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Dictionary of Virginia Biography

James Lindsay Almond


James Lindsay Almond (15 June 1898–14 April 1986), member of the House of Representatives, attorney general of Virginia, and governor of Virginia, was born in Charlottesville, the elder of two sons and second of three children of James Lindsay Almond and Edmonia Nicholas Burgess Almond. He grew up in rural middle class circumstances on his family's farm in Orange County. His father was a locomotive engineer and farmer, and both of his grandfathers and numerous other relatives were Confederate army veterans. Almond began his education in a one-room county public school. After graduating from high school in 1917, he entered the Student Army Training Corps at the University of Virginia. Almond completed his collegiate education, raising tuition by working at various jobs, including a stint as a rural high school principal. He entered the University of Virginia's law school in 1920, received his law degree in 1923, and joined a law firm in Roanoke. Though raised a Baptist, Almond became a lifelong and active member of the Lutheran church in 1925 after marrying Josephine Katherine Minter. They had no children, but they raised her nephew Lewis Minter as a son.

J. Lindsay Almond Jr., as he identified himself throughout his life, entered politics in 1925 and campaigned for the Democratic Party's gubernatorial candidate, Harry Flood Byrd. His political work soon brought rewards. In 1930 Almond was appointed an assistant commonwealth's attorney, and two years later the General Assembly elected him judge of the Roanoke Hustings Court, ending the tenure of an incumbent and evidently making Almond the youngest person to that time to occupy the bench in a Virginia court of record.

Member of Congress and Attorney General
In a 1946 special election, Almond won a seat in the House of Representatives. Although his congressional post earned him a higher salary, in 1948 leaders of Byrd's Democratic Party organization asked him to give it up to fill out the remaining term of the recently deceased state attorney general. In exchange for doing so, Almond expected to receive the organization's nod for the 1953 gubernatorial nomination. By the early 1950s, however, Almond was no longer fully trusted at the highest levels of the Byrd organization. He had advocated stronger loyalty to the national Democratic Party than the organization's leadership thought proper, and he had written a letter to President Harry S. Truman endorsing an antiorganization Democrat for appointment to a federal office. When 1953 arrived, the organization passed him over in favor of Congressman Thomas Bahnson Stanley. Almond ran for and won reelection as attorney general.

Almond found himself almost constantly occupied in defending Virginia's practice of racial segregation in public schools, then under attack by black citizens legally represented by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The Virginia segregation case, Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, Virginia, along with cases from three other states and the District of Columbia, came before the United States Supreme Court in 1952. Disputing all aspects of the NAACP case, Almond made the most thorough defense of any of the attorneys of the states' position that they had a right to keep their schools segregated. Despite his efforts, in its 1954 decision on Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that racial segregation in public education was unconstitutional.

Massive Resistance
Initially Almond and Governor Stanley responded to the decision with statements of reluctant acceptance, urging compliance with the law. Within weeks, however, their stand began hardening into defiance. By early in 1956 Almond stood behind Senator Harry Byrd's call for Massive Resistance to public school desegregation. In February the General Assembly adopted a resolution "interposing" its authority between Virginia and the Brown decision, and in September it adopted a multifaceted Massive Resistance program. The plan mandated that the governor close any public school that was subjected to a federal desegregation order. The community could then substitute a publicly subsidized, private segregated system. Because he was serving as defense counsel in the school cases, Almond did not advise the legislators drafting the Massive Resistance statutes, though privately he expressed doubts as to their constitutionality.

By assiduously building support throughout 1956 at the Byrd organization's courthouse level, Almond was able to edge out his chief rival, ardently pro–Massive Resistance state senator Garland Gray, for the organization's backing in the 1957 gubernatorial race. From the beginning of the campaign Almond staked out strong positions on two issues of great concern to a majority of Virginia voters: the desire to maintain racial segregation in the public schools, and the need to improve and strengthen public education coupled with a program of economic development. Skillfully employing his gift for oratory, Almond emphasized one or the other goal depending on which section of Virginia he was addressing. Before Southside audiences, his Massive Resistance rhetoric could be extravagant. The Republican candidate, state senator Theodore Roosevelt Dalton, stated that the all-out defiance demanded by Massive Resistance would be futile and advocated instead a pupil placement plan to limit and control desegregation. Public opinion surged in Almond's favor a month before the election when President Dwight David Eisenhower dispatched federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, to enforce a federal judge's school desegregation order. Almond won the election with 63.2 percent of the votes cast.

