Watkins Moorman Abbitt

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Watkins Moorman Abbitt
Watkins Moorman Abbitt.jpg
Member of the U.S.HouseofRepresentatives
from Virginia's 4th district
In office
February 17, 1948 January 3, 1973
Preceded by Patrick H. Drewry
Succeeded by Robert Daniel
Personal details
Born(1908-05-21)May 21, 1908
Lynchburg, Virginia
DiedJuly 13, 1998(1998-07-13) (aged 90)
Lynchburg, Virginia
Resting place Appomattox, Virginia
Nationality American
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s)Corinne Hancock (d. 1989)
Mary Ann Schmidt
Children Watkins Abbitt, Jr., Anne Abbitt Kerr, Corinne Abbitt Hynes
Alma mater University of Richmond (LL.B.)
Professionlawyer, Congressman
Watkins M. Abbitt, Sr., Memorial Park in Appomattox, Virginia Watkins M. Abbitt Memorial Park, Appomattox, VA IMG 4182.JPG
Watkins M. Abbitt, Sr., Memorial Park in Appomattox, Virginia

Watkins Moorman Abbitt (May 21, 1908 – July 13, 1998) (nicknamed "Wat") was an American politician and lawyer. He was a member of the United States House of Representatives from Virginia from February 17, 1948 to January 3, 1973. He was a top lieutenant within the Byrd Organization, the political machine named for its leader, U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd.

United States House of Representatives lower house of the United States Congress

The United States House of Representatives is the lower chamber of the United States Congress, the Senate being the upper chamber. Together they compose the legislature of the United States.

Virginia State of the United States of America

Virginia, officially the Commonwealth of Virginia, is a state in the Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States located between the Atlantic Coast and the Appalachian Mountains. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" due to its status as the first English colonial possession established in mainland North America and "Mother of Presidents" because eight U.S. presidents were born there, more than any other state. The geography and climate of the Commonwealth are shaped by the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Chesapeake Bay, which provide habitat for much of its flora and fauna. The capital of the Commonwealth is Richmond; Virginia Beach is the most populous city, and Fairfax County is the most populous political subdivision. The Commonwealth's estimated population as of 2018 is over 8.5 million.

Byrd Organization political machine headed by Harry F. Byrd (1887–1966)

The Byrd Organization or Byrd Machine was a political machine led by former Governor and U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd, Sr. (1887–1966) that dominated Virginia politics for much of the 20th century. From the 1890s until the late 1960s, the Byrd Organization effectively controlled the politics of the state through a network of courthouse cliques of local constitutional officers in most of the state's counties.


Early and family life

Abbitt was born in Lynchburg, Virginia to George Francis Abbitt and Otway C. Moorman Abbitt. He graduated from Appomattox Agricultural High School in Appomattox, Virginia in 1925. He earned an LL.B. from the University of Richmond in 1931 and began the practice of law in Appomattox. [1] He married Corinne Hancock on March 20, 1937, and they had a son and two daughters who survived infancy.

Lynchburg, Virginia Independent city in Virginia, United States

Lynchburg is an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia in the United States. As of the 2010 census, the population was 75,568. The 2017 census estimates an increase to 81,000. Located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains along the banks of the James River, Lynchburg is known as the "City of Seven Hills" or the "Hill City". In the 1860s, Lynchburg was the only major city in Virginia that was not recaptured by the Union before the end of the American Civil War.

Appomattox, Virginia Town in Virginia

Appomattox is a town in Appomattox County, Virginia, United States. The population was 1,733 at the 2010 census. It is the county seat of Appomattox County.

University of Richmond Namesake university in Richmond, VA

The University of Richmond is a private liberal arts university in Richmond, Virginia. The university is a primarily undergraduate, residential university with approximately 4,350 undergraduate and graduate students in five schools: the School of Arts and Sciences, the E. Claiborne Robins School of Business, the Jepson School of Leadership Studies, the University of Richmond School of Law and the School of Professional & Continuing Studies.


Upon admission to the Virginia bar, Abbitt had a private legal practice, and was also a bank executive. In 1931 he was elected Commonwealth's attorney for Appomattox County and served from 1932 to 1948. He also was elected member of the Virginia Constitutional Convention in 1945. [2]

Commonwealth's attorney is the title given to the elected prosecutor of felony crimes in Kentucky and Virginia. Other states refer to similar prosecutors as district attorney or state's attorney.

