Byrd Watching - The OC Bulletin, April 19, 2023
WRITTEN BY ADAM BELMAR
Award-winning journalist and author Michael Lee Pope signs a copy of his book at the James Madision Museum on Sunday, April 16th (Photos Credit: Adam Belmar)
During his presentation, Pope discussed how Harry Byrd's political machine influenced everything from leadership positions to segregation. (Photos Credit: Adam Belmar)
The James Madison Museum of Orange County Heritage hosted award-winning journalist and author, Michael Lee Pope, for a lively discussion about his latest book, "The Byrd Machine in Virginia: The Rise and Fall of a Conservative Political Organization." Pope, who lives in Old Town Alexandria, is a reporter with Virginia Public Radio and the co-host of the weekly Virginia politics podcast, "Pod Virginia."
The author, having enjoyed the hospitality of the Holladay House and the culinary delights of Spoon and Spindle on Saturday, offered a delightful and animated presentation to the Sunday afternoon event's attendees. Pope shared many historic images of Orange County during his presentation, providing context and humanity to the story of Harry Byrd, the political machine he built, and why it "continues to haunt Virginia politics."
As Pope's brilliant work makes clear, the Byrd Machine actively ran Virginia politics for more than half a century. This political organization rose to power during the era of Jim Crow, wielding power and influence over everything from who got the nod to be governor to how the state maintained racial segregation. Inheriting its tactics from two previous political machines, the Byrd organization operated with a pathological hatred of debt spending, crushing the power of labor unions and forcing its will on Black schoolchildren protesting separate and unequal facilities.
But Byrd's wings were clipped. The machine could not withstand Massive Resistance, a move to close public schools rather than integrate them.
Massive Resistance was a policy adopted in 1956 by Virginia's state government to block the desegregation of public schools mandated by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 1954 ruling in the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.
True to its mission, the James Madison Museum of Orange County Heritage proved the perfect venue for Pope's insights and narrative sense of Virginia history. And to the delight of the author and the crowd, museum director Bethany Sullivan shared something symbolic from the collection with regard to Massive Resistance: a pair of boxing gloves worn by the pugilistic Lindsay Almond when he was a student at UVA. J. Lindsay Almond Jr. was a governor of Virginia (1958–1962) whose name became synonymous with Massive Resistance. A Democrat and member of the Byrd Organization, Almond is famous for closing public schools in Charlottesville, Norfolk, and Front Royal in 1958 rather than integrating them. When the state and federal courts declared his actions illegal, Almond submitted, thus effectively ending the era of Massive Resistance to desegregation in Virginia.
Michael Lee Pope's "The Byrd Machine in Virginia: The Rise and Fall of a Conservative Political Organization" is available for purchase at Spelled Ink bookstore, located at 132 W. Main St. in downtown Orange.
The History Press is the book's publisher and Pope is author of four other must-read works of Virginia history: “Hidden History of Alexandria, D.C.” “Ghosts of Alexandria (Haunted America)” “Wicked Northern Virginia” “Shotgun Justice: One Prosecutor's Crusade Against Crime & Corruption in Alexandria & Arlington”
"The Byrd Machine in Virginia: The Rise and Fall of a Conservative Political Organization" is available for purchase locally at Spelled Ink in downtown Orange. (Photos Credit: Adam Belmar)
For more information on the James Madison Museum of Orange County Heritage, visit www.thejamesmadisonmuseum.net.