Years before Alexandria would grapple with collective bargaining and the legacy of discrimination in schools, Virginia was ruled by a political faction dead-set on fighting unionization and integration.
Alexandria reporter Michael Lee Pope — a reporter with the Alexandria Gazette who has frequently covered Virginia’s state politics for WAMU — announced a new book last week that dives into the history of The Byrd Machine, a political operation led by Harry Byrd that dominated Virginia politics during the mid-20th century.
The Byrd Machine in Virginia charts the rise and fall of the eponymous political block, with both a look back at the history of the previous “machines” that made The Byrd Machine possible.
Pope said Byrd’s career started as a movement aimed primarily at eliminating debt.
“He got into this political debate when he was in the Senate about road building and not making debt. This is his whole thing, he’s very consistent, he doesn’t like debt.”
Pope said Byrd’s early campaign was about paying for projects as you go and he developed a name for himself as someone making the state government pay its debt. Byrd had a reputation as a penny pincher, going back to driving to Maryland every day to get cheaper rolls of paper for a failing Winchester newspaper he owned.
After being elected as governor in 1926, Byrd started to take measures to coalesce power and keep those in the Byrd Machine in power.
Two of the biggest legacies of Byrd, Pope said, is his opposition to unions and integration. In 1946, workers at VEPCO, the predecessor to Dominion Energy, attempted to form a strike and unionize. Governor William Tuck, a successor to Byrd and a part of his machine, drafted the workers into the state’s national guard and threatened to court martial them if they attempted to strike.
“So many people blame the Byrd machine for all manner of things,” Pope said. “This issue of collective bargaining… only recently given the legal ability to do collective bargaining. That was taken away in the 90s. It would be easy to blame Byrd and say ‘that’s the Byrd machine’ but that’s 1990s era politics.”
Still, Pope said the anti-unionization work in the 90s was still part of the legacy of Byrd’s politics.
“At the same time, don’t forget these people pioneered union-busting in a way that was visionary for its time,” Pope said, “There is an important part of collective bargaining as part of that legacy.”
The more well-known parts of Byrd’s legacy is arguably the machine’s opposition to integration. It was also the position that set the stage for the machine’s downfall. The Byrd Machine was instrumental in keeping schools segregated to the point of closing public schools rather than seeing them integrated in the late 1950s.
Though the machine had a “swan song” in the 1960s, Pope said the controversies around massive resistance ultimately led to the fracturing of The Byrd Machine as the Lyndon Johnson presidency divided the loyalties of racist southern Democrats.
Pope said he is planning to host a launch event for the book at The Athenaeum (201 Prince Street) on Thursday, Oct. 20, at 7 p.m.
The 367-unit residential development The Rutherford is headed to Planning Commission review tomorrow and makes use of a relatively recent new policy that codified an older trade. The project is…
New French restaurant Josephine is opening at 109 St Asaph Street in Old Town this week and folks are already losing their heads over it. According to the website, the…
This reporter’s already noted that Alexandria bears a passing resemblance to the province of Skyrim* and that Nordic connection is only getting stronger: the Landmark neighborhood is getting a new…
Last week, Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) was blasted by parents and teachers at a School Board meeting over a decision to spread specialist teachers across multiple schools. Music, art…
Are you seeking a confidential space where you can explore your emotions, overcome challenges, and find inner peace? Look no further than our dedicated psychotherapy service! We understand that life can be overwhelming at times, and we’re here to support you every step of the way.
At Peaceful Mind Solutions, our passion lies in helping individuals like you navigate life’s complexities and find the strength to thrive. Our skilled and compassionate therapist is committed to creating a warm, non-judgmental environment where you can express your thoughts and feelings openly. With our personalized approach, we tailor each session to address your unique needs and empower you to overcome obstacles.
Through evidence-based techniques and a deep understanding of the human mind, our therapist will guide you on a transformative journey of self-discovery. Whether you’re dealing with anxiety, depression, relationship issues, or simply seeking personal growth, we’re here to provide guidance and practical tools for lasting change.
Time flies when you’re having fun! The T.C. Williams High School Class of 1973 will hold its 50th reunion July 21-23, 2023 in Alexandria. All graduates and their adult nears and dears are welcome. Events include a Friday evening icebreaker, Saturday dinner dance, and a Sunday brunch. For more information: tcwilliams73.com, 770.789.3534.