Dear Congressman Abbitt

“Dear Congressman Abbitt”

Virginians and National Politics, 1948-1973

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"Dear Congressman Abbitt" draws from the papers of Rep. Watkins Moorman Abbitt, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1948 to 1973.  The Abbitt Papers are housed in the Department of Special Collections, Boatwright Library at the University of Richmond.  

The collection features letters, pamphlets, speeches, congressional bills, photographs, and other documents that offer a window in the ways in which Abbitt and his constituents understood and attempted to shape national politics in the mid-twentieth-century United States.

Abbitt, a Democrat and a political ally of the powerful Virginia senator Harry Flood Byrd, represented Virginia’s Fourth Congressional district.  The district encompassed a region of the Commonwealth known colloquially as "Southside."  In the 1950s and 1960s, Southside's economy was largely rural--focused on the production of tobacco, peanuts, as well as poultry and lumber.  However, the district also included the port cities of Norfolk, and, after 1965, Chesepeake.  Although Abbitt's district was X% African American in 1960, laws and practices designed to dissuade African Americans from voting meant that the voters of Abbitt's district were almost exclusively white.  In the wake of Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court ruling striking down school desegregation in 1954, Abbitt became a leader of white Virginian's "massive resistance" to integrated public schools.  Prince Edward Coutnty, the only school district in the nation to permanently shutter its public schools, lay within Abbitt's district. 

This digital collection is particularly strong in materials that focus on civil rights and massive resistance; the tobacco industry in rural Virginia; white Southern responses to the Fair Deal, the Great Society, and the role of white Southerners into national right-wing politics and modern American conservatism.