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Colgate Whitehead Darden, Jr. began his law practice in Norfolk in 1922, was governor of Virginia from 1942-1946, president of University of Virginia, Charlottesville from 1947-1959, chairman of the Commission on Goals for Higher Education in the South in 1961. This second interview discusses Darden's background, his impressions of Norfolk throughout the years, his political career, Virginia politics, his thoughts on Billy Prieur and the Byrd organization, many of the people he dealt with during his political career, and massive resistance.

Oral History Interview

August 23, 1978
By James R. Sweeney
Old Dominion University
RealAudio Interview Listen to Interview

See also April 7, 1975 Interview


Sweeney: This is James Sweeney of the Archives of Old Dominion University and I'm talking with former Governor Colgate W. Darden this morning on the 23rd of August in 1978. We're going to talk today about some aspects of Governor Darden's life that we haven't spoken about in other interviews or haven't been treated in other media. First of all, Governor Darden, could you tell me about your boyhood back in Southampton County in the early 1900's?

Darden: I grew up on a farm in Southampton County. It had been my mother's home and grandfather's home. I was born in '97, of course. I went to public school in Franklin, Virginia which is three miles away (a little over three miles away) from my home. It was before the day of the automobile in the country down with us .... And life was very much more leisurely than it is now, I expect more difficult; although, it did not seem so to us as children growing up. I had a brother and a sister. It's hard to think now that we passed through a happy childhood with so little knowledge of the depravation that the country as a whole and southern states were going through.

Sweeney: Why did you decide to enlist in the French Armed Forces before the U.S. actually entered the war back in 1917?

Darden: Well, I think it was romanticism in a way. It was a feeling that was general in the country then that actually we were moving toward the abolition of war. The great war-like power, Germany, was going to be destroyed or going to destroy us. But at the end of that black tunnel came along an uninterrupted period of peace, which of course didn't work out. This was enormously attractive to those of us who were growing up, because I imagine it was a feeling not unlike the crusades. Fortunately, it wasn't as fatal as the crusades or as devastating on western society as the crusades were. But that was about the state of mind.

Sweeney: In your own mind, back in those days, why did you think the United States should be involved in this war, or was it really more crusade than war?


Darden: Yes, I think that's exactly what it was. I think it was taking part in a worldwide movement for peace as we viewed it. A combination to put down barbarism, which had been blown up to a considerable extent by the skillful propaganda of the allies and in the United States especially. In our minds, not in truth (but in our minds), it was a crusade for decency against barbarism.

Sweeney: Decency won, but barbarism came back in the 1930's. You practiced law in Norfolk in the 1920's. I was wondering in what area of the law you specialized and if you think your legal work provided the basis for a career in politics?

Darden: Well, I was associated with Jim Barron, who was in the Senate here from Norfolk and who was an awfully good person. And his practice was general in nature, and mine was very meager really. I never did much practicing, though. What little I did was interesting. I suppose I was swept along in politics in a way because of my association with him and the political figures that moved in and out of our offices. His office was across the street from where we are now. It's the old Bank of Commerce building. There was a constant stream in and out and talking, and I just fell into it.

Sweeney: What do you remember the most about Norfolk in the 1920's?

Darden: The thing that I remember most about it was the serious Depression. The Naval operations were being shifted to the West Coast because of the growing apprehension in the United States -- the apprehension over the proper role of Japan in the Pacific -- and with the movement of the fighting forces here, Norfolk was plunged into Depression, a deep Depression, long before the Depression that swept the country at the end of '29, '30, '31. My memory of that and also the fact that with it all, it was a very pleasant and happy place in which to live. I knew a good many people here whom I had known at the University of Virginia when I was a student. Consequently, I had a circle of friends that were congenial and made for, now certainly, for very happy memories.

Sweeney: I'm very much interested in the 1928 presidential election in Virginia. I have read that you had 'stumped' the Second District for the Democratic candidate Al Smith. Well, let's take the first of the two questions on that. Could you tell me more about the 1928 campaign and why you became involved in it?

Darden: I became involved in it again because Jim Barron was involved in it, but also because I had grown up in the Democratic Party. My father was interested in the old Martin Organization that


ran Virginia for years. I used to hear him talk about it. He was very much interested in politics but never held any offices. I believe he was registrar in our county for a few years. I don't believe he held any other office. I was very doubtful about the prohibition thing. It was already apparent that the law was being violated, and also there was a great deal of mistreatment in it by the entrapment of people by the Federal and State authorities who were charged with the responsibility of enforcement. There were a number of cases in which there was no attempt made at enforcement. Police forces turned their backs in order that the rest of the population, not all of them, but a great many in the population would buy bootleg whiskey. Al Smith's position on that appealed to me. It was not overly popular in Virginia then. It was popular I think here in Norfolk, although there was bitter opposition to it. The enforcement people, the prohibition people, in Norfolk were awfully harsh in their judgments in those matters and wanted very stiff penalties passed out to people. In many cases they were poor white people or colored people who were caught in the thing. I felt the law ought to be changed.

Sweeney: I wonder how did the voters in the Second District react to Smith and to his being a Roman Catholic and to his views on Prohibition?

