Historians of the American South have devoted relatively little attention to the 1930s and 1940s. They have mostly concentrated on the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which witnessed the rise of legalized segregation and the disenfranchisement of most African Americans, and then tended to skip ahead to the eventful story of civil rights protest and desegregation in the 1950s and 1960s. In between, it has been generally assumed, very little changed. The Jim Crow system was firmly in place and virtually unchallenged. The Great Depression hit the South hard, but the region was already so poor that its effects seemed less dramatic than elsewhere. Southern conservatives successfully controlled the administration of New Deal programs to inure that they did not threaten the status quo of class and race relations. World War II and postwar prosperity began to narrow the economic gap between the South and the rest of the nation, but the South at midcentury was still clearly distinguishable from the North and West by its blatant white supremacy, one-party rule, unorganized labor, and extensive rural poverty.
This conventional image of a South that was resisting change and retaining its distinctiveness as a “backward” and flagrantly racist region is not so much wrong as incomplete. It remains undeniable that reformers of the Thirties and Forties had little success in their efforts to make the South more democratic and egalitarian. Federal court decisions were chipping away at the edges of segregation and disenfranchisement, but for the most part Southern African Americans remained without power and subject to violence and intimidation if they got out of their “place” as members of a pariah caste. What the books under review reveal, however, is that the prevailing system of race and class domination did not go unchallenged during the Thirties and Forties. They rescue from obscurity the dissenters, black and white, who sought—by means that ranged from gradual reform to violent revolution—to make the South a more just society. To varying degrees and in different ways, they pose the question of precisely why it was that determined efforts to change the South from within failed to leave in place an interracial left-wing group capable of broadening the scope of the civil rights movement of the early 1960s and possibly reducing the need for federal intervention to eliminate Jim Crow. Three of the books—Robin D.G. Kelley’s Hammer and Hoe, Michael K. Honey’s Southern Labor and Black Civil Rights, and John Egerton’s Speak Now Against the Day—deal directly with this issue. All of them show how militant anticommunism provided the ammunition for a devastating attack on the Southern left—radical and liberal alike—that left it wounded and disabled at the dawn of the civil rights era.
White Southerners first became seriously alarmed about Communist interference with their way of life when a legal defense organization dominated by the Communist Party took over the case of nine black youths condemned to death for allegedly raping two white women on a freight train near Scottsboro, Alabama, in 1931 and turned the case into an international cause célèbre. James Goodman uses this dramatic episode to examine the range of Southern views on race and justice in the early Depression years. As its title suggests, Stories of Scottsboro claims to abandon the traditional historian’s role of omniscient narrator in favor of gradually allowing the truth to emerge out of the diverse and often conflicting stories that people told about what happened. Goodman is not a radical subjectivist who believes that one story is as good as another. He confesses in the preface that his control of the historical material inevitably means that the story emerging is based on his own understanding and interpretation of the events. The value of his approach, therefore, is not that it undermines or “deconstructs” the notion that some historical perspectives are more truthful than others; it derives rather from its capacity to explore how the diverse meanings that people give to an event like the Scottsboro case are essential components of its ultimate historical significance.
People of course disagreed on whether or not the Scottsboro defendants were actually guilty of raping Victoria Price and Ruby Bates. When it was discovered that the two alleged victims had a history of part-time prostitution that may have included serving black male clients, doubts about the truth of their story increased. When Ruby Bates recanted her original accusation and became a featured speaker at Communist-led rallies on behalf of the accused, the prosecution lost much of its remaining credibility outside the white South. But white Southerners viewed the tactics of the defense as a ruthless assault on their way of life that might well involve bribing witnesses to make them change their testimony. As a series of jury verdicts indicated, nothing could shake the belief of the ordinary white citizens of Alabama that the boys were guilty. Deeply held beliefs about black sexuality and white female virtue did not yield easily to new evidence that conflicted with them.
Ironically, however, the needs of the prosecutors to fulfill popular expectations of black male lust and criminality forced them into what would today be regarded as an enlightened position on the rights of women who claim to be rape victims. Faced with incontrovertible evidence of a lack of female virtue in the accusers, they argued that such information was irrelevant—a woman’s past behavior did not signify her consent to a particular demand for sexual intercourse. Nor did she have to struggle against her assailant to show that she was being coerced. It was the defense that claimed in effect that prostitutes or promiscuous women could not be raped.
A belief in the innocence of the defendants came as readily to African-American civil rights advocates and progressive Northern whites as a conviction of their guilt came to Southern white supremacists. Those who agonized most over the verdict were the Southern liberals and moderates who had been working to improve race relations by discouraging racial violence, especially lynching, and by upgrading the separate facilities available to blacks under Jim Crow. Southern moderates of the kind who supported organizations like the Commission on Interracial Cooperation and the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching initially saw signs of progress in the fact that the Scottsboro boys were not lynched but were instead quickly put on trial. Fearful of being driven beyond the fringes of the mainstream Southern opinion that they hoped to influence by being associated with a cause promoted by Communists, the moderates were, for the most part, cautious in their statements about the affair.
