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Historian considers the life and legacy of former Governor Linwood Holton

Published: Oct. 29, 2021 at 9:05 PM EDT
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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ) - Linwood Holton was a pivotal figure in Virginia politics - the first Republican elected Governor in the 20th century.

He died Thursday morning at the age of 98.

Born in Big Stone Gap, he was practicing law and living in Roanoke when he made a run for Governor in 1969.

He would win the election, and in the process, says Virginia Tech History Professor Peter Wallenstein, usher in the modern era of two-party politics in the state.

“So he demonstrated that the Republicans could take power in the state,” Wallenstein said in an interview Friday, “but he was also instrumental in creating a viable Republican party that could not only be competitive in southwestern Virginia, but could be competitive in statewide elections.”

Holton was Virginia’s 61st governor, serving from 1970 to 1974.

Hallmarks of his administration include his support for environmental protections.

And as a marker in Roanoke’s Holton Plaza explains, his actions in the wake of court-ordered desegration when the Holtons enrolled their children in Richmond’s public schools.

“It was this extraordinary gesture, highly publicized, putting out the notion that this was a new world,” Wallenstein said, “that he was not a segregationist, that he was not a massive resister, he was not in favor of shutting the schools down in order to keep them from being desegregated. Rather he would usher his own daughter into high school to help make that change take place.”

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