Darden: Well, they reacted about the way you would think back in those days. The fact that he was a Roman Catholic satisfied many of them, that he was an "itinerant representative of the devil," and that there wasn't anything that could be done possibly to come to terms with him. The campaign was a very bitter one. It got to be personal in many instances, and old friends split up over it. And then this bunch of roving hypocrites that always show up in elections of any kind in this country, who were trying to guess which side was the best one to get on, and ending up by being on both sides depending on where they happened to be. They made it a lively campaign but a bitter acrimonious undertaking. So, it shook the Second District, as it did the whole state, to its very foundation. And a great many of the Democrats went over and became Democrats for Hoover. Mr. Hoover was a good person and an able person, and he was just caught in a set of circumstances that no man could solve or cope with probably in late '29 or '30. He was personally of the opinion that Prohibition was workable and good. His attachment to it was, I think and have always thought, very genuine. I think Al Smith's feeling about it, well it more nearly went along with my feeling. We always feel those people are right who agree with us.


Sweeney: Do you think it was more of Smith's views on religion or his views on Prohibition that cost him the state that year?

Darden: No, I don't think so. I think that the fact that he was a Roman Catholic was just as damaging, and it was exploited to the extreme. I never will forget that along Granby Street, there were little kiosks set up with scenes from the Spanish Inquisition of the most horrible torture of people, the burning them at the stake, and the close relationship and direct relationship with the Catholic Church (Roman Catholic Church). Now the Republican high command, as I remember (it's been a long time ago), they denied their responsibility for them. And maybe the high command was not responsible for it, but there were enough solid Republicans riding that train who were responsible for it who should have known better than to do what they were doing. It was a heartless, cruel and false charge against Mr. Smith and the Democratic Party.

Sweeney: Did you know any Catholics, and could you gauge their reaction at that time?

Darden: No, I don't know them well enough to gauge it. So far as I can remember, they bore up reasonably well under it. Of course, the Catholic Church is very old and it's had experience in every field in the world long before the American continent was ever settled. They were an established organization dealing with the problems of mankind. I think they took it in their stride, but they resented it and resented it deeply, but there wasn't much that they could do about it. They were confronted with a group of people who thought they were saving civilization by destroying the Catholic Church. There have been those people, you know, from the beginning of history. Fortunately, they never have succeeded in their efforts, but they've been busy at it for a long time.

Sweeney: The clerk of corporation court in Norfolk, W. L. (Billy) Prieur, Jr., played a major role in your political career. Could you describe Mr. Prieur and discuss his significance in your life?

Darden: He was very significant. He was a very able political leader, and he was part and parcel of the old organization. He'd worked in the clerk's office after he left the University of Virginia. He took law there. I don't know whether he'd practiced law. He is a little bit older than I was. I don't know whether he practiced law or if he went in with Mr. Trehy, who was a political leader and a kind of boss of Norfolk, or not. But after Mr. Trehy's


death, he [Prieur] succeeded in power, and he ran the Norfolk organization for many years. He was a good organizer. He was a great friend of Harry Byrd, and he was a good organizer and an almost indefatigable worker. I was closely associated with him for many years. We finally drifted apart.

And the row here took place over Bob Baldwin and the effort in Norfolk to defeat Senator Baldwin, who had separated from us in Mr. Prieur's election, which was a very heavily contested one that took place shortly after I came back in 1959 from the University of Virginia where I had been president. I was helping Bob any way I could, and Bob was offended by some row over the collectorship in Norfolk, the details of which I never had the knowledge of because I wasn't close to it. But he sided up with the opposition and gave us quite a tussle. We came right close to being beaten, to my surprise. It never occurred to me we were in as much danger as it turned out we were. I think Billy Prieur did realize that we were on thin ice. He resented it very deeply and understandably so because he and Baldwin had been very close friends. So, when Baldwin's term came up next time, Billy had made up his mind that he was going to remove him from the Senate and set about with the machinery -- such machinery which was considerable that he control toward that end. Well, I felt that Bob Baldwin had not treated us well in the fight, and he ought not to have taken the side that he took. But I did not feel it was wise for us to turn down an individual who was a good Senator and a person of unimpeachable character, attachments and all, simply to pay off a political debt. And that's why we separated. Prieur was sure that once he [Baldwin] departed, he ought to be beaten, and that everybody ought to join in with him to help beat him. Many of us didn't join in with him, and Baldwin was re-elected. After that I think Prieur didn't lose control over his machine in Norfolk, but its effectiveness and his heart was not in it. He was bitterly disappointed at not being able to replace Baldwin and he was very disappointed at those of us who had not joined him in the campaign or in the crusade. But he was quite effective and an indefatigable worker.

Sweeney: Was he a Catholic?

Darden: No, no. He had been very prominent in the Baptist Church. He was an official out here in the church that you're looking at through the window there. Father Dozier officiated at his funeral, and that raised questions in peoples' minds as to whether or not he had become a convert in the last part of his life. I was not close enough to him to know anything about that.... Prieur was a very


self contained person. He was not given to discussing his affairs with anybody that I know of -- well certainly not with many people. It may be that he was always close to the Catholic Church because a great many people in his political organization were Catholics, and also he was a very great help to the Catholic hospitals here: St. Vincent DePaul -- [he was] on that Board for years and played a fine part in moving them out where they are at that splendid hospital they've got now. As far as I know he didn't change his faith, but about that I really have not enough knowledge to say.

