In 1945, I was honorably discharged from the Army Air Corps. I had acquired 48 months of GI Bill eligibility. In the fall of 1946, I matriculated at Washington & Lee University and graduated in June, 1949. I began teaching at Covington High School in the fall of 1949. I registered to vote and faced the poll tax and other blocks to voting.
Those were days of the Byrd machine in Virginia. It was an oligarchy of Dixiecrats. Few offices were elected. They were appointed by commissions appointed by the governor. And the governor was elected by about 15 percent of the electorate. The poll tax eliminated blacks, and white newcomers were scrutinized. I was a liberal Democrat and let it be known.
When the Supreme Court ruled that segregation of schools was unconstitutional, I rejoiced, and when Virginia judicial and legislative members decided to let blacks enter public schools and build private schools for white, I verbally went ballistic. In response to whites' allegation that integration would produce mongrels, I declared that Virginia politicians were already moral mongrels. It didn't sit well in the land of Byrd. I was, without reason given, denied a teaching contract in Covington.
I was a West Virginian. I looked at my state then and saw that it had integrated without strife, and that about 65 percent of the electorate voted, more or less liberally. I was proud of West Virginia's liberalism relative to Virginia's Old South conservatism and serfdom. I moved back to West Virginia and taught school here and acquired a license to practice law. I ran for prosecuting attorney, and although I was called a Communist, I won with a 60 percent margin. I prospered in spite of my reputation as the village atheist. When my daughter ran for prosecution attorney she likewise won with 60 percent.
After Johnson came Nixon, then Ford, followed by Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush (two painful terms), and then Obama and again Obama. I can live now, even though time is not on my side. The irony of my political life is that in the Nov. 6 election, West Virginia voted heavily against Obama and Virginia voted for Obama. I am sad the state of my birth has voted twice for George Bush and twice against Obama, while the state I indicted not long ago is now more compatible with my politics.
While Virginia seceded from the United States and gave the Confederacy the leadership of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson and fought to the bitter end to save and perpetuate a feudal state of landed aristocracy and serfs, West Virginia joined the Union and helped defeat the South.
While Virginia became reactionary and restricted the right of blacks, established the poll tax and passed Jim Crow laws, West Virginia was less restrictive and more accommodating of blacks, and when integration was ordered it complied. Virginia fought integration and the mixing of the races doggedly until it had to concede that integration was the future. In Virginia, Dixiecrats have become Republicans. In West Virginia, Democrats have become DINOs.
I have not changed since maturing politically. But West Virginia and Virginia have changed radically in my lifetime: The former more conservative and latter more liberal.
Mann, a Hinton lawyer and former legislator, is a frequent Gazette contributor.