Modern history

Chapter 42

The Southeastern Marches

In Dixie land, I’ll take my stand,

And lib and die in Dixie,

Away, away

Away down south in Dixie.

—Daniel D. Emmet

INCONTESTABLY what runs Virginia is the Byrd machine, the most urbane and genteel dictatorship in America. A real machine it is, though Senator Harry Flood Byrd himself faced more opposition in 1946 than at any time in his long, suave, and distinguished public career.

Virginia is, of course, the “mother of states”; it is one of four in the union to call itself a commonwealth, and it has produced eight presidents, more than any other state. Its history goes back to Jamestown, the first Anglo-Saxon settlement in America, in 1607; the colony was named for Elizabeth, the virgin queen, and its citizens established an effective representative government several years before the Puritans in New England. Ever since it has prided itself on an aristocratic tradition, a seasoned attitude toward public life, administrative decency, and firm attachment to the regime of law. Virginia breeds no Huey Longs or Talmadges; its respect for the forms of order is deeply engrained. One subsidiary point is that the Virginians, it seems, were not so philoprogenitive as their New England counterparts. Boston is, as we know, choked with Cabots, Adamses, and Lowells. But there are no Washingtons in Richmond; George Washington, as a matter of fact, left no children. Jefferson had direct descendants, but none with the name Jefferson play any consequential role in Virginia life today. There are no Madisons, Monroes, descendants of John Marshall or Patrick Henry, or even Lees, in the contemporary political arena.

Outside the Executive Mansion in Richmond, one of the most impeccably handsome buildings in the country, a tablet tells the story:

On this spot have lived four Presidents of the United States Jefferson Monroe and Tyler Each of Whom Served as Governor and William Henry Harrison while his Father Benjamin Harrison signer of the Declaration of Independence was governor.

Here Also Lived Governors Patrick Henry and Henry Lee Father of Robert Edward Lee.

The Present House First Occupied by Governor James Barbour in 1813 has been the Home of Chief Executives of Virginia since that Date.

Here have been Entertained Lafayette King Edward VII when Prince of Wales Presidents Hayes Cleveland McKinley Roosevelt and Taft Lord Balfour Marshals Foch and Petain General Pershing and the Daring Airmen Lindbergh and Byrd.

Several times I heard well-informed people say, “There is no excuse for Virginia”; by this they meant that the commonwealth, with its immensely opulent political tradition, and by reason of the fact that it is comparatively rich from a financial point of view as well, has small legitimate reason to be as backward as it is in many respects. It possesses Monticello and Mount Vernon and Duke of Gloucester Street in Williamsburg; it also possesses rural slums and antiquated one-room schools as hopeless as any in America. It is one of the few states that till very recently at least flogged convicts, and prisoners, white or black, may still be shackled; Georgia has abolished chain gangs, but not Virginia. Early in 1946 a youngster who was serving a four-year term for embezzling two hundred dollars escaped and found refuge in another state. When recaptured he tried to avoid extradition back to Virginia by testifying that, while a prisoner there, he had several times been hung from a post for 72 hours at a time, “barely standing on his toes.” Virginia produced not only the Declaration of Independence (through Thomas Jefferson) but, in a manner of speaking, the Bill of Rights. The state has been aware of intellectual fermentations for a good long time; for instance a lecturer at the University of Virginia taught “Socialism and Communism” way back in 1892; this must have been one of the first courses of such nature anywhere in the South. But in 1946 two Virginia school-teachers were ousted from their jobs (because of pressure from local posts of the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars) for having been conscientious objectors during World War II. I do not, of course, mean to generalize too widely from such particulars; several states have worse records in civil liberties. Early in 1945 the College of William and Mary at Williamsburg, the second oldest university in the United States, temporarily suspended publication of the campus paper because its editor, a twenty-two-year-old Michigan girl, wrote an article saying that the time should come when Negroes would attend William and Mary, “join the same clubs, be our roommates, be in the same classrooms, and marry among us.” (New York Herald Tribune, 2/12/45.) The storm this caused was black and ferocious, but the young editress was not expelled from school.

Senator Harry F. Byrd incarnates the cavalier-First-Family-of-Virginia tradition, except in one important particular. The Byrd family has a heredity like that of a Middle Europe princeling; indeed, for some generations, the ancestral estate at Westover resembled nothing so much as, say, an estate like that of the Potockis’ outside Warsaw. Byrd’s initial ancestor, William Byrd I, arrived in Virginia in 1674, and he and his son, William Byrd II, were powerful pre-Revolutionary characters. But early in the nineteenth century the family began to disintegrate. The present Byrd, lacking nothing in aristocratic heritage, did lack something that usually attends an aristocratic heritage—money. The family, grown poor, had scattered; Byrd’s father was Texas born, and he himself was born in West Virginia. Yet always the Byrds were tightly enmeshed in the old tradition. At the age of fifteen, young Byrd took over a newspaper in Winchester, Virginia, that for a long time had been unable to make ends meet and put it on its feet. He never had opportunity to go to high school or college. Byrd made the newspaper a successful property, and branched out in other fields; he is a very wealthy man today, and his Shenandoah Valley home, Rosemont, near Berryville, is a Virginia showplace. His fortune derives mostly out of apples. Virginia as a whole is the fourth apple-growing state in the union, and Byrd himself, with 200,000 trees and a million bushel a year crop, is believed to control about 1 per cent of all American production.1 The outline of Byrd’s career, especially in its motivations, is strikingly like that of his friend in the Senate, Arthur Vandenberg. Vandenberg also struggled for a living as a young man, as we know, and a consequent impulse toward security has dominated his behavior ever since. In Byrd’s life story we may similarly find a characteristic that distinguishes him above anything else—his extreme obsessive hatred of debt, his dogged fixation on economy. He had to struggle for bitter years to get a family property out of debt. Both the United States Senate and the commonwealth of Virginia have seen the results of this transmuted into other spheres.

Byrd interested himself in politics early, and he became a state senator and then in 1926 governor of Virginia. He is an able man (in industriousness and abstract competence he strongly resembles Taft of Ohio) and his record as governor was in several respects notable. He fought the gasoline and telephone companies, to drive rates down and thus save the public money; he put through an admirable antilynching bill, the first such bill in the South, making any member of a lynch mob subject to state authority and indictment on a charge of murder. As a result Virginia has not had a lynching for twenty years. Roosevelt liked Byrd at this time and wanted him in the federal Senate; as a result, when Claude A. Swanson was elevated to FDR’s cabinet in 1933, Byrd got his Senate seat. He has been a senator ever since. He began to break with Roosevelt when the New Deal got under way, and within a few years had become the most important and powerful of all his enemies among Senate Democrats. For session after session he intransigently bored away at Roosevelt budgets, Roosevelt appropriations, Roosevelt administrative agencies. Yet, a gentleman, he never attacked FDR blatantly. His good manners made him the more dangerous an antagonist. He could not be dismissed as a demagogue or spiteful partisan. At the 1944 Democratic convention, he got eighty-nine votes for the presidential nomination; he was—and still is—the obvious candidate and hero of the Bourbon South that is Democrat in name only. He voted against the party leadership on 61 per cent of all roll calls in sixteen months in 1945-6.2

When Byrd first entered Virginia public life the roads were in a shocking state, and pressure was great for a bond issue to improve and augment them. He opposed it. The pinchpenny motif dominates his entire public career, in state as well as federal affairs. He wanted good roads; but he insisted that they should be paid for out of taxes, inch by inch as they were built. At about the same time North Carolina promoted a very substantial road-building campaign which, in contrast to that in Virginia, was financed by bonds. As of today the state of North Carolina is certainly no worse off than Virginia financially; it has a considerably better road system; easy transportation encouraged the building up of rural industry; on the whole its standard of living is better than Virginia’s. Take schools. Byrd and his machine have not been what you could call generous to education, and since economy has always been a major criterion, most efforts to reform the grotesquely inadequate school system have failed. Virginia was the forty-second state in “draft rejections because of educational deficiencies”; this is one of many similar indices available. One reason why Virginia—like all southern states—is so poverty stricken and backward in education is of course Negro segregation, which makes it necessary for the state to supply two different sets of schools and teachers. End segregation, and educational statistics will sharply improve.

