David John Mays (November 22, 1896 – February 17, 1971) was an American lawyer and writer. He attempted to slow racial desegregation on behalf of Byrd Organization during the Massive Resistance era.Mays served as counsel to the Gray Commission which tried to formulate segregationists' response to the United States Supreme Court rulings in 1954 and 1955 in consolidated cases known as Brown v. Board of Education. He later unsuccessfully defended actions taken against NAACP attorneys (although he had argued against adoption of those laws and correctly predicted they would be overturned) and significantly unequal legislative reapportionment. In 2008 the University of Georgia Press published an annotated volume of excerpts of his diaries concerning the early years of Massive Resistance (1954-1959). In 1953, Mays won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography for Edmund Pendleton 1721-1803 (Harvard University Press, 1952), a biography of the late 18th-century Virginia politician and judge Edmund Pendleton.
Mays was born in Richmond to Harvey James Mays, a chemical company foreman, and his wife, the former Helga Nelsen. His Danish immigrant grandfather, Rasmus Nelsen, founded the Nelsen funeral home in Richmond. He eventually had 10 brothers and sisters and attended public schools near his father's employment stations in Alabama and a suburb of Memphis, Tennessee. While he and his father traveled from Washington D.C. to visit Vanderbilt University, they stopped in Ashland, Virginia, where the elder Mays renewed a friendship and the younger Mays ultimately decided to attend Randolph-Macon Academy. David Mays never received a degree from that institution, although he studied and achieved high grades both from 1914-1916 and 1919-1920.
Between these academic terms, he spent a summer selling reference books in southern Delaware, and against his father's wishes enlisted with the First Delaware Infantry for service on the Mexican border against Pancho Villa in 1916-1917 (although his unit never left Deming, New Mexico). He later served as a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Infantry with the American Expeditionary Force in France, although again he never reached the combat front before the war ended.Mays was a lifelong Democrat and nominal member of the Methodist Church, although he stopped supporting the denomination after it became involved in political activities, opposing the presidential candidacy of Al Smith because of his Catholic religion.
Mays kept diaries for almost every year between his college schooling and old age. On May 22, 1917, he went with his father to witness the Lynching of Ell Persons, a 51-year-old black woodcutter whom a 5,000 person mob pulled from a train in Memphis en route to a court appearance. Persons had been accused of the gruesome rape and decapitation of a 16-year-old white girl, Antoinette Rappel. However, the evidence was flimsy (supposedly images captured by her dying eyes, found after her exhumation, a now-discredited technique), his confession probably under duress, and Persons never received a trial. Mays was fascinated by the scene and mob violence and stood near Persons' head as the black man was chained to the ground, doused with gasoline and burned alive.No-one was ever indicted for either murder, and the lynching propelled creation of the Memphis branch of the NAACP.
After his military discharge and graduation from Randolph-Macon Academy, Mays attended the University of Richmond law school, and graduated with a LL.B. in 1924. Beginning in 1926, he held a lecturer position at that law school (until 1942), then served on its Board of Trustees (and ultimately wrote a history of the law school). That financial stability helped him to marry his cousin, Ruth Reams, despite the opposition of both families because of their consanguinity. She eventually would help her husband with his historical research and donated his papers to the Virginia Historical Society; they had no children.
Upon being admitted to the Virginia bar in 1923, Mays began working with one of his professors, John Randolph Tucker. Their firm, Tucker, Mays, Cabell and Moore (later, Mays, Valentine, Davenport and Moore) became one of Richmond's leading law and lobbying firms (and long after his death merged into Troutman Sanders. Mays came to specialize in corporate law, and published a textbook on Business Law in 1933. While his partner John Randolph Tucker represented the Virginia Bankers Association from 1933 until his death, Mays's major clients included the state trucking and meatpacking associations.
The Virginia Bar Association elected Mays its president for the 1958-1959 term.He also served as President of the Richmond Bar Association and was elected a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation and of the American College of Trial Lawyers. He was also a member of the American Bar Association, New York City Bar Association, Sigma Nu Phi and Phi Beta Kappa.
