Dan Daniel and the Persistence of Conservatism in Virginia

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Dan Daniel and the Persistence of Conservatism in Virginia. By JACK IRBY HAYES, JR. Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1997. xi, 258 pp. $35.00.

JACK I. HAYES, JR., professor of history and political science at Averett College, has composed the first detailed biography of Wilbur Clarence "Dan" Daniel, a ten-term Virginia member of Congress during the transforming years of 1969-88.

Born in Pittsylvania County in 1914, son of a gregarious father and a deeply religious mother, Daniel spent his youth in Southside Virginia's bright tobacco country, where relatives and neighbors sheltered him when his sharecropper father's slight resources failed. Methodist and Southern Baptist congregations taught him social and public-speaking skills. He "identified with the prosperous, the propertied, and the politically prominent" (p. 9). In 1929, quitting his sporadic schooling, he worked in a Danville general store until forced home by the Great Depression. He joined the Civilian Conservation Corps and, afterward, used his new organizational skills as a job boss and clerk while playing semiprofessional baseball. After a failed marriage, he suffered from tuberculosis that required lengthy hospitalization and met his second wife, Ruby Gordon McGregor, a practical nurse from his home county.

In 1939 Dan River Mills employed tall, athletic Daniel in its textile work force. During World War II, with labor scarce, he rose from the ranks to assistant to the board chairman. In 1944 he joined the navy briefly before failing a physical exam. Four years later he obtained a high school equivalency and perfected his speaking talents. His management mentors enlisted Daniel in the American Legion, and he advanced from post to state and, by 1956, to national commander, making him "one of the most influential men in the country" (p. 36). He promoted Americanism, existence of a monolithic, international Communist conspiracy, the legion's Back to God campaign, universal military training, and veterans' benefits.

Traveling widely and reading voraciously, Daniel championed legion and corporate textile agendas. Elected in 1959 to the General Assembly, he evolved into a lieutenant in the political organization of Senator Harry F. …