The Byrd machine is a highly efficient organization; it runs the commonwealth as effectively as Pendergast ever ran Kansas City or Kelly-Nash Chicago, though with much less noise. In fact, from the point of view of its adhesive power in every Democratic county, its control over practically every office, no matter how minor, it is quite possibly the single most powerful machine surviving in the whole United States. Virginia, I heard it said, is the only “aviary” in the country; it is a cage the netting of which, though almost invisible to outsiders, is extremely close spun; the commonwealth is, so a friend in North Carolina told me—the remark is somewhat bitter—not only the cradle of American democracy, but its “grave.” Byrd has never forgotten his Virginia interests. He pays as intimate and inflexible attention to state affairs as to federal. The machine works something like this. Its major instruments are, as always, jobs and patronage, plus the Virginia poll tax. First, through the Democratic National Committee, Byrd controls federal patronage. Next, he pretty well decides the choice not merely of governor but of most members of the general assembly (legislature). The governor, who in Virginia today cannot be other than a Byrd man, in turn controls the appointment of some thousands of state employees, and circuit court judges are chosen—for substantial eight-year terms—by the legislature; these in turn appoint the school trustees, county electoral boards, county welfare boards, and trial justices. In each county there is a fixed ring of six or seven machine men. Some county officers like sheriff and tax assessor are elected but their salaries and expense allotments are, within limits, established by the State Compensation Board, also appointed by the governor under Byrd’s control. The pattern makes a full interlocking circle. Nothing could be neater or more complete.3

Yet the whole structure would crash to ruin if it were not for (a) the one-party system and (b) the poll tax. The one-party system means that, in the majority of counties (some few areas are Republican, but there are only five Republicans in a legislature numbering 140), the machine need worry only about one side of the fence. The poll tax means in turn a small, easily handled vote. The tax amounts to $1.50 per year, and it has to be paid well in advance of the voting; hence many people, even if they could afford to pay it or were willing to pay, forget to do so. In addition the mere task of registration is sometimes made formidably difficult. Lowell Mellett once described (New York Post, February 20, 1945) some of the obstacles, medieval in the extreme, that a would-be voter has to overcome. As a result of all this and the general indifference induced by the one-party system, the proportion of Virginians who actually vote, as compared to those who would be eligible to vote if poll taxes were paid and other requirements met, is only about one in five. In the 1946 senatorial primary only about 230,000 Virginians voted. But the total population is 2,677,773.

Another important factor contributing to Byrd’s dominance was, for long, the senescence of Carter Glass. This crotchety but enormously able old American, stricken by illness, did not sit in the Senate from June, 1942, until his death in 1946 at the age of eighty-eight. Innumerable times in the Congressional Record, the first word recorded after prayer was the statement that the senior senator from Virginia was absent on account of illness. But Glass, an obstinate man, would not resign, and his prestige was such that for a long time no one would dare ask him to. As a result Virginia had in effect only one senator, Harry Byrd, for four crucial years.

Consider the Byrd obsession with economy once more—but in a different light. Political machines can be expensive. The commonwealth ranks very low in almost all statistics on education, public health, and the like; but it stands very high in number of office holders. It is the nineteenth state in population; it is the ninth in state employees. According to Marquis W. Childs (New York Post, August 3, 1946), Virginia is first in the nation in number of state employees per capita; it has one for every 164 citizens. The corresponding figure for New York is 241, for Massachusetts 255, for Illinois 376. Virginia has no fewer than seventeen thousand state office holders; this is more than the total number in New Jersey, which is certainly a politics-ridden state, and one with a considerably greater population.

The Virginia machine is impregnable, yes; but it had a bad scare in 1946. Byrd introduced a stringent antilabor bill; for this and other reasons (for instance he was one of the few southern senators who voted against the British loan—another instance of the fetish for economy) the CIO made him number one on its list of men to be purged. One might think that this would have redounded to his benefit. But for the first time in his Senate career, and indeed for the first time in the commonwealth for a quarter of a century, a contest in the senatorial primaries took place. A Richmond lawyer named Martin A. Hutchinson ran against Byrd as Democratic candidate. Byrd got roughly 150,000 votes. But Hutchinson got more than 80,000. Byrd lost the city of Alexandria, across the Potomac from Washington, D.C., and only narrowly won Richmond.

One result of this situation is to make the poll tax the chief political issue in Virginia. Traditionally the Byrd machine has stood vehemently against lifting it. But winds of disaffection, winds of change, still reach the state that once was Jefferson’s. Early in 1946 a legislative suffrage commission urged repeal of the poll tax by an overwhelming majority. But actually to repeal it will mean amendment of the constitution, and the procedure for this is weighty; a long time ago Virginia (like the United States) took precautions to make constitutional amendments difficult in the extreme to pass. Both houses of the legislature must approve a new amendment; then it must also pass a legislature subsequently elected. So nothing can be done for two years at least.

Another recent issue is that of flood control on the Potomac. Congress asked the Army engineers to work out a project in this direction after serious floods took place; the engineers produced a plan that, while it did not embody the valley authority idea, did envisage power development for the region and multiple-purpose dams and reservoirs. The total cost would have been about 250 million dollars. The project would, among other things, have served to ameliorate serious pollution in the Potomac, and to improve the Washington, D.C., water supply. The proposal was enthusiastically voted down. First, small farmers in the Shenandoah Valley didn’t want to lose their land. Second, the Byrd machine led the opposition.

When I visited Richmond the governor was Colgate W. Darden Jr., a civilized and decent man, well equipped for the job and honestly devoted to public service. He was a Byrd lieutenant, and in fact he managed the 1946 primary campaign; but Darden is not quite so obsessive about economy. On one occasion the Byrd-dominated assembly reduced state payments to surviving widows of Confederate veterans from fifteen to eight dollars a month. Mrs. Darden offered to make up the sum. That she is a rich woman, a member of the Du Pont family, does not detract from the graciousness of her gesture. Darden, by Virginia law, could not succeed himself; he could have had Carter Glass’s old senate seat, but did not want it. The governor who succeeded him was William M. Tuck, an organization wheel horse. He had the support of the machine, and nobody of real stature could be found to run against him; the nomination (and election) went largely by default. Personalities were not involved; what grieved Virginia liberals was that there could be no effective raising and airing of public issues. Tuck came into wide notoriety in the spring of 1946, when a strike was threatened in the Virginia Electric and Power Company. The governor proclaimed a state of emergency, and issued orders for mobilization of the “unorganized militia,” which would have meant forcible impounding of would-be strikers into a semimilitary force of strike breakers. This outrageous situation did not come to a head, inasmuch as last-minute negotiations called off the strike.

