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.
with GOVERNOR COLGATE W. DARDEN, Jr.
By James R. Sweeney
Old Dominion University Listen to 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?
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?
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?
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
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?
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
Sweeney: What do
you remember the most about Norfolk in the 1920's?
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
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
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?
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?
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?
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?
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
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
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?
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.
the bond issue thing which had a good
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
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?
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
Sweeney: You had
to run statewide, didn't you, in that election?
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?
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.
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?
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
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
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
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
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?
are the three now?
penal reform, and public health.
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.
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.
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
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?
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?
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.