Sweeney: Why did you decide to affiliate with the Byrd organization in Virginia politics?

Darden: Well, it was very easy for me because Byrd was inheritor of the old Martin Machine (the old organization outfit in Virginia). He was a great friend of Jim Barron within my practice. But here's another thing, I remember him as a young man coming over to the office there when he was getting ready to run for Governor. I'd just come back from Oxford, settled in Norfolk to practice law. Hugh Johnson, who was a political power in this area (Commissioner of the Revenue in Norfolk county), was a friend of Harry's, and he brought him over one day to see us, or to see Jim. I just happened to be there because I was in the office. Harry's idea that in the tremendous highway system that we were going to have to put in place, that we better move along slowly and not rely on a large bond issue, which might mean a great building of roads that would be outmoded in a few years. In the first place, we didn't know a lot about building roads, and the next place he felt that by a tax on gas set over to that purpose that we could raise money about as fast as we could spend it wisely. It was a theory of collecting by taxes what you needed to run the state, deeply embedded in the Virginia Constitution by that time because of the excess in colonial days. If you go back, you'll find that the question was raised or begun to be raised in the 1828 and '29 convention and then in '52, where the constitution of Virginia provided for sinking funds. It was a very pressing issue in the 1902 convention. Well, it was also re-enforced in the Underwood Convention, which set up an excellent public school system provided for in Virginia, as a matter of fact, a very forward looking one. In several respects, it was a very forward looking document drawn by the carpet baggers and unionists, because the Confederacy had been defeated. In 1902, it was extended even further. As time went on, Virginia moved more and more into it a considerable extent because of the influence of Harry and his hard work toward taking in whatever money you are going to spend.

Now the bond issue thing which had a good


deal of appeal and which people up in my home county favored because they were friendly with Mapp. General Vaughan, as I remember who was in the Senate then, was a friend of Senator Mapp and I think supported him. I'm not sure, but I think he supported him in the contest with Byrd. General Vaughan was a great good roads man. He worked at it very hard and very effectively. He thought that the thing to do was to go and bond the state and build roads on large scale, rather than attempting to build them piecemeal, which admittedly was a more expensive way to build them. I thought that a safer way, and I fell in with that. That really is the way I started off, and then I went along. Harry was state chairman in the Al Smith campaign and I fell in with that and went along and that just kept me in the organization. It was a congenial nice group. I enjoyed it very much. It was my preference in the ruling group in Virginia.

Sweeney: Then in 1932 you decided to seek the Democratic nomination for the U. S. House of Representatives from the Second District in Virginia. Why did you decide to run for Congress?

Darden: Well, there again that wasn't a hard decision, because the terrible depression had altered the whole political picture in the United States and in Virginia. Now we had a person representing us here who is one of the nicest fellows I have ever known, Menalcus Lankford. He came from an old Democratic family. But he was a Republican, I think largely because of his marriage. But there isn't any question about the number of friends he had and his fineness. He was a person of fine character and fine feeling. There wouldn't have been any chance in the world of beating him but for the fact that the country was just moving into a deep and terrible depression. People wanted a change. They didn't know me very well. I had been in the Assembly, but my accomplishments had been quite moderate. When I came out and got the nomination, it was very questionable as to whether I could win. I think that was the thing that influenced a good many people into letting me have the nomination. I think those who were older and more experienced and who had a better grip on politics around here would have grabbed it, but for the fact that they thought Mac Lankford would knock them off. And he would have in truth, [knocked] any of us off, but for the Depression. I got in Congress that way.

Sweeney: You had to run statewide, didn't you, in that election?

Darden: Well, I had to run statewide because in the redistricting act, the Supreme Court, just before the election (you remember), knocked it out. They said the state hadn't been districted


properly and that they wanted it redistricted. But they couldn't redistrict before we stood for election, and consequently -- because the President was being elected too then you know, and we had a good deal of the state working with him -- consequently, I ran along with the group statewide and was carried along by that group. The only thing that arose in connection with that is the difference in the party people. Here was my announcement that unless I could carry this District, I didn't propose to stay in Congress. I didn't want the seat unless I was the choice of the people that I was going to serve down here. They were very doubtful about that. They thought I might get beaten in this District, and still they knew I could win in the state, because the state was Democratic. But it worked out all right. All of us carried this District along with the other Districts in the state.

Sweeney: You mentioned about Menalcus Lankford. One other person I don't know too much about -- I've seen his name mentioned several times as the man that Lankford defeated -- Joseph T. Deal. Do you have any remembrances of Deal?

Darden: Oh yes, I have a good recollection of him. I worked for him on his political campaign. He was a very capable man. He'd been in business. He was a very successful business man. He was conservative but was not willing to go along with the Constitutional reforms that Byrd wanted put in. He was very much opposed to some of those, but he was a good representative. I think it was the division over the support of the Byrd forces plus the fact that the depression was setting in that made him vulnerable and Mac Lankford beat him.

Sweeney: Was it before the Al Smith campaign? He lost in 1928.

Darden: Yes, he supported Smith. Yes, that had something to do with it too. But also he didn't have the full support of the Virginia Organization because he had opposed the constitutional amendments a year or two before.

Sweeney: Now in 1936 near the completion of your second two year term, you were defeated by Norman Hamilton, the Portsmouth newspaper publisher. Could you tell me about Norman Hamilton, and why was he able to defeat you in that election?