Howard W. Smith, Virginia Congressman from the Eighth District, is an extreme die-hard, who was co-author of the Smith-Connally law, the author of an original draft of the Case antistrike bill, and a powerful member of the House Rules Committee; as such he was a leading spirit in preventing the FEPC bill from reaching a House vote. Smith stands for almost everything old-fashioned in Virginia and the South, and it is perhaps an indication of a fresher spirit that he was badly beaten in an effort to succeed Carter Glass. The man who did succeed to the Glass seat was A. Willis Robertson, a respectable enough conservative. Oddly enough both he and Byrd were born in the same town (outside the state), Martinsburg, West Virginia, within a few days of one another.

Look at Richmond

Broad-streeted Richmond …

The trees in the streets are old trees used to living with people,

Family trees that remember your grandfather’s name.

—Stephen Vincent Benét, John Brown’s Body*

Very few cities in America can compare with Richmond, a stately rectilinear town, for concentration of historical allusion. It has celebrated monuments to Lee, Jefferson Davis (for Richmond was the second capital of the Confederacy), and Stonewall Jackson; General Lee’s home, now the headquarters of the Virginia Historical Society, is here, and so is that of Edgar Allan Poe. It contains the John Marshall house, designed by the great chief justice himself, and the University of Richmond.4 But what I liked best, next to the incomparable executive mansion, is the heroic (and heroically ugly) equestrian statue of George Washington, which was cast in Munich of all places, and which now stands in Capitol Square. The general’s eyes look sternly at the state house and his finger, like a flail, points to the penitentiary!

Richmond is not a very large city, but it has great wealth; most of the modern fortunes come from tobacco. It is heavily industrialized, and is the biggest cigarette manufacturing center in the world; there is, however, little sign of any urban proletariat. One curious point is that, though it numbers only 200,000 people, there are 285 streets with duplicated names. Richmond has, or had, another twin distinction, one in the realm of beautiful letters. I thumbed through the telephone book, and found these entries:

Cabell James Branch 3201 Monument Av 4-5421

Glasgow Miss Ellen 1 W Main 3–3118

Tobacco, Divine, Rare, Superexcellent Tobacco!

Tobacco is, in a quite literal sense, a kind of weed. It produces a small pretty flower; part of its science of cultivation is to keep the flower from developing, to keep the plant, in other words, from going to seed, to force its vitality into the lower leaves. Tobacco must be planted every year, and, as is well-known, its effect on the soil is exhausting. It is predominantly a warm weather plant, but in actual fact it grows almost everywhere on earth—even Sweden! One of the most remarkable things about tobacco is the size of the seed; a single plant may produce a million seeds, and one teaspoonful will plant ten acres.

Tobacco is a small man’s crop; the average holding in the American South is about three acres. In Virginia and western North Carolina most growers are owners; in Georgia they are mostly tenants. There are no great tobacco “plantations” like cotton plantations. The harvest comes in late summer; the farmer hangs his crop up in his shed or kitchen, practically sleeps with it while he cures it, ties it in bundles called “hands,” and then—as radio listeners are well aware—auctions it at a central market. The wholesale buyers give it further treatment by steam and otherwise, and hold it for anything from a few months to a few years.

Ninety-five per cent of American cigarette tobacco is blended with Turkish or other oriental breeds. Virginia tobacco, of the variety called Bright, is more sugary than that from Kentucky say; it is supposed to hit the taste buds in the front of the tongue whereas less sweet tobaccos strike further back. The chief demerit of tobacco as an agricultural product is, aside from its cost to the soil, the fact that it is a cash crop; if the price goes to pieces, the small farmer faces ruin.

Lucky Strikes are made at Richmond, Durham (N.C.) and Reidsville (N.C.); Chesterfields and Old Golds at Richmond and elsewhere; Camels exclusively at Winston-Salem (N.C.); Philip Morrises entirely at Richmond. The total annual United States production is something over 250 billion cigarettes. There is, I heard in Richmond, more mumbo-jumbo and hocus-pocus associated with the cigarette business than any other in the world, and estimates of rival sales vary widely; generally it is thought that Lucky Strikes and Camels are paired at the top, with Luckies in the lead by a slight margin (as of the time I was in Richmond); probably 80 billion Luckies are sold per year. Chesterfield and Philip Morris are similarly neck and neck in a lower echelon. Both Luckies and Camels have a higher proportion than the others of Kentucky tobacco. The percentage of labor costs to dollar of sales is, I was told, lower in cigarettes than in any comparable American industry, being something like five to seven cents as compared to about forty cents in automobiles. One plant in Richmond probably produces 12 per cent of all American production; yet it employs only about five hundred workers. The average profit to the manufacturer is believed to be something like a half a cent per pack.

The great tobacco magnates do not, like the automobile behemoths of Detroit, play much of a community role in a town like Richmond. Liggett and Myers are not like the Fisher Brothers. There is no Liggett, and no Myers. The major tobacco and cigarette companies are run from the North. Forty or fifty years ago there were a number of local independents. Then the fabulous J. B. Duke came along, and consolidated the tobacco business almost as Rockefeller consolidated oil. The Duke interests, concentrated in the American Tobacco Company, not only controlled most of United States production but British as well. In 1908, by terms of a Supreme Court ruling, they were split into various segments, like Liggett and Myers (Chesterfields today), Lorillard (Old Golds), and the Reynolds Company (Camels). But remaining to the American Tobacco Company as of today are Lucky Strikes, Pall Malls, and Melachrinos; among pipe tobaccos Bull Durham, Tuxedo, Blue Boar, and half a dozen others; among plugs and twists Piper Heidsieck and Penny’s Natural Leaf; and among cigars La Corona, Chancellor, and Henry Clay.

According to the New Republic (February 18, 1946), in a letter by George L. Knapp called “Salaries, Wages and Depressions,” which cites figures from the Federal Trade Commission and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, four leading officials of the American Tobacco Company received in 1932, the worst year of the depression, salaries respectively of $825,607, $473,472, $473,422, and $100,000. The average annual pay of the full-time tobacco worker at the same time was $614.12. The man who got the $825,607 was the renowned and supereccentric George Washington Hill, who invented most of the Lucky Strike slogans, and who died in 1946.

In June, 1946, the Supreme Court rendered a decision to the effect that the American Tobacco Company, Liggett and Myers, and the R. J. Reynolds Company had formed a monopoly in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. This followed six years of involved “trust-busting” litigation by the Department of Justice (New York Herald Tribune, June 11, 1946), and came as a result of an appeal by the three companies (who had already been fined upwards of $250,000) against previous convictions by other federal courts, which the Supreme Court upheld by a six to zero vote. The three companies, according to this verdict, had “set up a price monopoly on leaf tobacco … and conspired to restrain their competitors.”

1946 saw tobacco at an all-time high; the crop, worth more than 600 million dollars, reached an estimated total of 1,300,000,000 pounds. The consumption of tobacco in the United States has never been greater. Yet one should always remember that roughly one-third of all American production goes abroad.

A Word About West Virginia

Coal is portable climate.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

By most criteria, West Virginia is a northern state but it has a few southern characteristics too; I include it at this juncture mostly as a matter of convenience. West Virginia is shaped like a squid or some other odd marine animal. It has not merely one but two panhandles. One is a northerly sliver ending in a pinpoint above Wheeling; the other is to the east. Historically the reason that the three “overhanging” counties of this eastern panhandle are part of West Virginia, instead of Virginia itself, was that they controlled the westward approaches to Washington during the Civil War. The main line of the Baltimore and Ohio Railway went through this strip and still does; General Lee once broke it at Harpers Ferry.

West Virginia’s peculiar geographic characteristics have given rise to a well-known toast:

Here’s to West Virginia.