Governor
In his inaugural address in January 1958, Almond restated the two themes of his campaign, stridently denouncing the Brown decision and proposing significant improvements in public education. He asked Virginians to carry out Massive Resistance firmly but to protest legally and not violently. In September 1958, when federal judges issued desegregation decrees for schools in Front Royal, Charlottesville, and Norfolk, Almond obeyed the Massive Resistance laws and closed the schools, shutting nearly thirteen thousand students out of their classrooms. Although he fulminated against the federal courts, Almond presented no alternative education plan. With pressures mounting, Almond found the state far from united behind him. Virginia's major business leaders expressed concern over the economic impact of the school closings, and middle-class citizens in several cities began organizing to save the public schools. Publicly urging defiance, Byrd refused to return Almond's telephone calls for advice. The governor bided his time, awaiting the outcome of challenges to the school closings then being heard in state and federal courts.

On 19 January 1959 the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals and the United States District Court in Norfolk both struck down the school closing law as unconstitutional. That evening Almond made a fiery radio and television address denouncing federal usurpation of Virginia's rights. He added comments with clearly racial overtones regarding the potential effects of desegregation. A week later, when he convened a special session of the General Assembly, hard-line segregationists anticipated an uncompromising defense of the color line. To their surprise, Almond declared that Massive Resistance was no longer tenable and that it was time to retreat to a program of restricting desegregation. The governor appointed a commission to prepare a containment plan for consideration at a special session scheduled for April. With the resistance barrier gone, the first desegregation was carried out on 2 February 1959 in Arlington and Norfolk.

Supporters of Massive Resistance thought Almond had betrayed them. Thousands rallied in Capitol Square calling for continued defiance, angry protest letters poured into the governor's office, and someone even fired a shot at Almond as he walked in front of the Executive Mansion. The break between Almond and Byrd, who remained adamant in his support of Massive Resistance, was irrevocable.

In April 1959, when the special commission presented the assembly with its proposals to permit limited desegregation, the lines of division between Almond's moderates and the supporters of Massive Resistance were bitterly and closely drawn. The moderate measures narrowly passed the House of Delegates and cleared the Senate of Virginia by only one vote. The fight persisted into the regular General Assembly session in 1960. Almond proposed a 3 percent sales tax to finance increased funding for education and other state services. The Massive Resisters defeated the sales tax but passed the governor's budget recommending increases in funds for education to be paid for by higher alcohol and tobacco taxes.

Almond's travail reflected the ambivalence and turbulence felt by Virginia's white majority during the years of Massive Resistance. When forced to choose between maintaining public education with the least possible disruption and continuing the struggle to preserve racial separation, the majority of white Virginians and their governor grudgingly placed the future of public education and the goal of economic development ahead of the defense of racial segregation. In 1980 the General Assembly passed a resolution praising Almond for the courage of his stand in 1959.

Constitutionally prohibited from succeeding himself, Almond hoped for a federal judicial appointment. In 1960 he had warmly supported the presidential candidacy of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, a friend since their service together in Congress. Most of the Byrd organization's leaders tacitly or openly opposed Kennedy's election. After Kennedy won, Almond got his chance for a postgubernatorial appointment. Faced with opposition from Senator Byrd, Kennedy decided against appointing Almond to a district court judgeship and instead nominated him to the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals. Byrd still vented his displeasure by keeping the Almond nomination from coming before the Senate for more than fourteen months, finally allowing it to pass in June 1963.

Later Years
In 1973 Almond took senior status as a patent court judge, a kind of semiretirement. J. Lindsay Almond Jr. died in Richmond of heart failure on 14 April 1986 and was buried in Evergreen Burial Park in Roanoke.


Sources Consulted:
Ben Beagle and Ozzie Osborne, J. Lindsay Almond: Virginia's Reluctant Rebel (1984); James W. Ely Jr., "J. Lindsay Almond, Jr.," in The Governors of Virginia: 1860–1978, eds. Edward Younger and James T. Moore (1982), 349–359; James Lindsay Almond Jr. Papers, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, Va.; James Lindsay Almond Jr. Executive Papers, Accession 26230, Record Group 3, Library of Virginia; several of Almond's speeches, including inaugural address (11 Jan. 1958; WRVA-360) and speech to the General Assembly (28 Jan. 1959; WRVA-387) in WRVA Radio Collection, Accession 38210, Library of Virginia; Benjamin Muse, Virginia's Massive Resistance (1961); J. Harvie Wilkinson III, Harry Byrd and The Changing Face of Virginia Politics, 1945–1966 (1968); James H. Hershman Jr., "A Rumbling in the Museum: The Opponents of Virginia's Massive Resistance" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Virginia, 1978); Richard Kluger, Simple Justice (1976), 480–507; obituaries in Richmond News Leader, Richmond Times-Dispatch, and Roanoke Times and World News, all 15 Apr. 1986; editorial tribute in Roanoke Times and World News, 16 Apr. 1986.


Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by James H. Hershman Jr.

Image courtesy of the Library of Virginia, State Art Collection.

How to cite this page:
James H. Hershman Jr.,"James Lindsay Almond (1898–1986)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 1998 (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Almond_James_Lindsay, accessed [today's date]).


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