Benjamin Muse was born in Durham, North Carolina, on April 17, 1898, and was educated at Trinity College (now Duke University) and George Washington University. He volunteered under the British flag in World War I (1914–1918), after which he served fourteen years as a diplomat with the U.S. State Department. In 1935, Muse won election to the Senate of Virginia as a Democrat from Petersburg. After initially supporting the New Deal, however, he began to oppose the policies of U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1936, he resigned his seat in the face of heavy Democratic criticism, ran again as an Independent, and lost. He received the 1941 Republican nomination for governor with a platform of abolishing the poll tax, among other liberal reforms, but lost to the Democratic nominee, Colgate Whitehead Darden Jr. After enlisting in the U.S. Army during World War II (1939–1945), Muse moved to Manassas with his family and began publishing a small newspaper. In the 1950s, as the civil rights movement accelerated the campaign against legal segregation, Muse achieved national renown through his "Virginia Affairs" column in the Washington Post and his commentary on southern racial politics in liberal magazines such as the Nation and the New Republic.
In the autumn of 1958, white opponents of Massive Resistance formed the Virginia Committee for Public Schools, evidence of the political uprising of formerly "silent moderates" that Muse had been predicting since the beginning of the crisis. After Governor J. Lindsay Almond Jr. closed public schools in Charlottesville, Front Royal, and Norfolk, state and federal courts struck down Virginia's Massive Resistance policies in January 1959. Muse quickly wrote a book, Virginia's Massive Resistance (1961), to counsel white leaders in other southern states that defiance of the Supreme Court would not succeed. Between 1959 and 1964, as head of the Southern Leadership Project established by the Southern Regional Council, Muse traveled across the region, advocating voluntary compliance in visits with hundreds of political and civic leaders. Muse initially believed that moderate white leaders acting in good faith could bring about peaceful and meaningful school desegregation, but by the mid-1960s he had recognized that pressure from civil rights groups and intervention by the federal courts were also necessary to defeat Jim Crow.
Benjamin Muse continued to chronicle the civil rights movement through the 1960s, writing two works, Ten Years of Prelude (1964) and The American Negro Revolution (1968). In 1982 he published a memoir The Twentieth Century As I Saw It. He died in Reston on May 4, 1986.
- Virginia's Massive Resistance (1961)
- Ten Years of Prelude (1964)
- The American Negro Revolution (1968)
- The Twentieth Century As I Saw It (1982)
April 17, 1898 - Benjamin Muse is born in Durham, North Carolina.
1914–1918 - Benjamin Muse volunteers under the British flag during World War I.
1935 - Benjamin Muse wins election to the Senate of Virginia as a Democrat.
1936 - Benjamin Muse switches parties and becomes a Republican because of his opposition to the New Deal.
1941 - Benjamin Muse receives the Republican nomination for governor, though he would later lose to his Democratic opponent, Colgate W. Darden, Jr.
January 1959 - After Governor J. Lindsay Almond Jr. closes public schools in resistance to desegregation, state and federal courts strike down Virginia's Massive Resistance policies.
1961 - Benjamin Muse writes Virginia's Massive Resistance in an effort to persuade other southern states not to resist desegregation.
May 4, 1986 - Benjamin Muse dies in Reston, Virginia.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Lassiter, M. D. Benjamin Muse (1898–1986). (2014, February 28). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Muse_Benjamin_1898-1986.
- MLA Citation:
Lassiter, Matthew D. "Benjamin Muse (1898–1986)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 28 Feb. 2014. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: November 6, 2008 | Last modified: February 28, 2014