But some of them became convinced that the accused had been unjustly treated. Goodman recounts how Grover Hall, the influential editor of the Montgomery Advertiser, changed from being a “stalwart defender” of the prosecution in 1931 to being in 1936 an advocate of stopping the trials and releasing some of the defendants on the grounds that there were reasonable doubts about their guilt. Other moderate Southern editors were quicker to brave the wrath of their readers by questioning whether justice had been done. The judge in the second round of the trials (made necessary by a Supreme Court decision overturning the original verdicts) sacrificed his own reelection by setting aside a jury verdict of guilty that he believed was unwarranted.
In general, however, the Southern voices of reason and moderation were neither very insistent nor influential. Although saved from execution by the adroitness of their attorneys, some of the accused languished in prison until after World War II. The last was not released on parole until 1950, and only one of them has ever received a formal pardon.
The role of Communists in the Scottsboro defense seems surprising at first glance. How was it possible that adherents of a revolutionary movement could have persuaded the accused and their families—impoverished and uneducated Southern African Americans who had been forced to accommodate to their intensely repressive environment—to let them take charge of the defense over the objections of the NAACP and virtually the entire established black leadership, North and South?
The Communist-controlled International Labor Defense thrust itself into the case by getting to the defendants right after the original verdicts were handed down, while the NAACP was still agonizing over whether this was the kind of cause it wanted to be associated with. The ILD quickly gained the confidence of the young men and their parents. One of the mothers recalled after the first trial that neighbors had told her to “keep away from the reds” but that she had concluded that “the reds are the only ones that want to help us,” and was glad that she did “because if it had not been for the reds, and the mass protests of the workers, our boys would have died….” It seems clear from Goodman’s book and other accounts of the Scottsboro case that Communists provided the accused with excellent legal representation, hiring as head of the defense a distinguished New York criminal lawyer, Samuel Leibowitz, who was not a Party member or even a radical. Although Leibowitz was unable to win acquittals for his clients, he did at least save them from execution.
Communists, of course, exploited the case for its propaganda value in the North and throughout the world, but it would not be fair to say, as their critics alleged at the time, that they sacrificed the interests of the defendants to the needs of the Comintern. In 1935, after the Party line had changed to permit cooperation with “bourgeois” organizations, the ILD, the NAACP, the ACLU, and other organizations joined together to form the Scottsboro Defense Committee, an umbrella organization to coordinate the effort to free the prisoners.
The Communist presence in Alabama in the early 1930s was not limited to representatives of the ILD coming down from the North to arrange the Scottsboro defense. Communists were also trying, with a surprising degree of success, to organize unemployed African Americans in Birmingham and sharecroppers in the heart of the Black Belt. This larger effort is the subject of the most widely praised book of recent years to deal with the relations between African Americans and the Marxist radicalism of the 1930s. Robin D.G. Kelley’s Hammer and Hoe, published in 1990, is part of the revisionist post-cold war scholarship on American Communism which attempts to show that the Party did not merely project Soviet influence onto the American domestic scene but was also helping to organize grass-roots movements that embodied the beliefs, needs, and aspirations of the people who took part in them. More than most such studies, this one makes a persuasive case that an oppressed group could use the help provided by “the reds” for its own purposes, as well as being used by them for goals that were set in Moscow.
Kelley does not overstate his case. He concedes that Party organizers in Alabama “dutifully followed national and international leadership” and “did their best to apply the then current political line to the tasks at hand.” But he also argues that they had no specific instructions about how to deal with “their daily problems” and “developed strategies and tactics in response to local circumstances that, in most cases, had nothing to do with international crises.” In Birmingham, they organized the unemployed to demonstrate for public relief. Even more remarkable was their success in founding a union of sharecroppers and farm workers and helping it to grow. Despite the extensive violence and intimidation directed at its members, the Party-backed Share Croppers’ Union succeeded in enrolling thousands of members in the six Black Belt counties where it gained a foothold—an estimated 10,000 at its peak in 1935. In that year the union called a major strike of cotton choppers that won most of its demands in the three counties where it was strongest.
The union soon went into decline, however, and by 1937 was virtually defunct. Its demise, Kelley reveals, was partly the consequence of the Party’s decision to abandon it as being an inappropriate vehicle for the new “popular front” strategy which put cooperation with white liberals and trade unionists ahead of agitation among black farmers and farm laborers.