Darden: He was a widely known political figure. He'd been Collector of the Port here back in the old days under Wilson. He owned the Portsmouth Star which is a


paper of sizable circulation. Also he was closely associated with the Norfolk newspapers. They were run by Colonel [?], who was the son-in-law Alvin Martin who had been the political boss in the old days of Norfolk County. He was a very industrious person. Also he earned a good deal of goodwill among the electorate, and rightly so I think, because of their feeling that I was not as enthusiastic a New Dealer as I might have been. That added to the fact that I was voting against Social Security and the Soldier's Bonus all added up to making me unacceptable. The case of the Soldier's Bonus was a very good one. Mr. Roosevelt had been very much opposed to it, and he had a number of us down in the White House standing with him about the thing. We stood with him, but he didn't stand with us. He ducked out on the thing when the going got rough. He didn't take the trouble to say anything to us about it, and the result was that we were very vulnerable on that. Then the Social Security is a tremendously interesting thing. There was some of us, not many in the House, who voted against because we said they weren't providing enough money to take care of the benefits they were going to pay. It never occurred to me I'll live to see the plan get into trouble as it is now and financial trouble, for the very reasons that we told them. It wouldn't have happened so quickly but for the fact that the Congress in each election year after '35 -- that's when we passed it -- have added to the benefits but have not been willing to impose the taxes to pay for them. It's a difficult trick of the Congress. And lastly, under it was a sly political trick but one that was utterly without foundation. But it was so effective and so slick that I could not help but to be amused by it. I never had any deep feelings about it. We were terribly pressed for employment down here then. The Navy Yard in Portsmouth had dropped down to probably about three thousand people and the effect was catastrophic. One of the great things that we had -- not a big thing -- but one of the great things we had was a paint shop in the Norfolk Navy Yard (which is located in Portsmouth -- it is called the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, I think it's named now). But, many of the workers circulated, towards the latter part of the campaign, that I was hard at work in Washington trying to abolish the paint work in Portsmouth, because the Dupont Company wanted to sell paint to the Navy. I don't know whether the Dupont Company ever sold paint to the Navy. At any rate, they believed it, and because I'd married a member of the Dupont Family, it went down very easily. They were satisfied that unless they


could kick me out of Congress, they would be out of a job. There is nothing more effective as a political argument than that. The thing added up to get me out, and I suppose it is just as good. I know that the service was intolerable. We didn't have the means to cope with unemployment we've got now. And the desperate cases of need just tore the heart out of you. I departed from the Congress without any particular regret. I got home and got a good rest.

Sweeney: Do you remember Bruce Shafer at all who was a kind of gadfly candidate for the Soldier's Bonus?

Darden: I remember him very well, and I was talking to him about five minutes ago. You may have seen him when you came in through the back. Bruce was a great contributor to my defeat, and yet we are good friends. I see him from time to time and chat with him about goings on. Bruce was rapping on the Soldier's Bonus which I had voted against along with the other thing which Roosevelt was against. That's the thing I was telling you about a little earlier. He got us all down at the White House and gave us a little talk about the time had come for courage and standing up for the country and that kind of stuff, which turned out to be nothing but clap-trap. Actually, the paying of the soldier's bonus was a good thing, ought to have been paid, and if I would have had my wits about me, I would have gone on and voted for it. It did tend to put money in circulation amongst people that needed it. It was all to the good. I didn't, because it had been one of the controversial points. Mr. Roosevelt ran, if you remember, on an economy program. His charge against Mr. Hoover was that he was hopelessly extravagant. Mr. Roosevelt had, in a year after he got in the White House, a staff that was greater than Hoover had to run the whole federal government. He had them circulating around the White House waiting on him. He asked us in the House to stand along with him, and there were a number of us who did. Some of us were beaten. I don't think very many were beaten, but I was among those who got beaten and dished out on that account.

Sweeney: Two years later you recaptured the seat from Mr. Hamilton. I was wondering why it was so easy to defeat him and if there was any pressure on you not to oppose him?

Darden: Oh yes, there was some pressure on me by political organization friends that apparently didn't want to fight down in this district. We were able, or I was able, to defeat him because of the disillusionment with his New Deal people. An example of it: one of his most prominent


supporters and one of his ablest supporters here was Mr. Elliot Heath, who was a very distinguished lawyer in Norfolk but who was a red hot New Dealer. He always went along with Mr. Glass, notwithstanding the fact that Mr. Glass wasn't a New Dealer, but he never was willing to extend that to anybody else. So he was one of Mr. Hamilton's leaders, and they came up -- I forget what the legislation was now, I think it had to do with some labor thing that Mr. Roosevelt was very much interested in getting through -- Mr. Hamilton voted against it. It was a clear cleavage between the anti-New Dealers and the New Dealers. That ripped apart the opposition to me here. I never will forget, Mr. Heath came by a few days after that vote. He came in and talked to me. He said, "I certainly hope you'll run for Congress again; I want to support you. Not that you will ever do anything in the world that is going to suit me, but at least you're never going to surprise me. If you will run I will do anything I can to help you get into office." Well, as things went on, I saw how deep the disaffection was and the anger. And then there was some economic turnabout -- we were in a kind of jamming, jangling depression. Then I was a little irked by having been kicked out. I shouldn't have been, but I was I'm sure. So I decided I'll just pop in and run again, and I did it.