Governor Thomas B. Stanley, allied with the Byrd Organization, appointed Mays as counsel to the Gray Commission (after its chairman, Garland "Peck" Gray), which was to craft Virginia's response to Brown v. Board of Education. Following Mays' advice, the commission created a local-option approach to desegregation. However, segregationists in Virginia became radicalized (in part through the rhetorical efforts of then-newspaperman James J. Kilpatrick and U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd). By the time Virginia's legislature next met (in a special session) to consider the proposals, even Gray wanted to include what Mays thought were unconstitutional measures which courts would strike down, such as withholding funds from any school that allowed mixing of races.Mays thought the pupil assignment plan based on showings of disturbances of the peace might survive court scrutiny, and North Carolina did have success with that approach. Nonetheless, Mays helped draft parts of what became known as the Stanley Plan. State Senators Charles R. Fenwick, Hank Mann and John B. Boatwright also included laws to restrict practices of the NAACP. The Virginia legislature passed the amalgam in September 1956 and governor Stanley signed it into law. However, by January 1959, both federal courts and the Virginia Supreme Court had begun striking down major elements.
Mays resigned his position with the Gray Commission after the Stanley Plan appropriated more money to the Attorney General's office to fight desegregation. He and his firm were hired to handle legal challenges to the ethics of civil rights attorneys in what Mays called the "NAACP Cases".Those were challenges to the newly expanded state ethics laws brought by the NAACP through its attorneys Thurgood Marshall, Spottswood Robinson and Robert L. Carter (all of whom later became federal judges). Mays thought the Virginia State Bar would bring charges against Oliver Hill, but only an unsuccessful attempt was made to disbar Samuel W. Tucker. While the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with Mays' abstention argument (wait for state court interpretation) in Harrison v. NAACP in June 1959, and the Virginia Supreme Court only struck down one of the new laws against the NAACP the following year, the rest of the anti-NAACP laws in the Stanley Plan were ultimately stricken down in NAACP v. Button in 1963.
Meanwhile, in 1959 Mays addressed a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate on A Question of Intent: The States, Their Schools and the 14th Amendment.
Governor Stanley's successor, J. Lindsay Almond Jr. (also a Byrd ally), appointed Mays Chairman of the Virginia Commission on Constitutional Government (CCG), which became a major factor in Massive Resistance, although Mays had initially sought assurances it would not merely be another tool in the "school fight". Mays sought to use the CCG to attract Northern support for southern positions on constitutional issues. Eugene B. Sydnor Jr. of Richmond had suggested its creation in 1958, to assist in what he called defense of states rights.Not only did the CCG survive calls for its abolition by Republican gubernatorial candidate Ted Dalton in 1961, it lasted for a decade. Only the tuition assistance program to attend private schools (including "segregation academies") survived longer (until 1969). In what may have been the CCG's most influential period, Mays invited Republican Conservatives from Pennsylvania to Williamsburg in 1962 to explore setting up a similar commission in that state (which never occurred, due to the opposition of moderate governor William Scranton). The next year, Mays' fiery segregationist vice-chairman, James J. Kilpatrick of the Richmond News Leader, published an analysis of the post-Civil War Civil Rights Cases and two pamphlets: "Civil Rights and Legal Wrongs" attacking the Civil Rights bill proposed by President Kennedy and "Civil Rights and Federal Wrongs" attacking expansion of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Mays also handled voting rights litigation on Virginia's behalf through his firm. He argued and lost Davis v. Mann in 1953 and the following year unsuccessfully defended Virginia's legislative reapportionment before the Virginia Supreme Court in Wilkins v. Davis.In March 1965, Mays also testified against President Lyndon Johnson's voting rights bill before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, as requested by U.S. Rep. William M. Tuck. In Hughes v. WMCA (1965), the Supreme Court issued a per curiam opinion denying Virginia's (and New York's) reapportionment arguments.
Mays also had an avocation for historical research, and after years of lunchtime research at the Library of Virginia and various dusty archives, published his two volume Edmund Pendleton biography, which won many accolades, including the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 1953. He later edited and published a collection of Pendleton's correspondence. Mays managed to find many of Virginia's oldest court records, including some thought destroyed in the Confederate Army's evacuation fire of Richmond in 1864. At the time of his death, Mays was collaborating on editing the letters of John Taylor who like Pendleton lived in Caroline County, Virginia.
