George Chancellor Rawlings
Last Saturday, I attended a memorial service for former Delegate George Rawlings at the Massaponax Baptist Church near Fredericksburg.
For many who remember the sad days of Virginia’s “massive resistance” to public school integration, George was a beacon of hope and , along with his, fiery ally and fellow legislator, Senator-and, later, Lieutenant Governor-Henry Howell of Norfolk. As Democrats, Rawlings and Howell were among a very few legislators who consistently opposed the Democratic Party leadership known as “the Byrd Machine.”
The Byrd Machine initiated many efforts to keep African-Americans from being fully participating members of their communities. Restrictive covenants in deeds kept non-whites from owning property in “white” communities. Anyone wishing to register to vote had to pay the “poll tax” and pass a “literacy test.” Registrars, who were appointed by the “Machine” to limit registration, aided the effort by limiting hours and places of registration.
Remarkably, George Rawlings was elected to the House of Delegate in 1963, and re-elected in 1965 and 1967, from Fredericksburg, where he was born and practiced law. In 1966, Rawlings ran in the Democrtatic Primary for Congress against the powerful chairman of the House Rules Committee, “Judge” Howard Smith. Smith had served 60 years without an opponent, and he kept civil rights and other progressive legislation bottled up in his committee. Rawling’s victory was openly celebrated by President Lyndon Johnson, but Rawlings lost the General Election to William Scott of Fairfax.
Nevertheless, Scott’s victory did not change the majority in the House to Republican. Johnson had a much easier time getting legislation recommended by the Rules Committee.
In 1970, with Senator Harry Byrd, Jr., having declared himself an independent, the Democrats nominated Rawlings to run for the Senate as the Democratic nominee. At the behest of then Governor Linwood Holton, the Republicans selected Senator Ray Garland of Roanoke to be their nominee. Byrd campaigned very little and received 50% of the vote, with Rawlings receiving approximately 30 % and Garland approximately 20%. Rawlings did not run again for the House of Delegates, but continued his service to Virginia as a member of the Democratic National Committee and the chair of the 8th Congressional District Democratic Committee until 1993. He should be remembered as an outspoken champion of equal rights in a time when that was anything but popular in most of Virginia.