Sweeney: I would like to know how you arrived at your decision to run for Governor in 1941. Did you consult Mr. Prieur or Senator Byrd?

Darden: Oh, I am sure I talked to them all. I talked to everybody around that I knew in the thing. Billy Prieur, I talked to a good deal and had his support in the thing. Byrd, as head of the organization, came along much later and quite reasonably so. You can't run an organization unless you're careful to keep your flanks guarded and consult with your people. I was just utterly worn out with Washington. It was an intolerable situation, and yet we in the House of Representatives had become agents, business agents, of the firms in your District. The armament program was difficult. The pressure for the Navy in the Pacific was increasing, so that we were always tentative with whether or not we could get work for the yard here, or whether we could get ships here, based in Norfolk. I'd served in the General Assembly and liked it. And I knew a lot of people around the state. With the growing threat of war, my position on the Naval Committee had become really a sizable plus for me in the state campaign. I just drifted into it in that way.

Sweeney: In his history of Virginia, Virginius Dabney explains that you were able to persuade the General Assembly to


pass many important pieces of legislation which your predecessor Governor Price introduced but failed to see to passage, because he was not a member of the Byrd Organization, and of course Francis Pickens Miller says the same thing in his book. How do you react to that? Do you feel that you received credit for Governor Price's proposals?

Darden: I don't think there's any doubt about that. About the credit business, I do not know. It's just very hard in politics to allot credit. It's very easy to claim it. That's one of the first things that people do in our office is squall about what they've done. Frequently, their efforts were quite modest in the thing. But there isn't any doubt in my own case that I built on the foundation laid by Jim Price and Pickens Miller. I took the recommendations of the legislative council, which is an extremely valuable agency of government in Virginia. A great many of the things that I recommended, and I said so in my talk to the Assembly, were recommendations that they made in the thing, that I moved along on. I'm not sure that they were not passed because of the Price thing, I just don't know. I'm not certain about that. But there isn't any doubt that I was able to bring the support of the Organization along with that support to that crowd. The result was that they sailed along through, without any opposition amounting to anything. In so far as I am personally concerned, the debt is very great. I've never been under any illusion about that. But I do know that without the Organization and the close relationship that existed between the Virginia Organization and myself, I could not have done it, or if I had done it, I'd have done it with a great deal more difficulty and a great deal more trouble than came about. I'm not sure. I don't believe I read either what Pickens or Virginius said on that particular point, but if they attribute my success with the legislation to the work that had been done that way, I think they are on very sound ground.

Sweeney: In an article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch in January of 1946, one of their writers, Frank Fuller, wrote that your greatest contributions as Governor were in the fields of education, penal reform, and public health. Could you discuss your achievements in these areas and which would you rate as most important?

Darden: What are the three now?

Sweeney: Education, penal reform, and public health.


Darden: Well, education we were constantly at work on. During the war years, and I was Governor during the war years, the state was practically on a stand-by basis. But we did a lot of talking around Richmond about what we'd do when the war was over, or what the state would do when the war was over. Education was one of the things that claimed a lot of attention. We did a lot of planning. I wasn't by myself in that. I had a great deal of help through the Department of Education.

Penal reform was very much the same thing. We did develop, and Bill Meechum here whom you know was a great help to me in setting up, probation and parole. He headed the work in Virginia. He was with the newspaper here and he is retired and living in Norfolk now. You probably know him. I had fine help in that way and then the third one that was there.

(Sweeney: was the public health measures). Well, public health measures was just an ongoing thing that we were struggling with all the time. The sewage disposal plants and those issues we were working on in the Congress before I left the Congress and pressed along in Virginia. So, I think Frank Fuller's ummary there is probably right. I have no preference of one. I worked on them all and enjoyed the thing and worked with a lot of other people, without whose help I wouldn't have gotten anywhere and the state wouldn't have gotten anywhere.

Sweeney: One reform that you brought about early in your administration was the abolition of the old fee system of compensating sheriffs and city sergeants. You placed them on a salary basis, and even Governor Byrd wasn't too enthusiastic about doing that back in the '20's. I wondered, did you encounter much resistance from the sheriffs and sergeants about putting them on a salary basis?

Darden: No, I didn't encounter any great resistance but I didn't detect any enthusiasm to that end. There again the groundwork had been laid, and a right good part by Vivian Paige of Norfolk who was a Senator. He'd worked on it very hard, along with other members in the Assembly who'd worked on it hard, and just showed that this fee system business didn't make any sense. It was abused terribly in some parts of Virginia. It turned into a collection agency for the individuals in office of making out of the job whatever they could make. It was antiquated and had long outlived its usefulness, if it ever had been useful. Of course it started in a day when the salary would have been so meager nobody would have taken it probably. There was no real opposition there. I don't think the Organization was pleased or took well to it, and that you can understand because it was part and parcel of the Organizational muscle.


Sweeney: You appointed a commission to study suffrage legislation, and this committee included repeal of the poll tax among its recommendations -- of course you endorsed that repeal of the poll tax. How did the leaders of the Byrd Organization react to that recommendation?