Kelley’s most original and provocative insights are to be found in his explanation of the appeal of a Communist-led movement for rural Alabama blacks in the early Thirties. Although a few Southern whites joined the Party during that period, its members and sympathizers were mostly black and tended to be sharecroppers and plantation laborers rather than industrial workers. The official Party platform for the liberation of Southern blacks during this period was “self-determination for the black belt,” which meant that African American who lived in the counties of the Deep South with contiguous black majorities had the right to establish an independent republic, modeled on the ethnic republics of the Soviet Union, should they choose to do so.
Condemned by the NAACP as an acceptance of segregation, this policy or slogan has been portrayed in most histories of American communism as a prime example of how the Comintern and the Soviet Union foisted on the American Party an inappropriate and damaging policy. Kelley maintains, however, that there was an elective affinity between the self-determination thesis and the world view of rural Southern blacks. Communist organizers in Alabama brought the policy down to earth by translating it to mean that black farmers would gain rights to the land, a cause they could readily appreciate. The CP organizer appealed successfully to folk memories of the era of emancipation and Reconstruction—a time, blacks believed, when they had been promised ownership of the land they cultivated as slaves and had temporarily gained political control of communities in which they had very large majorities.
Communist organizers were sufficiently pragmatic, Kelly argues, to avoid estranging black Christians by parading their own atheism and materialism, and they did not require rank-and-file black Party members to renounce their religious faith. Most of them continued to go to church and profess a belief in God; indeed some preferred to quote the Bible rather than Karl Marx in justification of their cause. This accommodation of black folk culture did not inspire the Party leaders to advocate a fusion of Christianity and Marxism, but it showed a degree of tolerance that Communists in other parts of the country rarely manifested.
Kelley makes a strong case that some African Americans were able to be Communists or accept Communist leadership without betraying their cultural heritage. But he does not fully succeed in absolving the Party’s top leadership from the charge that they had a cynical and manipulative attitude toward Southern blacks. W.E.B. Du Bois was critical at the time of Communist organizing among sharecroppers. He believed that it was recklessly pushing oppressed black people into a premature confrontation with white planters. The result, he feared, would be the shedding of black blood in a hopeless cause so that Communists could make propaganda from it. Kelley makes no assessment of the potential efficacy of the organizing effort, and he demonstrates the Communist leadership’s lack of sustained dedication to black interests when he shows how readily it abandoned work among poor African Americans after 1935, when the Party line changed. The new line called for an effort to make alliances with Southern white liberals.
Kelley goes on to show that when the Party line changed again in 1939, and the popular front was abandoned because of the Stalin-Hitler pact, the Party and affiliated organizations like the Southern Youth Congress resumed with some success their efforts to draw Southern African Americans into their movement. But the fact remains that the Party’s “Negro policy” was always the result of directives of Soviet and Communist policy. It was never the direct consequence of how black Americans perceived their own needs and aspirations. To the extent that Party policy coincided with such needs and aspirations, the affinity was accidental rather than intentional.
Another important book that seeks to reevaluate the role of Communists and the left in the Southern social struggles of the Thirties and Forties is Michael Honey’s Southern Labor and Black Civil Rights, which deals with efforts to organize black and white industrial workers in Memphis. In the period before the Great Depression, Memphis had more union members than most other Southern cities. The political machine headed by boss Edward H. Crump was based in part on the support of craft unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. But these unions were virtually all-white. In 1928, Honey reports, there were only 256 blacks among the city’s 12,000 union members, despite the fact that about 37 percent of the population were African Americans, who were disproportionately concentrated in the wage-earning class.
Pervasive discrimination kept blacks out of unions and consigned them to the most menial and low-paying occupations. In the midst of the Great Depression, however, the newly founded Congress of Industrial Organizations launched a major campaign to bring African Americans into the labor movement by organizing interracial unions in the industries that employed blacks in large numbers. As with other CIO organizing campaigns of the mid-to-late Thirties, the most effective organizers in Memphis were likely to be members of the Communist Party or sympathetic to it. Communists won the confidence of black workers because they seemed to be free of racial prejudice and committed to the cause of black civil rights as well as to the expansion of industrial unionism.
Their efforts were vigorously opposed not only by employers but by the conservative AFL unions as well as the city authorities. CIO organizers and black union officials were subjected to violence, harassment, and arbitrary arrest. But they persevered against great odds to win recognition for their unions and concessions from management as the result of well-supported strikes. These gains continued during World War II, when the labor market became tight and industrial opportunities for African Americans expanded.
This triumph turned sour in the postwar years, however, as anti-Communist hysteria took possession of the white South and the CIO itself. Under the mounting pressures of the cold war, Communists and radicals, as well as many of the unions they created and dominated, were purged from the national labor movement. The Taft-Hartley Act and the merger of the AFL and the CIO brought about a shift of the labor movement away from campaigns to organize the unskilled and dispossessed. In Memphis this meant that interracial unionism foundered, black workers lost much of what they had gained during the Depression and war years, and white workers became increasingly susceptible to the reactionary appeals of demagogues who associated racial egalitarianism with Soviet-style totalitarianism.