The Virginia Historical Society (on whose board Mays served for 28 years) and Library of Virginia (on whose board he also served) also honored Mays. He also served on the Board of the McGregor Library of the University of Virginia, and on the council of the Institute of Early American History and Culture (affiliated with the College of William and Mary).
Mays practiced law in Richmond until his death (after a debilitating illness) in 1971,and is buried in Hollywood Cemetery there. His widow donated his papers to the Virginia Historical Society in 1985, and the 25-year restriction on access has now expired.
Massive resistance was a strategy declared by U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd Sr. of Virginia along with his brother-in-law as the leader in the Virginia General Assembly, Democratic Delegate James M. Thomson of Alexandria, to unite white politicians and leaders in Virginia in a campaign of new state laws and policies to prevent public school desegregation, particularly after the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision in 1954. Many schools, and even an entire school system, were shut down in 1958 and 1959 in attempts to block integration, before both the Virginia Supreme Court and a special three-judge panel of Federal District judges from the Eastern District of Virginia, sitting at Norfolk, declared those policies unconstitutional.
William Cullen "Bill" Battle was an American diplomat, lawyer, businessman, United States Ambassador to Australia, and president of the United States Golf Association.
Samuel Wilbert Tucker was an American lawyer and a cooperating attorney with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). His civil rights career began as he organized a 1939 sit-in at the then-segregated Alexandria, Virginia public library. A partner in the Richmond, Virginia, firm of Hill, Tucker and Marsh, Tucker argued and won several civil rights cases before the Supreme Court of the United States, including Green v. County School Board of New Kent County which, according to The Encyclopedia of Civil Rights In America, "did more to advance school integration than any other Supreme Court decision since Brown."
NAACP v. Button, 371 U.S. 415 (1963), is a 6-to-3 ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States which held that the reservation of jurisdiction by a federal district court did not bar the U.S. Supreme Court from reviewing a state court's ruling, and also overturned certain laws enacted by the state of Virginia in 1956 as part of the Stanley Plan and massive resistance, as violating the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The statutes here stricken down by the Supreme Court had expanded the definitions of the traditional common law crimes of champerty and maintenance, as well as barratry, and had been targeted at the NAACP and its civil rights litigation.
The Stanley Plan was a package of 13 statutes adopted in September 1956 by the U.S. state of Virginia. The statutes were designed to ensure racial segregation in that state's public schools despite the unanimous ruling of the Supreme Court of the United States in Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954) that school segregation was unconstitutional. The legislative program was named for Governor Thomas B. Stanley, a Democrat, who proposed the program and successfully pushed for its enactment. The Stanley plan was a critical element in the policy of "massive resistance" to the Brown ruling advocated by U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd Sr. The plan also included measures designed to curb the Virginia state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which many Virginia segregationists believed was responsible for "stirring up" litigation to integrate the public schools.
James McIlhany Thomson was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates representing Alexandria from 1956 to 1977. A member of the Byrd Organization, Thomson became the Virginia House Democratic floor leader, a position which he held until 1977.
Armistead Lloyd Boothe was a Virginia Democratic legislator representing Alexandria, Virginia: first as a delegate in the Virginia General Assembly and later as a State Senator from the newly created 36th District. A lifelong Democrat, Boothe helped lead his party's progressive faction, particularly as they opposed the Byrd Organization's policy of Massive Resistance to racial integration in Virginia's public schools.
Charles Rogers Fenwick was a patent attorney and Virginia Democratic politician aligned with the Byrd Organization who served part-time in the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate representing Arlington County.
The Virginia Commission on Constitutional Government was a state agency created by the Virginia legislature in 1956, with the mission of promoting "constitutional government" in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education. The fifteen-member Commission brought together leading Virginia writers, journalists, lawyers, and politicians, with the governor serving as an ex officio member. The Commission was charged to "develop and promulgate information concerning the dual system of government, federal and state, established under the Constitution of the United States and those of the several states." The group was also directed "to acquaint the general public...with the nature of the relationship between the individual states and the United States and the freedoms reserved to the states and their individual citizens." To this end, the Commission, headed by David J. Mays, a Pulitzer Prize–winning author, and James J. Kilpatrick, authored numerous pamphlets and books opposing integration of the public schools, federal civil rights statutes, and recent Supreme Court decisions. The Commission maintained an active publication schedule until 1967.