Its northernmost city, Chester, is farther north than

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, therefore she’s a northern state,

Its easternmost city, Harpers Ferry, is farther east than Rochester, New York, therefore she’s an eastern state,

Its westernmost city, Kenova, is farther west than Cleveland, Ohio, therefore she’s a western state,

Its southernmost city, Bluefield, is farther south than Richmond, Virginia, therefore she’s a southern state,

But be she east, west, north, or south, she’s a damn good state for the shape she’s in!

The West Virginia motto is Montani semper liberi, and the state is one of the most mountainous in the country; sometimes it is called the “little Switzerland” of America, and I once heard an irreverent local citizen call it the “Afghanistan of the United States.” The precipitous upland nature of the terrain makes naturally for three things: (1) poor communications; (2), fierce sectionalism; (3), comparatively little agriculture. West Virginia lies mostly in the Ohio orbit; all but eight of its counties drain into the Ohio River, and a pressing problem is strip mining, as in Ohio. On the other hand, the state has, it is hardly necessary to point out, little of the prodigious urban development of Ohio, and at the same time no great rural blocs such as those that dominate the Ohio legislature. The pull of Pennsylvania is also very strong, particularly near Wheeling which, like Pittsburgh hard by, is based on steel. Finally, in this geographical realm, one should not think of West Virginia as being “western” Virginia. It is a totally distinct and separate entity. Virginians themselves, as a matter of fact, pay almost no attention nowadays to their craggy neighbor.

West Virginia became a state in a very special way, and not, as is customarily believed, exclusively by reason of the War Between the States; the western mountaineers had talked about splitting off from Virginia for fifty years. They did not feel closely akin to the tidewater aristocrats. They did not relish control by absentee planters. Virginia had 350,000 slaves east of the mountains; the west had only about 15,000. The actual split was of course furthered by the war; when Virginia proper seceded from the union, the Allegheny counties organized a rump regime which they called the “restored government of Virginia.” This nullified the Virginia secession ordinance, elected an administration, and was recognized by Washington. Technically, by terms of federal law, no new state may be created out of the territory of an existing state without the consent of the parent. But no one paid much attention to this during the war and West Virginia was formally admitted to the union in 1863. Its governor functioned first at Alexandria, Virginia, and then at Richmond during the northern occupation. After Appomattox Virginia tried to get West Virginia back. But the West Virginians declined to abandon their new separate status.

The most astonishing thing about West Virginia today is the extent of its industrialization. The Kanawha Valley centering on Charleston, the state capital, is like nothing I have ever seen, except perhaps the southern lip of Lake Michigan; its development has been phenomenal. Chemical industries always tend to cluster because one is apt to use by-products of the other. So one factory on the Kanawha sits immediately adjacent to the next in a close thicket exactly as in the tumultuous region around Harrisburg. Of all state capitals in the nation, Charleston, according to Charleston statistics, was the greatest single seat of war production; it is the world’s biggest center for synthetic chemicals. Together with its environs it produced all the lucite made in the nation, all the “vinylite” resins, all the polyethylene resins, and every drop of nylon ever known to the world; the raw material for every stocking made since nylon began comes from the Kanawha Valley. Likewise this extraordinary industrial complex produced during the war one-sixth of America’s total production of synthetic rubber, more than half the Navy’s armor plate, most of the strontium peroxide used in tracer bullets, more than a million gun-barrels, millions of gallons of Prestone, Zerone, and other antifreezes, and millions of tons of ammonia, chlorine, and various alcohols. All these products leave West Virginia in raw form; the nylon and resins are liquid and go out in tanks.

One by one I passed units in this imposing constellation. Twelve miles up-river from Charleston is the Du Pont Belle Ammonia plant, which makes “nylon intermediate.” Union Carbide and Carbon has three factories in the area operated by different subsidiaries; one, the largest synthetic rubber installation in the country, is at the town of Institute; another at the appropriately named town of Alloy manufactures ferroalloys; a third in South Charleston makes oxygen for industrial uses. Also near by are the United States Naval Ordnance plant at South Charleston; the American Viscose Company, making staple rayon out of acetate; and the largest flat glass plant in the world, owned by the Libby-Owens Glass Company.

Oddly enough considering all this, Charleston is one of the few major cities in the United States without an airport. About thirty flights a day pass over it and several companies want to come in, but during the whole period of the war there was no place for planes to land. One reason was the mountains; another was that former airport facilities had been taken over by the government for a synthetic rubber plant. An airport is now being built; the job, half complete when I saw it, is described by loyal West Virginians as the “biggest airport development in the history of America.” Four separate mountains had to be removed; the site looks somewhat like the Mesabi pits in Minnesota upside down.

West Virginia’s economy rests fundamentally on coal; the state is first in the nation in bituminous coal production. For this reason among others, John L. Lewis, though he doesn’t live there, is a powerful local personality. West Virginia has no fewer than 117,000 miners, who belong to the United Mine Workers to a man; coal is a billion-dollar industry, and 117,000 miners make a lot of voters for so comparatively small a state. Coal is one of the most competitive industries on earth. Most of the great coal properties were bought originally by men who had no idea that coal was there. They bought for timber on the face of the land. Ownership today is divided among a good many rivals; the largest company doesn’t control more than one-eighth of the total state production. One important factor is Koppers (Mellon interests) and all the railroads that cross the state, like Chesapeake & Ohio and Norfolk & Western, are closely involved in coal; several have their own “captive” mines. Two or three of the biggest coal companies are eastern owned, but West Virginia doesn’t complain about “colonial economy” as much as do western and southern states. The profits may leak out but most of the wages stay, and are spent inside West Virginia. Coal is overwhelmingly the biggest distributor of wages in the state; the labor bill last year amounted to more than 300 million dollars.

From this we may turn to a contrasting sylvan note. West Virginia must be the only place in the union where bears are still hunted with dogs. Also in Watoga State Park near the Virginia line, deer may in theory be shot by bow and arrow; archers, that is, are allowed a week’s season before the regular open season. But no archer has ever actually brought down a deer.5

Politically, for obvious reasons, West Virginia is a sharply riven state. It was mostly Democratic from the Civil War to 1896, and then Republican most of the time until Roosevelt; FDR carried it all four times he ran. The chief pressure groups, aside from the coal interests and the miners, are the power companies, the railroads, and the West Virginia Manufacturers Association. Politics are very personal, and complex family and other loyalties play a considerable role. The most distinguished West Virginian in politics today is Senator Harley M. Kilgore, whom we shall view in another place. The governor, Clarence W. Meadows, was born in the coal fields and, after a career as a lawyer, became attorney general and circuit judge. Kilgore was his scoutmaster when he was a Boy Scout, his commanding officer when he was in the National Guard, and a judge in the Raleigh County criminal court when he was a state prosecutor. Also Meadows is indirectly related to Chapman Revercomb, the Republican senator. Meadows and Lausche of Ohio are friends; one reason is that Meadows plays almost as good a game of golf.

West Virginia has assorted distinctions in other fields. It contains the fabulous community of Weirton, run by the equally fabulous E. T. Weir, which is probably the most conspicuous company town in America. Also the state has a capitol building of remarkable dignity and beauty, designed by Cass Gilbert. The chandelier in the dome weighs four thousand pounds, and the 60 by 26-foot rug in the governor’s reception room—incidentally the pleasantest room of this kind I saw in the whole United States—is said to be the largest and heaviest one-piece rug in the world.

