent with the centuries of posturing by
Virginia Gentlemen and their phony claims to aristocracy. Everyone knew how hard Harry labored to get and keep control of Virginia. But even when he was alive, it was offensive to say these things out loud. 


It is particularly offensive, of course, to mention the orgy of racism that marked the end of his regime – the Massive Resistance campaign. After all, unlike many politicians of the Deep South, Byrd “did not use disparaging, condescending or rabble-rousing racial language,” as biographer Ronald Heinemann noted in Harry
Byrd of Virginia.
Virginia had a much smaller active Klan presence than most Southern states, and even lynchings were less common than in other parts of the region. (As noted elsewhere, this does not mean crimes, or what looked like crimes to Byrd’s people, went unpunished. Virginia has an especially cruel prison system, and certainly did so under Byrd.)


The Byrd machine, like all smart political machines, used the carrot as well as the stick, and many Virginians, not just white ones, got enough from the machine to make it worthwhile not to protest. 


However, by the 1950s, as Virginia changed demographically and thus politically, Byrd’s political machine depended more and more on the votes of Southside Virginia – tobacco country, Nat Turner’s old stomping grounds – and the core of segregationist sentiment. Clearly, this influenced Byrd’s actions of those years. 


Perhaps understanding that he was losing control,  in the face of school integration Byrd abandoned the calm demeanor that had marked his long career. Heinemann wrote of Byrd’s thinking in 1957, “His hyperbolic statements about villainous federal judges, a ruthless president, and an apocalyptic vision of the end of segregation were the delusions of an embittered, frustrated man whose world was collapsing around him.”


The supposedly charming, reasonable and dignified Harry F. Byrd showed himself as what he was – a man unwilling to give up his political power, and equally unwilling to give up the Jim Crow system he had grown up with.