A.E.S. Stephens Papers
Scope and Contents
The papers of A.E.S. Stephens center around his unsuccessful campaign for Governor of Virginia from December 1960, until his loss to Albertis Harrison in the Democratic Party primary in July 1961. The majority of the papers prior to the 1960-1961 primary race focus on the issue of Massive Resistance to racial integration in Virginia schools.
- 1949-1961, undated
- Other: Date acquired: 05/20/1977
2.40 Linear Feet
Conditions Governing Access
Collection is open to researchers without restrictions.
Conditions Governing Use
Before publishing quotations or excerpts from any materials, permission must be obtained from Special Collections and University Archives, and the holder of the copyright, if not Old Dominion University Libraries.
Biographical or Historical Information
Allie Edward Stakes Stephens was born November 4, 1900, in Wicomico Church, Virginia, the fourth son of J.W.G. Stephens and Allie Tyson Beane Stephens. Although Stephens became a successful lawyer and a prominent politician, he did not come from a family background in either the law or politics. J.W.G. Stephens had been a cowboy in the Dakotas before he returned to Virginia to open a general merchandise store. Lacking a formal education himself, the elder Stephens made sacrifices to secure a good education for his children, telling them, "Without an education, all the money in the world will just make fools out of you."
A.E.S. Stephens attended public schools in Northumberland County, Virginia, and graduated from Wicomico Church High School in 1918. During his high school years Stephens was so successful as a baseball pitcher that he was asked to try out with the Washington Senators. Heeding his father's advice, Stephens turned down the offer; however, he maintained a keen interest in baseball and excelled in the sport during his student years at the College of William and Mary.
Stephens entered William and Mary in the fall of 1919 and was awarded both academic and law degrees upon graduation in 1923. It was at William and Mary that Stephens received his life-long nickname, "Gi". Stephens stood 6'3" in his bare feet and his friends claimed he was "lean as a giraffe,." Giraffe was pronounced with a long "i" and from this pronunciation "Gi" was derived.
Stephens began practicing law in the Isle of Wight County, Virginia, on September 15, 1923. It was in Isle of Wight County in 1927 that Stephens experienced a violent initiation into politics. An incident occurred in which a fourteen year old white girl was allegedly brutally murdered by a black man. At a time in Virginia history when lynchings still occurred, a mob formed and demanded the death of the defendant. The Isle of Wight Commonwealth's Attorney, however, succeeded in transporting the black man safely to Petersburg. Stephens was asked by angry Isle of Wight residents to run for Commonwealth's Attorney as an independent candidate, but Stephens made it absolutely clear that he would neither run, nor accept the office if elected. Stephens, in fact, won the election, but as he had promised he refused to accept the office despite the attempted intimidation of the Ku Klux Klan.
Stephens formally began his political career when he was elected as a Democrat to the House of Delegates in 1929. He served as a Delegate for twelve years. In 1941 Stephens was elected to the Virginia Senate where he served until 1952. After the death of Lieutenant Governor Lewis Preston Collins on September 20, 1952, Stephens announced his candidacy for the unexpired portion of Collins' term. His candidacy was successful and in November 1953, he was elected to a full four-year term. Stephens was re-elected Lieutenant Governor in 1957, and served in that capacity until his resignation after an unsuccessful candidacy for the Governorship in 1961.
While serving in the General Assembly of Virginia, Stephens was the chief patron of the legislation which created the Hampton Roads Sanitation Commission. He was interested in legislation pertaining to the seafood industry, and while in the House of Delegates, he served as a member and chairman of the Committee on Fish and Game. His most important accomplishments were in public education. Stephens was the author and patron of the bill establishing the Denny School Commission on which he also served. The recommendations of the Denny Commission were instrumental in bringing about improvements in public schools in Virginia.
Throughout his political career, Stephens remained a member of the Democratic Party and until the late 1950s he aligned himself with the powerful Byrd Organization. Stephens split with the Byrd Machine in 1959 when he withdrew his support from the Organization's policy of Massive Resistance to public school desegregation. Stephens played a critical role in the demise of Massive Resistance when he, as presiding officer of the Senate, ruled that the Senate could resolve itself into a committee of the whole to consider the alternative Perrow Plan which conceded a minimum of integration. This parliamentary tactic enabled the moderates to bypass the Byrd Organization-dominated Education Committee and secured passage of the Perrow proposals. By the time Stephens indicated his desire to run in the 1961 Democratic primary for Governor of Virginia, he was clearly recognized as independent of the Byrd Organization. Throughout his primary campaign Stephens asked for the votes of the true Virginia Democrats, not those whom he accused of using the Democratic label to get elected, and then following Republican line on the issues. Attorney General Albertis S. Harrison who had the Byrd Organization's support, defeated Stephens in the July primary by a vote of 199,519 to 152,639, and Stephens resigned his position as Lieutenant Governor in late 1961. Stephens did not run for State office again, but remained an influence in Virginia politics until his death.
Stephens' private life was filled with important and varied positions and accomplishments. He married Anna Spratley Delk in 1928, and had three children, including the first girl in the Stephens family in four generations. Stephens was a founder and, at his death, President and a member of the Board of the Directors of Historic St. Luke's Restoration. He was a member of the Smithfield Ruritan Club, Virginia Bar Association and an honorary member of the Smithfield Rotary Club, which he twice served as president. He was Town Attorney for the Town of Smithfield for many years until his retirement on December 3, 1971. Stephens served as a member of the Board of Visitors of Old Dominion University from 1968 to 1972.
He died, after a short illness, at Riverside Hospital, Newport News, Virginia on June 9, 1973.
Note written by Michael H. Brown
Language of Materials
Served in both the House of Delegates (1929-1941) and the State Senate (1941-1952), and as Lieutenant Governor (1952-1961). Ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for Governor in 1961 against Albertis Harrison. Centers around this unsuccessful campaign and contains papers focusing on the issue of Massive Resistance to integration, dating to the early 1950s.
The papers are divided into eight series: Series I: Correspondence; Series II: Photographs; Series III: Biographical Data; Series IV: Newspaper Clippings; Series V: Campaign Records; Series VI: Speeches; Series VII: Statements; and Series VIII: Reference Material.
Source of Acquisition
Mrs. Anna Delk Stephens and Mr. Rodham T. Delk
Method of Acquisition
Gift. Accession #A77-36
- A Guide to the A.E.S. Stephens Papers
- Michael H. Brown
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Finding aid written in English.