The Commission on Public Education, known as the VPEC or Gray Commission, was a 32-member commission established by Governor of Virginia Thomas B. Stanley on August 23, 1954 to study the effects of the U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Brown v. Board of Education issued on May 17, 1954 and May 31, 1955, and to make recommendations. Its counsel were David J. Mays and his associate Henry T. Wickham.
Garland Gray was a long-time Democratic member of the Virginia Senate representing Southside Virginia counties, including his native Sussex. A lumber and banking executive, Gray became head of the Democratic Caucus in the Virginia Senate, and vehemently opposed school desegregation after the U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 and 1955. Although Senator Harry F. Byrd himself supported Massive Resistance, and preferred Gray over other candidates, the Byrd Organization refused to wholeheartedly support Gray's bid to become the party's gubernatorial candidate in 1957, so James Lindsay Almond Jr. won that party's primary and later the Governorship.
Robert Young Button served two terms as Attorney General of Virginia, as well as a fifteen years as Virginia State Senator. Button rose through the ranks of the Byrd Organization and became one of its leading members as it ultimately crumbled as a result of the Massive Resistance crisis.
John Baker Boatwright was Virginia lawyer and member of the Virginia House of Delegates representing Buckingham, Appomattox and Cumberland Counties for 38 years beginning in 1922. A member of the Byrd Organization, Boatwright became a leader of its Massive Resistance to racial integration.
John Cobourn Webb was an American lawyer and Democratic politician who represented Falls Church and Fairfax, Virginia part-time in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1954 to 1966.
William Francis Stone was Virginia lawyer and member of the Virginia General Assembly representing Martinsville as well as Patrick and Henry Counties between 1954 and 1957, first as a delegate and then elected to a partial senate term in a special 1957 election upon the death of Frank P. Burton. A member of the Byrd Organization, Stone was a member of the Boatwright Committee which investigated the NAACP as part of the Massive Resistance to racial integration vowed by U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd after the U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Brown v. Board of Education.
Earl Abbath Fitzpatrick was a Virginia lawyer and member of the Virginia General Assembly representing Roanoke between 1940 and 1959, first as a delegate and then as a state Senator. A lieutenant in the Byrd Organization, Fitzpatrick was active in the Massive Resistance to racial integration vowed by U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd after the U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Brown v. Board of Education. He introduced much of the segregationist legislation and was vice-chairman of the Boatwright Committee which investigated the NAACP for litigating on behalf of civil rights, before being defeated in the 1959 Democratic primary.
Edward Almer Ames Jr. was a Virginia lawyer and member of the Virginia General Assembly representing Virginia's Eastern shore between 1956 and 1968. A member of the Byrd Organization, Ames was also a member of the new legislative Boatwright Committee which investigated the NAACP as part of the Massive Resistance to racial integration vowed by U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd after the U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Brown v. Board of Education.
Joseph Judson Williams Jr. was a Virginia lawyer and banker, who served part-time for more than two decades representing Henrico County, Virginia in the Virginia House of Delegates. A member of the Byrd Organization, Williams participated in its Massive Resistance to racial integration, but left that political crisis to serve as a member of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board for the three years before his death.
Vernon Spitler Shaffer was an American farmer and Republican politician who represented Shenandoah County part-time in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1950 until his death in 1958.
The Commission on Education, known as the Perrow Commission after its chairman, Virginia state senator Mosby Perrow Jr., was a 40-member commission established by Governor of Virginia J. Lindsay Almond Jr. on February 5, 1959 after the Virginia Supreme Court in Harrison v. Day and a three-judge federal court in James v. Almond had both struck down significant portions of the Stanley Plan, which had implemented Massive Resistance to the U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Brown v. Board of Education issued on May 17, 1954 and May 31, 1955. Four legislators were appointed from each of the ten U.S. Congressional districts in Virginia. Compared to the Gray Commission that Governor Thomas B. Stanley had appointed five years previously, Perrow Commission included more representatives from cities, northern and Western Virginia, although many members served on both commissions.