Politics and Affairs in the Tar Heel State

I found quickly that North Carolina was a state various in the extreme. Also it is beyond doubt one of the most important, alive, and progressive states in the union. First let me mention some incidental matter. The first thing I saw in North Carolina was a sign outside a group of bungalows, MOTOR COURT—MORALLY PURE. “Motels” and similar institutions all through the South and Texas are traditionally haunts for the amorous. The next thing I saw was an admirable bookshop in Raleigh that had been in the same family for seventy-eight years, passed down from father to son for three generations. The third thing I saw was Chapel Hill. The fourth was a newspaper clipping. An eight-year-old boy in Randolph County dropped a dead cat down a well, where it remained for a matter of two fruitful weeks. The boy, frightened, failed to mention this occurrence to his uncle, under whose custody he lived. But the youngster avoided drinking water from the well; the uncle became suspicious. The boy then confessed, whereupon the uncle made him dredge the animal out, and eat one of its hind legs. “Then he made him wash his mouth with peroxide.” The case reached the courts, and the uncle, convicted of “assault,” was sentenced to thirty days on the roads.

In several dimensions North Carolina is bigger than is generally thought. With 3,571,623 people (1940), it is the eleventh state in population; moreover this figure has increased by 12.7 per cent in the past ten years—a rate of increase which, incidentally, leaves Virginia far behind. Not less than 99.6 per cent of its people (by North Carolina figures anyway) are native born; it has been called the “most American of all the states.” Geographically it has three distinct divisions: first, as it slopes gradually from the Appalachians to the sea, come the mountains (there are 43 peaks higher than 6,000 feet, and 125 higher than 5,000), with parks, forests, and a handsome resort industry exploiting the Great Smokies; second, the great Piedmont plateau, packed with lumber, water power, and industry of several types; third, the coastal plains with the Inland Waterway, cotton, and tobacco. The state’s tobacco crop was worth 350 million dollars in 1945. The public finances are in commendable order; industry is decentralized and diversified, and the community as a whole has a better protection against depression than any other southern state.6

North Carolina maintains an aggressive and well-handled publicity and advertising system; on the whole it runs its public relations better than any other state I know. Above all it is a state of small cities: Winston-Salem (cigarettes); the Raleigh-Durham area; Charlotte, the biggest town in the state, which I have mentioned in Chapter 40; Fayetteville (a pure Scots-Irish enclave); Greensboro (chemicals, textiles, and the third largest women’s college in the world); Asheville (the western mountain center); Newbern (almost solidly Swiss); Gastonia (textiles). There was once a movement to shift the capital from Raleigh to Greensboro. A Republican state senator threatened, “We’re not going to leave a thing in Raleigh except the insane asylum, the penitentiary, and the News and Observer.”

North Carolina was once famously described as “a vale of humility between two mountains of conceit”; the “mountains” referred to are, of course, Virginia and South Carolina. I’m not sure that North Carolina is humble, but it certainly does differ from its neighbors. The Tar Heel State and Virginia like to snipe at one another. Mostly the differences arise from the circumstances of early settlement (exactly as with the differences between Utah and Nevada, say). North Carolina never had the kind of big-plantation economy that Virginia had; it has much less of the tidewater tradition; its society was broadly speaking more plebeian. As to North and South Carolina, they are (perhaps I exaggerate slightly) almost as different as North and South Dakota. A single illustration: in North Carolina divorce may be granted simply on the ground of absence of cohabitation; South Carolina is the one American state in which divorce is not possible.

That North Carolina is by a good deal the most liberal southern state will, I imagine, be agreed to by almost everybody. The reasons for this are several:

(1) Geography and origins. Consider, for instance, the point—which is rather odd when you come to think of it—that North Carolina has never had any considerable seaport, though it fronts the Atlantic for a good long way. But Virginia to the north had Norfolk; South Carolina on the other side had Charleston; the Tar Heel State was left comparatively isolated in between, and as a result it developed a kind of adventurous frontier sense. This meant more freedom, and dissenters of several types began to filter in.

(2) Settlement. The northeastern part of the state was settled mostly by insurgents from Virginia; North Carolina became the “quintessence of Virginia’s discontent.” To the southeast came English stock, some by way of New England, some from Bermuda. To the upper Piedmont came Quakers, Moravians, Palatinate Germans, and pre-eminently the Scots, mostly by way of Pennsylvania. These were all sturdy folk, who had fought kings in their time, and who took their civil liberties with seriousness.

(3) Few original settlers were rich. They had pride instead, religion, and firm democratic instincts.

(4) In modern times, however, North Carolina has become a wealthy state. The total taxable property was about three-quarters of a billion dollars in 1900; by 1940 it was almost four billion dollars. Certainly wealth does not of necessity produce liberalism, but the fact that the state was never so grindingly poor as its neighbors has, naturally, tended to produce better standards of education.

(5) Most North Carolina farms are small, and, except in a few areas, they are predominantly worked by owners, not by sharecroppers or tenants. This also tends to produce a healthy economy which in turn may, with luck, promote liberal rather than antiliberal instincts.

(6) Climate. North Carolina covers a very wide gamut geographically, which also makes for reasonableness. A subordinate point is that the roads are good, which gives the population more mobility than in most southern states, and mobility can be an additional factor leading to moderation.

(7) The influence of independent newspapers like the Raleigh News and Observer. This is the Daniels paper. Surely it is one of the pleasantest of personal sidelights that, after Josephus Daniels resigned the active editorship to his son Jonathan, he took it over again at the age of eighty-three so that Jonathan might be free to become Roosevelt’s press secretary in the White House. Old Josephus had, of course, been secretary of the navy and FDR’s chief many years before.

(8) There were comparatively few slaves in North Carolina. It has plenty of Negroes now, but on the whole it has had better luck with the Negro problem than any other area in the South. Its facilities for Negro schools are the same as for white, at least in theory (sometimes the Negro buildings aren’t what they ought to be); Negro teachers get the same pay as white teachers, something unique, and the state supports a Negro college.

(9) Several strongly liberal governors, like Charles B. Aycock, set a pattern for progressive government a good many years ago.

(10) Finally, the influence of the University of North Carolina, at Chapel Hill, the oldest state university in America.

Who runs North Carolina? This is an extremely independent state. It refused at first to accept the federal Constitution (like Rhode Island) and was in theory a sovereign commonwealth for a brief period; its legislature voted against secession when the War Between the States began, and it did not join the rest of the South until the Northern armies invaded Virginia. All over America we have seen tenacious and deep-rooted suspicion by the people toward executive power; North Carolina probably carries this further than any other state. For one thing its governor has no veto. For another he may not succeed himself even after an interval. Most southern states forbid a governor to have two consecutive terms; North Carolina won’t let him have two no matter when.

The South, by and large, is sensitive about being bossed; most states, even those worst bossed, are ashamed of being so. “If it’s known that you belong to a machine, you’re licked” is a familiar motto, except in Tennessee and Virginia. North Carolina accepts this hostility to bosses to an extreme degree. If you say of any man that he “runs” the state, he’ll turn black in the face trying to deny it.

Most of the main political factors are familiar. The textile industry on the extreme conservative side, together with the tobacco companies and the utilities—these are the main economic groups behind the legislature, and those putting up the most money for political campaigns. A counter-weight to an extent is agriculture. If you can get the farmers aroused, they can be a lively influence. The veterans are beginning to be a force, though they have not been so conspicuous as in Tennessee. The Baptist church is another element, and so are the liquor interests.7 Finally, the nearest thing to a machine that North Carolina has is the so-called “Shelby crowd.” Shelby is the seat of Cleveland County, a textile nucleus; in the past few years the speaker of the local house, several judges both state and federal, former Governor Max Gardner and his brother-in-law Senator Clyde R. Hoey, have all come from the Shelby group. North Carolina has not been distinguished for its federal senators lately; one almost begins to wonder if the state is so liberal after all. One senator is Josiah W. Bailey, and till recently the other was Robert R. Reynolds, founder of the American Nationalist party and a reactionary full of fustian.