Appomattox County, Virginia County in the United States

Appomattox County is a United States county located in the Piedmont region and near the center of the Commonwealth of Virginia. The county is part of the Lynchburg, VA Metropolitan Statistical Area, and its county seat is the town of Appomattox.

When U.S. Representative Patrick H. Drewry died in office, Abbit won the special election to fill the vacancy. A Democrat, Abbitt was reelected to the twelve succeeding Congresses (February 17, 1948 January 3, 1973). [3] He was a member of the agriculture committee, and supported farm subsidies as well as fiscal conservatism and opposed increased federal intervention in state affairs. Abbitt became known for his opposition to school desegregation in the 1950s, as the Byrd Organization advocated Massive Resistance [4] , and he was a signatory to the 1956 Southern Manifesto. He was a delegate to the 1964 Democratic National Convention, and chairman of the state Democratic party from 1964-1970.

Patrick H. Drewry American politician

Patrick Henry Drewry was a U.S. Representative and state legislator from Virginia.

Democratic Party (United States) Major political party in the United States

The Democratic Party is one of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Republican Party. Tracing its heritage back to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison's Democratic-Republican Party, the modern-day Democratic Party was founded around 1828 by supporters of Andrew Jackson, making it the world's oldest active political party.

The Declaration of Constitutional Principles was a document written in February and March 1956, in the United States Congress, in opposition to racial integration of public places. The manifesto was signed by 101 congressmen from Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. The document was drafted to counter the landmark Supreme Court 1954 ruling Brown v. Board of Education, which determined that segregation of public schools was unconstitutional. School segregation laws were some of the most enduring and best-known of the Jim Crow laws that characterized the American South and border states at the time.

Abbitt announced his retirement after being redistricted into the same congressional district as fellow Democrat Dan Daniel, and Republican Robert Daniel won the seat in a 5-candidate general election field, becoming the first Republican to represent Southside Virginia in the century. [5]

Robert Daniel American politician from Virginia

Robert Williams Daniel, Jr. was a Virginia farmer, businessman, teacher, and politician who served five terms in the U.S. House of Representatives as a Republican. He was first elected in 1972 and served until 1983.

Despite his former segregationist views, Abbitt endorsed L. Douglas Wilder, who became Virginia's first black governor in 1989, and noted the influence of his children. His son, delegate Wat Abbitt Jr. noted that his father always worked for free for any black church that needed his services, and a black minister spoke at the funeral. [6]

Death and legacy

Abbitt survived one wife, but died from leukemia in Lynchburg, Virginia on July 13, 1998. He was survived by a widow, son and two daughters, and interred at Liberty Cemetery in Appomattox, Virginia. [7] A park in Appomattox, Virginia is named for him.

His son, Watkins Abbitt, Jr., [8] served as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from 1986 to 2012. [9]


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  1. "Watkins M. Abbitt". NNDB. Retrieved November 4, 2012.
  2. "ABBITT, Watkins Moorman, (1908 - 1998)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved November 4, 2012.
  3. "Rep. Watkins Abbitt". govtrack.us. Retrieved November 4, 2012.
  4. https://www.nytimes.com/1998/07/15/us/w-m-abbitt-90-lawmaker-who-advocated-segregation.html
  5. John T. Whelen, Virginia's Post World War II Paths to Congress," University of Virginia Newsletter February 1992 at p. 7, available at http://www.coopercenter.org/sites/default/files/autoVANLPubs/Virginia%20News%20Letter%201992%20Vol.%2068%20No.%202.pdf
  6. NY Times Obituary
  7. "Watkins Moorman Abbitt". Find A Grave. Retrieved November 4, 2012.
  8. "Abbitt, Abbitt, Watkins Moorman, Jr. (b. 1944)". The Political Graveyardaccessdate= November 4, 2012.
  9. "Abbitt, Watkins Moorman, Jr. (b. 1944)". The Political Graveyardaccessdate= November 4, 2012.

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Patrick H. Drewry
Member of the  U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 4th congressional district

Succeeded by
Robert Daniel