James Lindsay Almond Jr. was born in Charlottesville, Virginia, on June 15, 1898. He grew up on his family's farm in Orange County and attended a one-room county schoolhouse. After graduating high school in 1917, he joined the Student Army Training Corps at the University of Virginia. Almond enrolled in the University of Virginia's law school in 1920; after graduation in 1923, he joined a law firm in Roanoke. Almond married Josephine Katherine Minter in 1925. The couple had no children, but raised one of her nephews as a son.
In 1925 Almond campaigned for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Harry F. Byrd. This support led to his appointment as an assistant commonwealth's attorney in 1930, and he was elected judge of the Roanoke Hustings Court by the General Assembly in 1932. Almond was probably the youngest person up to that time to become a judge in a Virginia court of record.
Almond won a seat in the United States House of Representatives in a special election in 1946, but in 1948 gave up the seat to fill out the remaining term of the recently deceased state attorney general, at the request of Byrd's Democratic Party organization. Almond expected to receive the party's 1953 gubernatorial nomination. When he was passed over, Almond instead ran for and won reelection as attorney general.
The office of attorney general involved nearly constant defense of Virginia's practice of racially segregated schools, under attack by black citizens and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In 1952 the NAACP took a Virginia segregation case (Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, Virginia) along with four other cases to the Supreme Court of the United States. Despite Almond's disputing all aspects of the NAACP case, in 1954, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that racial segregation in public education was unconstitutional.
Almond and Governor Thomas B. Stanley responded with reluctant acceptance of the ruling at first, urging compliance with the law. By early in 1956, however, Almond had begun to support Senator Harry F. Byrd's call for Massive Resistance to the desegregation of public schools. Because of his support for Massive Resistance, Almond gained the backing of the Byrd Democrats for the 1957 gubernatorial nomination. Almond campaigned and won on two main issues of Virginians' concern: maintaining racial segregation in the public schools, and improving public education while encouraging economic development.
In September 1958 federal judges issued desegregation decrees for several Virginia localities and in response Almond obeyed the Virginia laws requiring the governor to shut down public schools faced with federal desegregation orders. Without offering a plan for alternative education, Almond quickly faced mounting pressures from a divided public. In January 1959, both the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals and the United States District Court in Norfolk declared the school-closing law unconstitutional. Almond responded with a scorching radio and television address denouncing the federal government for stepping on Virginia's rights.
During a special convention of the General Assembly a week later, however, instead of defending the color line, Almond declared that Massive Resistance was no longer the best policy and that the time had come to draw back to a program of restricted desegregation. When forced to choose between maintaining public education and continuing to preserve racial separation, most other white Virginians and Almond reluctantly choose public education and the goal of economic development.
Almond hoped for a federal judicial appointment following his term as governor. Because of opposition from the Byrd contingent in Congress, President John F. Kennedy decided against a district court judgeship and instead nominated Almond to the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals. Byrd still prevented the nomination from coming before the Senate for more than a year, before it finally passed in June 1963.
In 1973, Almond became semiretired when he took senior status as a patent court judge. On April 14, 1986, J. Lindsay Almond, Jr. died in Richmond of heart failure. He is buried in Evergreen Burial Park in Roanoke.
Kneebone, John T. et al., eds., Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 1998, 1:107–110.