Darden: Well, they were enthusiastic about it. Prieur was on that commission as a matter of fact and worked hard on it and threw his weight over in the commission toward the repeal. It was defective in that the repeal was surrounded by so many safeguards, or what they thought were safeguards, that it didn't turn out to be anything that the legislature did anything with or that we accomplished much. I felt that the poll tax was... I never thought that it was as wicked as many people thought. I did feel that probably it would enlarge the electorate. It has enlarged the electorate to a degree, but still in Virginia we sit around the house and don't go vote when the time comes. This governorship fight is the stiffest I remember between Godwin and Howell. A million dollars was spent on each side and was a terribly hard fought campaign. Half of the qualified people in Virginia sat home and didn't even take the trouble to go down to the polls and vote. Now, the issue there was pretty well drawn between those candidates and well stated, and the opportunities exploited in a way. The levying of a poll tax and then the idea of people forgetting to pay it and not being permitted to vote was just kind of cock-eyed and ought to have been done away with.

Sweeney: You had a recent television interview with Charles Hartig and you remarked that in World War II (of course the war overshadowed your administration as Governor) that Virginians did not seem to realize the dangers to which they were personally exposed. Could you elaborate on that point?

Darden: Yes, well I didn't mean that the Virginians couldn't particularly. I don't think the United States as a whole realized how terrible a threat they were facing in Hitler's bid for a world empire. It came far closer to succeeding than people generally realize. Now, our people here, as I remember the talk with Charlie Hartig, our people here I thought did not realize the danger of a disruption of life by German submarines that were sinking ships off Virginia Beach and right in the entrance of the harbor here where at times people could stand on the beach and see the ships sink. I didn't believe that they realized the danger of the Germans using some of their advanced submarines to shell Norfolk city. I happened to know about them because we heard about them on a Naval committee. The


Germans had some heavy submarines with large guns on the deck that they could pull the tarpaulin off and turn loose and put shells at some distance, 10 or 15 miles. I never thought they could invade us here, but I felt that if they could shell the city or stick one of the Naval installations and set fire, that they could create a good deal of disorder and fright. And that's what I meant when I said that I didn't think our people down here realized the danger. Now the people who were engaged in Civil Defense did, because we met down there once a week or once every two weeks. I'd drive down there in the afternoon from Richmond and we'd have a meeting either here or over in Hampton and Newport News or Portsmouth. And we would discuss our affairs. They were alert. They knew the danger that we were confronted with, but the great mass of our people did not, and some of them were right restive under the blackout. They didn't think they ought to be blacked out, didn't think it amounted to a damn, and they thought we were thoughtless and careless in insisting on it.

Sweeney: During the period from the late 1930's to the 1960's, the leadership of the Virginia Democratic Party began to refuse support to the National Democratic Ticket. What do you think has been the long-range effect of Senator Byrd's golden silences on the development of the political patterns in the state?

Darden: Well, I just don't know. That's a question that I can't answer. I think the golden silence more nearly reflected the thinking in the state than the activity in the state reflected Harry's golden silence. He was a very effective organizer and leader. He was also good at gauging public opinion. I think his leadership in the effort had an effect, but just how great the effect was I don't know. There isn't any doubt that as time went on, Virginia tended to drift away from the Democratic Ticket.

Sweeney: That might have played some part in it.

Darden: I’m sure it played some part, but I don't know how great a part it played in it. Also, the Republicans were growing through that period as I suppose they normally would have anyway. They had a great habit of plunging in to the Democratic primaries whenever the occasion suited them, to bolster up the Old Virginia Organization, which represented the more conservative elements in the state. And also of late, this is since Harry's death, but of late they plunged into the primaries in order to pick a weak handed person that they thought they could


beat with a strong Republican. They did that in the governorship the last go round. They talked about it a good deal. I never examined carefully enough the votes in the precincts to say with any authority how effective it was. But the number of the Republican leaders who thought it was very effective and have counseled their followers to do that and they did it. Otherwise, you can hardly account in some of the counties and cities and rural areas Howell's strength, which is way over and above what his strength normally or what Democratic strength normally would have been in those areas.

Sweeney: I would like to ask you for your overall assessment of Colonel Francis Pickens Miller and his influence on Virginia politics.

Darden: Well, he played a great part in Virginia politics. He was an effective and able rebel and he loved it. Pickens was a stout rebel. He played a sizable part in Virginia politics. His loss a week or two ago, his death, brought an end to a career that had served Virginia very well and very effectively. He and I were never teamed up politically. We got to be in later years after he moved down to North Carolina particularly. Friends and my wife and I would drive down there and have lunch with them once or twice a year. We would always enjoy it immensely. Helen Pickens, his wife, is an extremely talented person and she knows probably national politics better than any of us. His influence on Virginia politics was profound, because he operated in a period of changing times. The times were profound. It was like finding your way through, well, the cataracts that sweep down below Niagara. Virginia's been like that the last twenty or twenty-five years in the thing. I often told Pickens that he used to complain about the autocracy of the Byrd Organization, that we would have been looked on as powderpuffs stacked up against what he'd set up, if he'd ever gotten his hands on leader's power. Pickens was an old covenanter. [Leaders were] black and white with him. He never worried about the shades that worried me to death at times. I just don't know which side is right and which is wrong or what part of a program is good and what part of a program is bad. I lumber along with a thing and turned it over in my mind, make the best guess I can. Pickens is quick and decisive and what he would have done was off would come your head if you'd fool with him. You talk about an organization, if he had gotten in charge of Virginia, there would have been more heads rolling around in this state than there's


been in its history. But he was a person of integrity and ability and Virginia is poorer by reason of his death, much poorer. What do you think about that now?

