Defending White Democracy: The Making of a Segregationist Movement & the Remaking of Racial Politics, 1936–1965. By Jason Morgan Ward. (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2011. Pp. xi, 252. $34.95.)
Article first published online: 13 MAR 2013
© 2013 Phi Alpha Theta
Volume 75, Issue 1, pages 175–176, Spring 2013
How to Cite
Lawson, S. F. (2013), Defending White Democracy: The Making of a Segregationist Movement & the Remaking of Racial Politics, 1936–1965. By Jason Morgan Ward. (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2011. Pp. xi, 252. $34.95.). Historian, 75: 175–176. doi: 10.1111/hisn.12004_42
- Issue published online: 13 MAR 2013
- Article first published online: 13 MAR 2013
In recent years, many historians have embraced the concept of a long civil rights movement, but the author of this study is concerned with the flip side of this proposition. “If there was a ‘long civil rights movement,’” Jason Morgan Ward contends, “there was also a long segregationist movement” (2). To trace this parallel countermovement, he explores Southern white resistance to racial equality from the mid-1930s through the mid-1960s, focusing on Georgia, South Carolina, and Mississippi. A political history, the book concentrates on elites and their spokesmen in Congress, state capitals, interest groups, and the press.
Ward locates the beginnings of the anti-civil rights crusade in opposition to the New Deal, when die-hard segregationists came to believe that liberals, organized labor, and African Americans had captured the national Democratic Party, threatening the Southern way of life. World War II posed new challenges for the segregationists by increasing the civil rights expectations of African Americans. In what is Ward's most original insight, he shows that Southern politicians adopted a reverse “Double V” argument in contrast to the one propounded by civil rights groups and the black press. Instead of viewing the battle against fascism overseas as a reason for extending racial democracy at home, conservative Southerners maintained that federal efforts, such as President Franklin D. Roosevelt's creation of a Fair Employment Practice Committee, resembled nothing less than the totalitarianism and governmental oppression the nation was fighting abroad. Accordingly, Southerners equated democracy with the system of white supremacy and racial segregation and considered their efforts to preserve it as legitimate, old-fashioned American patriotism. Most of the arguments and strategies they used in this period surfaced even more strongly in the 1950s and 1960s when, first, the Supreme Court ruled school segregation unconstitutional and, then, the civil rights movement succeeded in obtaining national legislation to remove the remaining institutions of Jim Crow and disfranchisement. Nevertheless, by the end of the 1960s, bruised but undaunted Southern conservatives had found national support, particularly within the Republican Party, for their opposition to liberalism and further racial equality.
Much of the history that Ward chronicles is familiar to postwar historians of civil rights and the South. His main contribution is to weave the strands of the story into a coherent whole. His nimble research and clear writing produce apt quotes that enliven the narrative. He allows segregationists to speak for themselves but does not shrink from judging their efforts as apologies for racial inequality and white domination. Still, whether the proposition of a long segregationist movement is any more viable than a long civil rights movement remains debatable. Though segregationists maneuvered before 1954, it took the decision in Brown v. Board of Education and subsequent civil rights protests to mobilize the white South region-wide and nationally, from top to bottom, into something resembling a widespread and organized movement. The segregationist movement had long origins, but it operated in tandem with the classic civil rights movement for a relatively short time.