By Jody Brumage
The Byrd Center opened the papers of Congressman Harley O. Staggers, Sr. for public access and research in the spring of 2014 and since that time, we have discovered many fascinating stories in the records of a member of Congress who served West Virginia’s 2nd District for 32 years. One such story which unfolded as we paged through letters, press clippings, and photographs was the peculiar circumstances which led to Congressman Staggers’ election to the chairmanship of the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce during the 89th Congress. We are now happy to announce that a digital exhibit has been opened on the Byrd Center website exploring this story.
While processing Congressman Staggers, Sr.’s papers, Byrd Center Intern Casey DeHaven discovered a number of records and photographs which date to the years 1965 and 1966 as the House of Representatives was working through a transition in leadership within one of its largest and most powerful committees. Working with these exciting discoveries, Byrd Center Archivist Jody Brumage began to piece the story together, uncovering a tumultuous change in leadership amid one of the most busy and productive congresses in United States history. Ties to a presidential campaign, partisanship and inter-party divisions, and the struggle for power all factor into the beginning of Congressman Staggers’ fifteen-year leadership of the Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee.
Over thirty documents, photographs, and objects were included in the exhibit which begins with the announcement by President Lyndon Johnson which set off the path to the chairman’s seat. The exhibit also covers some of the important legislation brought to the floor under Chairman Staggers’ leadership in the second session of the 89th Congress and the continued opposition he faced. The opening of this exhibit coincides with the exciting new digital exhibit “The Great Society Congress” from the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress (ACSC), which explores the 89th Congress and its role in forming and passing the “Great Society” programs initiated by President Lyndon Johnson. Byrd Center Director of Programs and Research, Dr. Jay Wyatt co-chairs this exhibit and has been integrally involved in its design and publication.
We invite you to explore this unique story and these historic records from our archival collections in the new digital exhibit “The Path to the Chairman’s Seat.”
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