Sweeney: I agree completely. I've spent time with him, interviewed him.  I was down there and I think that he gave a certain spirit to it. He gave an impulse to the state and we will be poorer without him. When the Virginia General Assembly passed the Massive Resistance legislation, I know you testified against it. The question I would like to ask now is 22 years later. That legislation was so bizarre; it was so extreme. Was there any way… Did you exert your influence in any way to try to show these usually reasonable men that they were doing something totally almost irrational?

Darden: No, I didn't. Other than, what I didn't go in there testifying and telling them that it was unwise. I'd been in support of the Gray Plan which seemed to me to be an extraordinarily able document, I thought and a great friend of mine, Taylor Murphy, was a member of it and I knew many of the others on the commission. Garland Gray, the chairman of it, I knew well. Taylor had come up to New York, I was a delegate at the United Nations then when that commission report came in. He came up and asked me if I would come on back down and make some speeches for the report in order to submit it to the voters of Virginia. But beyond that the Assembly moved steadily away from the middle ground that we sowed in that and there wasn't anything that could be done except when it came up I came down. There were four or five of us who were testifying down there. We were very frostily received. Not frostily received I don't suppose that, we were courteously, nicely received. The Virginia Assembly is a splendid organization in many ways and particularly in its willingness to listen. They may not be willing to follow the vote, but to give a courteous hearing to opponents. They were also undergirded by the hammering of Jack Kilpatrick and their new leader who reinstituted the old Interposition Theory that really had background of very competent men. Jefferson, I suppose, was a fellow who thought this thing up in the Kentucky Resolution. Now Madison finally got him straightened out on that by going to the Assembly in 1800 and getting a resolution through stating what they meant. The Kentucky Resolution started out with a disestablished Federal Union 10 or 15 years. The idea of any state any time they got mad putting on a hat and walking off simply means you'd have a political system that simply didn't work. Then they came along, you know,


and Calhoun relied on at that time in '32…  to support nullification. Now Virginia and the nullification thing sent a commission down to Carolina, Columbia, in which they stated their attachment and love for South Carolina but that they weren't leaving the Union and that they urged strongly that some compromise be hit upon. Clay was one of the people that fashioned it and then I forget who was this fellow who was governor of South Carolina, one of the ablest individuals who ever sat in the Congress in the United States. In his debates with Webster (Sweeney: Hanes, Albert Hanes) if you get the debates with Webster Hanes, was clearly the abler of the two in reasoning. Now it may not have been in resonance of voice and in oratory but Hanes' argument there in the Senate was superb in the thing. There again all of that was brought up in this Interposition business and sold to the Assembly to a state that had been aroused on the defense of their rights and nothing could be done.

Sweeney: I would like to discuss with you what I consider one of the most unfortunate aspects of recent Virginia history and that is in Virginia politics. Why have the people like Armistead Boothe, William Spong, Bill Battle, these type of moderate Democrats have such a slight impact on the party's development, the Democratic Party's development over the years?

Darden: Well, I don't think the impact has been slight by any means. No, because what you are seeing now actually is in part an outgrowth of those fights and defeats. You're going to see a moderate in the senatorial fight. I don't know how it’s coming out but I would guess that the Democratic Party that moves into this in support of Miller is going to be a very, very different party from what it was fifteen or twenty years ago and it's different because of the battle spawned in that group. I think it's only true that they have not attracted attention by succeeding in getting the office they were standing for. But if you look underneath at the change in voting habits and thinking of the people of Virginia, you can see that their influence was very great or at least so it seems to me.

Sweeney: Well, here's an interesting question. Henry Howell's political career appears to be over and of course he failed to achieve his long-sought goal of the Governorship of Virginia. Could you give me your estimate of Henry Howell's significance?


Darden: Well, I don't think that's right difficult to do. He's had a profound impact on Virginia politics. I suppose in personal individual following he's had more foot soldiers than any man that has been in politics in Virginia. He also has been the champion of a groups ... a labor group and blacks who are together in many respects because I expect the best paid labor in Tidewater is the black labor and longshoremen and other people here in Norfolk. They are by and large Howell people or have been in the past … in the thing. Now the party that's coming out of this has come out of the last fifteen or twenty years. Howell has had a great part in shaping and maybe I didn't remember right. I thought you mentioned Howell's name along with Boothe and Battle and that crowd. (Sweeney: No. No. I didn’t.) You didn't, Well, I would certainly put him in there and give him credit for a good deal of the stirring up that's taking place in Virginia, not all of which is necessarily good but it's a ferment. It's a boiling up of the thing. What I think you saw in the Howell fight is a thing that we've seen in the national fights, really. Goldwater, who was a very popular and likable person, Goldwater narrowed the support of the Republicans nationally to a point in 1964 where they couldn't win. McGovern now on the other side to the left. Goldwater narrowed it to the right.  McGovern narrowed it to the left to where he couldn’t win. That's precisely what Howell did in Virginia. Howell in his strong and almost violent campaigns against the electric and power companies in the state, Appalachian, VEP and others had aroused and has campaigned against the Corporation Commission (SCC) and narrowed the base of his support to where it wasn't enough to quite put him over. But I'm not sure, if he hadn't made the effort to narrow, that he would have gotten as far as he did. That's a thing that I'm just not prepared to pass on because I don't know enough about it. I do think that the criticism of the Corporation Commission is in part a useful one. The Corporation Commission has had thrown over on it far too many things by the Assembly in Virginia. It started out, as you know, to control the railroads who dominated and ran the state for years. Martin represented them, he was a lawyer in the thing and then the Senate.  But they have now gotten to be top heavy and also as always happens with a governing agency in the end they seem to succumb to the industry that they are governing. Now, it may be because they see clearly that the demands of the people are too great. It may be that their friendliness to the industry is certainly in part warranted. I would doubt that it is fully warranted. But once the industry and the governing board agency and the federal government's just full of it. Now you can look around Washington. Once they get on a plan of living amicably together you've got a combination that's