I have mentioned the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) so often that any further word seems supererogation. Yet this institution is not only the single most noteworthy thing in the state; it is one of the best of all American universities. Here, under Frank P. Graham (who took time out during most of the war to help run the War Labor Board), the “North Carolina renaissance” has its focus; Chapel Hill really fulfills the function of a true university, in giving a spirited and pointed leadership to the whole community. “Members of my faculty can say anything they please,” Mr. Graham told me, “and what I hope is that boys and girls who come here will always have an inner commitment to the freedom of the mind.” His attitude is that the university belongs to all the people; when I was there delegates from white and Negro colleges in thirteen states met to form a “Conference of Southern Students,” and elected a Negro chairman. There was no explosion, though by state law no Negro student may actually be admitted to Chapel Hill. Graham himself probably laments this. He says, “I don’t have great racial consciousness myself. I obey the law.” Above all he believes in his university as an “agency of the commonwealth”; what he wants is “to take it to the people.”

Duke University at Durham near by is more conservative, but the influence of Chapel Hill is a steady leaven. Duke was, as everybody knows, once called Trinity; the stream of tobacco millions poured into it, and it changed its name; Duke has a bigger endowment now than Princeton. In physical plant, the two Carolina institutions provide the sharpest contrast. Chapel Hill looks informal, comfortable, and a bit down at the heel. Duke looks like a 1947-model chromium-plated castle; it has glittering carved paths instead of Chapel Hill’s dusty shaded lanes; it maintains two separate campuses, with men and women students segregated; Chapel Hill on the other hand looks like a somewhat careless happy family. Duke is run from New York, where the trustees meet, more than from North Carolina. The two institutions collaborate quite closely, in the exchange of teachers and library facilities, and remain fierce football rivals.

Finally a footnote in another world, that of the mountaineers. Pick up a book called The Great Smokies and the Blue Ridge, discerningly edited by Professor Roderick Peattie and including some beautiful passages by his brother, Donald Culross Peattie.8 The chapter that struck me most is by Alberta Pierson Hannum; it contains sections of a diary—“more tanagra than diary”—kept by an old mountaineer named Jacob Carpenter. Whenever a mountaineer in the district died, Mr. Carpenter, may he rest in peace, wrote down a brief obituary. I beg leave to quote a few:

Wm Davis age 100.8 died oc 5 1841 war old soldier in rev war and got his thie brok in last fite at kings monton he war farmer and made brandy and never had drunker in famly

Franky Davis his wife age 87 dide Sep 10 1842 she had nerve fite wolves all nite at shogar camp to save her caff throde fire chunks to save caff the camp war haf mile from home now she must have nerve to fite wolf all nite

Steven buckanen age 70 June 5 1898 he war precher babtis

Margit Ollis age 60 died July 10 1899 work on farm all of her days

South Carolina and Its Charleston

This is a case apart; South Carolina is one of the poorest of American states, and probably the balkiest. Like its big sister to the north, it has pronounced sectionalisms; the chief division is between the “low country,” that is the coastal area, and the “uplands”; one might also mention a third region, the sand hills above tidewater, where poor folk called “sandlappers” live. These segmentations arise out of history as well as geography. The state was first settled in 1670, by the English, and for half a century the new arrivals hugged the coast; the sea has always meant a great deal to South Carolina, arid for years little penetration of the interior took place. The first colonists thought of themselves, interestingly enough, not so much as inhabiting the southern tip of America, but the northernmost tip of the West Indies—and West Indian influence is still very distinct in Charleston to this day. “We have the finest climate in this part of the Indies,” wrote one old chronicler. The back country, on its side, was settled (as in North Carolina) mostly from the north; the Scots began to filter down from Pennsylvania and Virginia. Then a Connecticut artisan named Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin. This carried the plantations, and the slave system, into the interior. A corollary item is that many early South Carolina planters hated slavery. They were free men, packed with idealism, and they strongly disapproved of slavery on moral grounds, though they lived with it.

The low country people and upland people are still at loggerheads. One reason is poor communications; nobody can quite understand this point until he tries, by rail, to cross the inland area. Charleston, on the coast, dominated everything until half a century ago; Columbia was made the capital to satisfy the hinterland. The uplands today make a kind of “cross roads society” and are spotted with industry to an extent, for instance in textile towns like Greenville and Spartanburg, across from Gastonia; Spartanburg is the home of James F. Byrnes, among other things. The “lintheads,” as the mill workers are called, are among the most poverty blanched and backward folk in America. There are 38,931 homes in South Carolina without a toilet or privy.

I have mentioned that South Carolina lucklessly had one economic factor after another shot from under her. Turpentine and the trade in ship’s stores declined when sail gave way to steam. Indigo, once an extremely important item, was killed by the advent of aniline dyes. Then rice, after a time, could not compete against the “highland” rice of Arkansas or Texas, where harvesting was possible by machinery; cultivation in South Carolina had to be done under water, by hand, as in Japan. Finally, Sea Island (=long staple) cotton was mostly destroyed by the boll weevil thirty years ago, and subsequent techniques in spinning made this variety of cotton less valuable than it had been before.

Perhaps I am sounding too dour a note. South Carolina, for all its poverty and ill luck, has a certain somber and shadowy magnificence. Josephine Pinckney, author of Three O’Clock Dinner and a descendant of one of the most irrefragably distinguished of Charleston families, wrote an article during the war to introduce the state to British readers, which is well worth quoting:

Physically the Low Country retains its glamorous air under the scourings and sweepings of industrial change. ‘Down on the salt,’ as they say, the sea-islands still offer their long, palmetto-fringed beaches and their wide green marshes to the enormous sky. A little way inland the dense woods hung with grey Spanish moss, the nostalgic ruins of plantation houses destroyed by war or fire, the cypress pools of clear black water in which the herons stand like fabulous white blooms on their stalks—these trappings of the Gothic romances have their old power to stir the imagination.

Miss Pinckney proceeds to talk of Charleston, its Georgian houses so startlingly like those of London, meandering piazzas, soft walled gardens, and the memory never far away that this was a town built by the Lords Proprietor.

Charleston is in fact a gem; it is also a kind of mummy, like Savannah. I heard one unkind friend nickname it “Death on the Atlantic,” and call it “a perfect example of what the South must never be again.” Be this as it may, it belongs in that strange eclectic category of American “sights” not to be missed, practically like the Taos Pueblo and Niagara Falls. Once it was the fourth biggest city in America, and probably the most brilliantly sophisticated; today much of its polish has worn off, though it still retains a cardinal quality of grace. Also, a city on a narrow island between two small rivers, it has great local pride. “Charleston, sir,” one of the local worthies once told a Yankee interloper, “is that untarnished jewel shining regally at that sacred spot where the Ashley and the Cooper join their majestic waters to form the Atlantic Ocean.”9 Once Charleston was known as “Capital of the Plantation”; but it is a seaport, and so has been vulnerable to the incursions of the foreign-born. The leading commercial family today derives from a group of six Sicilian brothers, who own theaters, hotels, automobile agencies, and the like; there are also Chinese, Greek, Portuguese, and Sephardic Jewish communities. Many of the great old houses are, one by one, being sold or boarded up. Some were used during the war by the Army and Navy (Charleston played an active and honorable role in war activities); some, leased by northern owners, are empty most of the year; in some the last entrenched survivors of the old society—in the main wealthy widows who inherited fortunes made on rice—still hold out.

