Tribute to George Rawlings (1921-2009)
Few have had as powerful and lasting effect on the Commonwealth of Virginia as George Chancellor Rawlings, Jr. Governor Kaine ordered the Virginia flag hung at half-mast when George died April 22 in Fredericksburg.
He was born of an historic Virginia family and tradition, educated at Randolph Macon College, and graduated from the University of Virginia Law School. His strong desire for progress in Virginia led him to manage John F, Kennedy’s statewide campaign in 1960, and to buck the Byrd Machine by persuading the State Party to endorse Lyndon Johnson in 1964. He won election to the House of Delegates in 1963 and reelection in 1965 and 1967.
In the 1966 Democratic primary, he shocked the political establishment by challenging the 36-year veteran of the U.S. House of Representatives, Judge Howard Smith. As the forbiddingly powerful Chairman of the Rules Committee, Smith succeeded in blocking all civil and human rights legislation. Thanks to George and his victory, which drew national attention, this dam against progress was breeched. Civil and voting rights bills and anti-segregation legislation finally were brought to the full House, passed by Congress, and signed into law by President Johnson.
George’s courageous actions were punished by defeat that fall when Judge Smith and the Byrd Machine joined forces with Republicans. Another defeat followed in 1969 when right-wing forces targeted his House of Delegates seat. In 1970 he ran against Harry Byrd, Jr. for the U.S. Senate and lost in a three-way race when Byrd defected from the Democratic Party and ran as an independent.
George then led a drive for minority voter registration and the involvement of African-American voters in the Democratic Process, resulting in progressives’ control of the 1972 State Central Committee. That year, he was elected to the Democratic National Committee where he ardently advocated party reform during the next eight years. From 1981 to 1993, he served as the vigorous chairman of the Eighth District Democratic Committee. His tenure helped bring about Jim Moran’s ouster of the 8th CD’s Republican representative in 1990.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” Through all his years of public service, George measured up to those words of Martin Luther King, Jr., refusing to compromise in the face of threats and setbacks. His dedication has earned him great honor and our deep gratitude.
George was a hero. Courageous, outrageous, generous – no one, giant or mortal, was ever in doubt of his opinion or of his pursuit of justice. Teamed with Henry Howell, he did his best to Keep the Big Boys Honest.
By Janet Carver, 11th District Democratic Committee Member