very hard to do anything with. The best example of it is this fight over the airlines. When it started out about freeing the airline for competition it was a surprise to many of the people that many of the great airlines didn't want to be freed and they fought it. Now the chairman and the Commission are pursuing their plans and apparently with a good deal of success about opening up air transportation to competition. But Howell's influence, disruptive and constructive, have both been very great. The constructive part could not have come without the disruptive part in the thing. They are opposite sides of the same coin as I see it but I wouldn't say that his political career is over. I would guess that you miscalculated there although it may be and I don't know, I haven't seen him or talked to him. I've known him and have supported him in some of his bids for office here, not in the governorship. I did after the, I mean I went on when we were beaten in the Miller thing. Because I said to people when I went in the race I said I was going to support the leader and also winner. Also I knew that the thing had beaten us in the Battle thing was a failure. The opting out of those very people when we came down to the final voting there. But I wouldn't rule him out of the political life in Virginia by any means, he's an awfully quick on the stump and quick in getting and developing an issue. He's a dangerous protagonist, and a very able… I mean dangerous antagonist, and a very able protagonist in putting forth an idea.

Sweeney: Going back just on one question, I wanted to ask about the University of Virginia days. Why were you able to desegregate the University of Virginia with so little difficulty?

Darden: Well, I don't know that I desegregated it really. The lawsuit there that was won by the fellow he left the law school you know shortly after he won it. He wasn't able to keep up with his work over there and ought never had been admitted. The faculty admitted him because of his color, in my opinion. I never talked to any of them about it because they ran their own admissions thing over there. But Swanson was that boy's name, wasn't it? I think so. Well, he wasn't able to stand the pace of that, I went along with it because I think the state was of that opinion. Now, that was before the bigger decision. That was before the harshness of Massive Resistance and the anger that flared up. We were well on the road then to admitting here and there blacks.

Sweeney: We often hear about a certain spirit which characterizes Virginia politics. For example, circumspection and re-


spect for tradition, fiscal conservatism, etc. Do you agree that Virginia political life has certain definable traits that set it off from other states and if so, to what do you attribute these characteristics or traits?

Darden: No, I don't know that I agree with that. We boast about it and talk about it a good deal but I don't know that we have traits that set us apart. We certainly have cleaner and better administration than some of the other states that are notoriously corrupt in the Union and known to be. But there are many others that are excellently run and run by capable and decent people. We have an affection for the past, an infatuation with nostalgia, really, that’s what overcomes us. In many cases that gets us off on the wrong foot. We are inclined to think that the past is absolutely right when it may have been absolutely wrong. When there may be better ways of doing things than we do them and we don't look at it carefully enough with an inquiring eye sufficiently. The distinguishing mark is I think the honesty of public service in Virginia and I do not mean by that that there not spots of corruption. There are, as always attends any effort at government, self government or any other kind. But I believe the willingness of Virginia people that join in and help out in state and local affairs is a distinguishing mark. Certainly it probably can be found in other areas but I don't know the Union well enough to pass on that.

Sweeney: Now the last question that has to do with something that we've been hearing about quite a bit in recent times. I wonder if you have any specific apprehensions or fears about our state government for the immediate future in this era of taxpayer disenchantment, proposition 13 and cutbacks in other states.

Darden: No. I don't because I think the Assembly and the executive of the government I think that they are alert to the problem and I don't believe that we face the drastic thing that we've seen in California. But I think the California vote has had its effect on Virginia. I think the state is looking more carefully at its expenditures than it might otherwise do. One of the things that has got to be done in this state and something here this is not realized generally by the people, is that while we talk about no increase in taxes, we are talking about no increase in tax rates. There has been a terrific increase in real estate taxes in Virginia by the reappraisal of property, by an increase in value which is simply the operation of inflation that grows out of printed money. You can put land to a


million dollars an acre if you print enough money so that people don't want it and won't take it. So that this idea of property becoming more valuable is a phantom, really. It is not so much more valuable comparatively than it was. But the exaction of the taxes has risen to a great extent because the assessments have gone up with it at a rate where I think probably real estate is not going to be able to carry on without some attention to it. But I don't think that we have what California has got.

Sweeney: Well, Virginia doesn't go quite to the extremes like California does. Well, thank you very much, Governor Darden.

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