The town keeps up, however, a considerable intellectual and social life. It has never heard of Minneapolis or Akron, of course, and is just coming to recognize Atlanta; but it has a good art gallery and a theater. It contains one of the best clubs in the country, the oldest St. Andrew Society outside Scotland, and the oldest surviving home of Scottish Rites Masonry. One Charleston editor told me that if he joined every club in town, not including secret societies and organizations like the Kiwanis, his annual dues would amount to eight hundred dollars or more. The most famous of Charlestonian social institutions, and a survival like nothing else in America except the Philadelphia Assembly, is the St. Cecilia Society which was organized in 1763. It holds (in normal times) three massive and ornate balls a year; its membership is the cream of the cream, and its etiquette super-rigidly formal; no Charleston newspaper ever prints any report of its events or invitations, and when I asked what Life would do if it “went” to a St. Cecilia party, the reply was, “Life would be thrown out on its neck.” Invitations to these fabulous affairs must still be conveyed by hand, smoking is not permitted, and needless to say every young lady has a chaperone.

“Society” in Charleston lives below what the irreverent call “the Drain,” that is, south of Broad Street, where the great houses are. Once an admiral in charge of Charleston Navy Yard, a native of a town about a hundred miles away, met a lady. She was impressed by his Carolina accent and proffered, “Admiral, I live in Connecticut, but I’m not a Yankee; I was born in Maryland south of the Mason and Dixon’s line.” The admiral calmly replied, “I, Madame, was born north of the Mason and Dixon’s line—in Florence, South Carolina.” The lady, puzzled, asked how that could be. “Madame,” the admiral proceeded with gravity, “in my part of the world we have always been given to understand that the Mason and Dixon’s line runs through Broad Street, Charleston.”

Politics in South Carolina need not concern us greatly. This is a “white supremacy” state par excellence (though it did manage to retire an atrocity like Cotton Ed Smith);10 it is one of the few states (Alabama is another) where a person must have a certain amount of property to vote. Nevertheless South Carolina has a curious eruptive quality. For instance one senator, Olin D. Johnson, was once a mill hand, and the new governor, J. Strom Thurmond, a youthful war veteran, is a distinct liberal. I asked a Charleston friend why Cotton Ed Smith had not left a machine. Answer: “Because he never had one.” The chief political issue today is the white primary. When the Supreme Court decided in the Texas case that Negroes could not legally be excluded from primaries, South Carolina evaded this by repealing its own electoral laws; by so doing, the pretense was put forward that the primary is purely an affair of the Democratic party, with which the state has nothing to do; hence, it is not bound to intervene if a “private organization” like the Democratic party chooses to restrict its “membership.”11

The Negro community is, on its side, self-conscious and adult, and South Carolina is the only state in which Negroes have, in effect, sought to establish their own political party. This striking development came in 1944. Membership in this Progressive Democratic Party, as it is now called, includes whites also; that it had a considerable success was a painful shock to traditionalists. South Carolina had, incidentally, no fewer than three different “Democratic” parties in 1944: the regular organization, the Progressives, and the “southern” Democrats who wanted to bolt the Roosevelt ticket and vote for Byrd. The background of this cannot be appreciated easily without cognizance of the fact that South Carolina for many years had a Negro majority. This dwindled, however, from roughly 150,000 in 1910 to about 46,000 in 1920; numerical preponderance then passed to the whites, and the white majority today is about 227,000. But this is too narrow a margin for white comfort. I heard one doughty citizen of Charleston say, “If we could only have primaries that would eliminate 90 per cent of the Negroes, and also 50 per cent of the whites, all would be well!”

A saltily picturesque character is W. W. Ball, editor of the Charleston News and Courier. This veteran is accused of “not knowing yet that the War Between the States is over,” and of being a “damned up-country-man”; his office is in the building where South Carolina voted for secession, and his views are idiosyncratic in the extreme; he likes to say that he is the last surviving Jeffersonian Democrat and has “to go to my sister-in-law, a Vermonter, to find anybody who talks my language”; he recalls wistfully a half-forgotten demagogue, remarking, “He trampled on me, but I’d thank God to have him back”; he delivers himself of statements like “We white Southerners just carry the blacks on our shoulders, exactly as if they were still slaves,” and “It’s a pity that Mr. Lincoln didn’t set the white men free”; he likes to quote a remark, “Well, when the last cargo of niggers leaves the South, damned if you won’t find me hanging onto the platform!”

Ball writes half a dozen brief editorial paragraphs daily, which are full of prejudice and pith. For instance:

As an opponent of class legislation, the News and Courier insists that no state hospital for alcoholics shall be established and maintained at taxpayers’ expense unless it shall also accept the custody of and be responsible for hoboes of all varieties. No good argument for the social security of drunks … can be offered.

And in April, 1945:

The News and Courier hopes that President Truman will appoint our Mr. Byrnes secretary of state in his cabinet. We wish him to prove that he is not one of those “sectional” partisans opposed to Southern white men having a chance to be president and it would delight in seeing a deserved and sharp rebuke administered to the Harlemites … and boycotters of Southern white men.

The Special Entity of Florida

The singular characteristics of the great state of Florida are so wel) known that we can risk being brief. Visitors from the North are apt to take one look at that Heliogabaluslike organism Miami Beach, and say, “Florida isn’t part of the South at all.” Actually, the Peninsula State is very much part of the South; it contains not merely most of the familiar southern stigmata, but much else particularly and distinctively its own.

Florida has by far the longest seaboard of any American state which fact alone, giving it a kind of ocean culture, distinguishes it markedly. It has a history stretching far back indeed: there were 306 years between Ponce de Leon and proprietorship by the United States; St. Augustine is the oldest town in North America, having been founded in 1565. More than any other southern state except possibly Louisiana, Florida has variety; it combines an old Spanish underlay, the atmosphere of the deep South, and most important of all, a tremendous incursion from the North. For these and other reasons, it has more vitality than any southern area, with the possible exception of Tennessee in the valley region.

Consider some of the things Florida has, in various but accordant fields. Baby alligators for sale; the Seminoles who, deep in “the cypress,” maintain their own so-called law, and have no treaty with the United States to this day; the great naval air base at Pensacola; sugar cane and 30,000 lakes; wonderful tarpon, sailfish, and white marlin fishing; winter headquarters for the circus and most major-league baseball teams; freakishness in everything from architecture to social behavior unmatched in any American state; aloof and benign haunts of an etiolated aristocracy at Palm Beach; two million cattle valued at 60 million dollars; the highest syphilis rate in the nation; violent quarrels between rival railroads; the bizarre excesses of the annual run of tourists from the North; political conflict between the Crackers (technically anybody born in Florida is a “Cracker,” but the term has come to signify the poor whites of the interior); the Hemingway country near Key West; 328 different kinds of trees; the solidly Jewish resort towns and, until recently at least, the grisly back streets of Miami with their signs in rooming house after rooming house, GENTILES ONLY; a considerable jealousy of California in the realms of citrus fruit and of the weather; petroleum in the Everglades; Lake Okeechobee west of Palm Beach, called by local chauvinists the most fertile spot on earth; tennis players at Rollins College at Winter Park; Jacksonville and its growing importance as a port; a large proportion of the people living high for three months during the tourist season and then living very low on fish and grits the rest of the year; flamingos, hibiscus, labor goons, and the late Al Capone; an annual farm income of 300 million dollars produced on 7 per cent of the land; a substantial business in turtles, shrimp and sponges; no sales tax, no income tax, no tax on small homesteads, no state land tax, no poll tax; and above all sunshine.

