Is Virginia a "Southern" State Now?

We joke now about the Civil War being the "War of Yankee Agression" or "The Late Unpleasantness" while we wave the Star Spangled Banner and expect our elected Senators/Representatives to bring home the Virginia share of the Federal "pork" for military bases, Interstate highway construction, etc.

The idea of secession in Virginia is now a concept for fun or history, rather than a viable proposal. Accents and clothing styles reflect what people see in national television shows and national magazines, and homogenization of culture diminishes the regional differences.

After Chechnya, Kosovo, and East Timor, it's clear that understanding sectionalism and community, and what keeps a political unit intact, is more than an academic exercise. If you are an American Indian, Aleut, Eskimo, or Hawaiian native, or dealing with lands owned or claimed by those groups, you may consider nationality and independence to be fundamental, unresolved political issues.

After the Revolutionary War, John Marshall is reported to have said "I went into the army a Virginian, I came out an American." But obviously other Virginians defined Virginia as their nation, even after the adoption of the Constitution and the increased power it granted the central government in the Federal union of states. John Randolph (of Roanoke) said "When I speak of my country, I am referring to the Commonwealth of Virginia" - and Robert E. Lee made a fateful choice in 1861 as well...

Sectional differences in various Virginia regions are still identifiable today. Every candidate is in favor of better roads and schools (and lower taxes...), but votes on some "social" issues such as gun control can expose different policies advocated by candidates running for office in urban vs. rural areas. The results of a vote in on an amendment to the State Constitution in 2000 showed clear regional differences in the level of support for "Shall the Constitution of Virginia be amended by adding a provision concerning the right of the people to hunt, fish, and harvest game?" Statewide, the proposal received 60% support. Support was lowest in the Eighth District in Northern Virginia (only 43%) and highest in the Ninth District in Southwest Virginia (76%).

Northern Virginia has gained a reputation as a liberal region in the last century, and as the high-tech "" region in the last 15 years. Some of the liberal philosophy was based on the attitudes of Quaker farmers who settled in Loudoun County before the Civil War. Their lack of support for the Confederate cause did not protect their barns from the "burning raid" of the Union forces, however. After that war, former Union officers settled in some sections of Northern Virginia such as Manassas - but then again, Chase City in Southside was also settled by "Yankees" after the war.

Southside has traditionally been perceived as a particularly conservative region, especially during the civil rights debates. Though most racism and segregation in Virginia during the middle third of the 20th Century may have been in the urban cities, the most overt act of segregation in the state was the closure of the Prince Edward County schools for four years.

Prior to the Civil War, there were more black staves than free whites in many counties in this region. Nat Turner's rebellion (1831, in Southampton County) spurred a tightening of the institutional racism, and echoes are still easy to find. In the 1999 sheriff's race in that area, charges of unequal treatment for the black candidate once again focused attention on issues of equality and status that dated back to the mid-1600's.

In 1954, the Supreme Court mandated the end to separate-but-equal school systems in the Brown vs. Board of Education. One plaintiff was from Prince Edward County in Southside. When the Byrd Machine's policy of Massive Resistance to the court order finally crumbled in 1959, the county responded by closing its public school system completely. A whole generation of students who should have gone from freshmen to graduation in a public high school between 1960-64 was excluded from education, forced to move away to attend school, or treated to substandard classrooms cobbled together in church basements and hastily-built segregation academies.

When State Senator Douglas Wilder decided to run for Lieutenant Governor, he was almost ignored as an unlikely underdog. He was a divorced black man, running for statewide office 30 years after Massive Resistance. His legislative record in the State Senate did not set him apart as a particularly effective leader. The traditional Democratic leaders did not support his candidacy, and worried that it would drag down the rest of the ticket by stimulating voters with religious and racial concerns to vote Republican.

Wilder confronted the issues by getting away from the media centers of the state, and going to Lee county to start his campaign. He drew surprising attention from local Democratic leaders and activists, in part because of the unaccustomed attention and a desire by Southwestern Virginians to be seen as hospitable rather than hostile. With a charming style and a sharply-edged campaign suggesting any opposition to him was spurred by racism, Wilder won commitments from more and more old-style Byrd Democrats during his campaign swings.

But perhaps his most important achievement was to win the backing of A. L. Philpott, a pillar of conservatism in Southside. Danville was the last capital of the Confederacy, and Wilder knew the challenge. He confronted it head-on. One crowning moment in the race was the campaign commercial featuring a deputy sheriff from Dinwiddie County. If you remember Rod Steiger's classic tobacco-plug-in-the-cheek performance in the movie In the Heat of the Night then you get the idea of the appearance of the officer - and the visual impact of the television commercial highlighting his endorsement of Doug Wilder. The Friends of Police organization considered Wilder to be tough on crime, and that conservative stance helped immunize Wilder against a racist rejection.

Regions of Virginia - and Why Isn't There An East Virginia?
Virginia Places