Politically there are several struggles for power in Florida. One is that of the “turnstile boys,” the hotel proprietors, and the “Fountain of Youth folk” against the rest of the community. Florida spends nowhere nearly as much as does California, say, or Pennsylvania on tourist propaganda; nevertheless the sum is considerable and many “Floridians” (not Floridans) resent that this should come out of taxes, as a state expense, instead of being paid for by those particularly dependent on the tourist trade. Another is, as in so many states, that between the rural and urban communities; Dade County, which contains Miami, pays 25 per cent of the entire tax bill of the state but has only one senator. The big towns—Jacksonville and Tampa as well as Miami—dislike being in an inferior position vis-à-vis the “cow counties” just as New York City hates to be at the comparative mercy of Oswego.

Florida politics can be fancy in the extreme. One point is the considerable power of the governor. Uniquely in America, sheriffs and some other county officers are subject to gubernatorial confirmation; a man may, for instance, spend a Cyclopean amount of money to get elected sheriff but he cannot assume office until the governor agrees to his appointment. A system leading more beautifully and inevitably to the possibility of graft can scarcely be imagined. Florida has fanciness, too, in other fields. Early in 1945 the Florida Power Corporation, the dominant utility in the state, was ordered by the SEC to divest itself of nine million dollars worth of stock. The power corporation officials moved into New York with “souvenir boxes of Florida fruit preserves” and in a cavalcade led by “Miss Florida of 1945” trimly caparisoned in a bathing suit.12

A curious item is that Florida, like California a mecca for the aged and underpossessed, has nowhere near the Golden State’s share of political crackpotism. Townsend clubs do, it is true, exist, and they have at times exerted considerable local power, but they have nothing of the impact and prestige of similar groups on the west coast. One reason for this, oddly enough, is gambling. In some Florida counties, particularly in the south, gambling is by all odds the chief political force and factor. Technically gambling is illegal, but to say this is like saying that alcohol is “illegal” in Kansas or Mississippi. Miami and its environs have for years been the most explosively and pictorially gambling-dominated communities in the United States. A tremendous industry is horse racing. I happened to be in Miami when the season opened last year. The first day at Gulfstream Park brought in $805,866. The Hialeah track is of course one of the most famous in the nation. Now, by Florida law, 85 per cent of the horserace “take” goes back to the bettor; 15 per cent is distributed otherwise, of which the track gets 7, the state the other 8; of this 8 per cent, 5 per cent is earmarked for old age pensions. Similarly, the old folks get a share—but a very small share—of proceeds from the dog tracks, which are another part of the Miami saturnalia.

The total Florida income from horse racing was something like 100 million dollars in 1945, so, from this source alone, the state got eight million dollars, and the old folks five million dollars. For many years, the state’s share in racing was only 10 per cent. This was raised to 15 per cent four years ago, against the stormy protests of the track interests, with the extra 5 assigned to the old and indigent. Hence, gambling in Florida supports the aged.

Miami has, of course, another and a more sober side, one aspect of which is aviation. Not only has it become one of the great international airports of the world; it is the home base of Eastern Airlines, and during the war Pan American’s local pay roll was close to 25 million dollars a year. Most of the companies flying north from Miami have a service stop at Jacksonville. There is a reason for this—that Florida charges no state tax on aviation gasoline. So the big liners take on in Jacksonville all the fuel they can hold.

The convoluted history of Miami and Miami Beach—in particular their intramural rivalries and the way the latter was created by a unique adventure in speculation—is too familiar to deal with here. What the whole community, so blessed by a lucent climate, so wonderfully picturesque and choked with such blatant incongruities, fears most today is another crash. The Florida winter of 1945-46 saw the most spectacular and savage spending in American history. Most of this came from black market money being unloaded in the so-called amusement industries. But the boom spread over into real estate too; northerners, released from the burden of war at last, free to travel, heavy with cash, fought to buy an inch of land. The story has ominous overtones of the familiar, in that exactly this kind of development took place in the 20’s; then, too, vacant lots in scrubby neighborhoods sold for $25,000. In 1926 came the Florida crash; it took the state more than ten years to recover fully. I have before me a Miami Daily News of date May 15, 1939. In it are thirty-two solid columns of fine type listing properties sold for taxes. Most of the lots—literally thousands—went for prices like $5.43, $4.16, $7.46, and most owners were given as “unknown.” The point need not be labored that responsible Floridians don’t want any such catastrophe to occur again.

Finally, let us mention weather. Florida is a heaven of sunshine even more heavenly, in part, than California. Perhaps a small and old story is to the point. An eminent Chicago gangster, having succumbed to vices inherent in his trade, was to be buried not in Chicago but in Miami. A very large and imposing funeral was arranged by his Florida companions. But he rose like a jack-in-the-box from the coffin just as the burial began. Florida’s sunshine had penetrated right through the heavy casket and revived him.

* Copyright, 1927, 1928, by Stephen Vincent Benêt.

1 Cf. “Senator Byrd of Virginia,” by Gerald W. Johnson, in Life, August 7, 1944, an admirably informed article. Harry Byrd has two brothers, incidentally, named nicely Tom and Dick. Tom is a successful businessman; Dick is the celebrated admiral and explorer.

2 This figure is from PM, June 23, 1946.7°9

3 Some of the material for this paragraph is derived from a chart in PM, June 23, 1946, part of a series of articles about Byrd by Gordon H. Cole.

4 Not to be confused with the University of Virginia, which was founded by Thomas Jefferson, at Charlottesville; its rector at present is Edward R. Stettinius Jr. Another famous Virginia university is Washington and Lee at Lexington.

5 West Virginia has a peculiar gun-toting law, by the way. Homicides among the backwoodsmen used to be disconcertingly numerous, so a law was p; ssed whereby no citizen may carry arms except by permission of the local court, and after a sizable bond is posted.

6 One example of specialized industry is cigarette paper. Until World War II, practically all the cigarette paper used in America, a prodigious amount, came from France. Now most of it is manufactured in North Carolina in new plants on the banks of the Davidson River, near the Pisgah National Forest. One company makes paper for Camels, Chesterfields, Philip Morris, Old Gold, and Lucky Strikes.

7 A great local issue is of course prohibition. Recently the finance committee of the senate, after a vivid fight, voted down a proposal for a state-wide prohibition referendum. The situation has elements of the picturesque, in that the counties most eager to make the whole state dry were those most replete with illicit stills. Seventy-five of North Carolina’s one hundred counties are dry at present. In the others the ABC (Alcoholic Board of Control) stores have the monopoly of the liquor traffic. Old Mr. Daniels calls these the “Alcohol Brutalizes Consumers” stores.

8 Published by the Vanguard Press, New York, 1943.

9 Reader’s Digest, May, 1940, quoting Collier’s magazine.

10 Mr. Smith once walked out of a Democratic National Convention because the invocation was delivered by a Negro preacher, muttering, “Hell, he’s as black as melted midnight!” Then he told his constituents, “The Negro minister was not put there to invoke divine blessing … He was asking for primary blessing.” From Public Men In and Out of Office, p. 347-48.

11 Cf. Stewart Alsop in the New York Herald Tribune, September 16, 1946. The constitutionality of this artifice is yet to be tested.

12 Life, November 5, 1945.

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