By the time of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, therefore, there was virtually no interracial labor movement in the South to support the struggle for black freedom and broaden its aims to include the rights of workers. Black veterans of union struggles, such as E.D. Nixon, an instigator of the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955, gave crucial support to the civil rights movement; but white union members were likely to be among the mobs opposing the sit-ins and freedom rides of the 1960s. This decoupling of the struggles against class and race oppression, which the Communists of the Thirties had managed to bring together, helps to explain, according to Honey, why blacks in Memphis and elsewhere began to lose ground economically at the very time that their formal civil rights were being acknowledged.
Such a summary does not do justice to the richness of Honey’s detail and the thoroughness of his documentation. It does, however, reveal the polemical concerns of the book. Even more decisively than Kelley, Honey joins the revisionists who seeks to represent the Communist Party as the most consistent and—until it was destroyed by McCarthyism and the cold war—the most effective advocate of progressive change in the United States of the 1930s and 1940s. The case is perhaps a stronger one when applied to the South than it may be generally, although for reasons that would contradict some traditional Marxist assumptions. “Many Communist party members may have been blind to the tyranny of Stalinism,” Honey concedes, “but they provided a consistent and vocal force for civil rights and interracialism in the South, especially in contrast to the conservatives who took control in the fifties.” To the extent that this is true, I would argue, it is so because of the depths and power of Southern white racism, not because of the incisiveness of the Communist analysis of Southern injustice and inequality. Unconvincing is the book’s suggestion that the Party achieved a substantial degree of interracial class unity during the heyday of CIO organizing in the late 1930s. Most of Memphis’s organized white workers remained in unions that were predominantly or exclusively white, and Honey presents little evidence that lower-class whites, other than the tiny minority drawn to communism, were able to enter into genuinely fraternal relations with African Americans.
The tendency of racial identity and status to overwhelm a sense of shared class interests suggests to me that there was something wrong with the classic Marxist analysis, which held that the basic cause of disunity was simply the divide-and-conquer manipulations of capital. Communists may have been singularly successful in freeing themselves from the assumptions of racial superiority that determined the responses of most whites to black assertiveness; but they grossly underestimated what it would take to overcome the caste consciousness of other whites. If this is true, then the effort to create a unified black-and-white labor movement in the South was doomed from the start, and anti-communism was simply a convenient vehicle for the expression of the deeply rooted white supremacist convictions that white workers shared with their employers.
Hence it may been necessary to do what in fact the civil rights movement later did—mobilize blacks to attack racism directly as a necessary precondition for the growth of other forms of solidarity. NAACP leaders in the 1920s and 1930s had argued that basic civil and political rights must be won before issues involving economic inequality and labor’s right to organize could be effectively addressed. Of course, hindsight now reveals that abolishing legalized segregation and disenfranchisement did not lead to successful campaigns to remedy black poverty and economic disadvantage. But the civil rights movement of the 1960s at least crated possibilities that did not previously exist. If the only challenge to the Southern racial order had come from those who wanted to abolish capitalism in favor of a Soviet America, it is doubtful that basic civil rights could have been attained.
John Egerton’s Speak Now Against the Day: The Generation Before the Civil Rights Movement in the South does not share the view of Kelley and Honey that Communists were at the heart of significant Southern dissent in the Thirties and Forties. He examines a much broader range of thought and action directed against the status quo. But he agrees with them that the militant anticommunism of the late Forties and early Fifties was responsible for stopping at an early stage tendencies toward reform that, if they had been allowed to develop, might have prevented the racial polarization of later years.
Unlike the authors of the other books under review, Egerton writes about the contemporary South for a general (rather than an academic) audience. Speak Now Against the Day is not annotated and is annoying repetitious—on the assumption, apparently, that readers have weak memories and need to be constantly reminded of what they have already read. Its introductory survey of Southern history before the 1930s shows that Egerton lacks a firm grasp of recent historiography. Few professional historians would share his old-fashioned view of Radical Reconstruction as a veiled attempt to “exploit the region’s natural resources and its supply of cheap labor.”1 Egerton’s assertion that the Populist movement of the 1890s sought “to unite working-class whites and blacks” requires major qualification in the light of recent studies showing how shallow and tentative the Populist appeal to African Americans really was. He also falsely characterizes Thomas Pearce Bailey’s 1914 apologia for white supremacy—Race Orthodoxy in the South—as an appeal “for full political, civil, and economic rights for blacks.” Like some other Southern liberals before him, Egerton may be allowing his desire to find an indigenous tradition of white racial egalitarianism to cloud his vision.
When he gets to his main subject—Southern history between the 1930s and the 1950s—Egerton is on much firmer ground. Drawing on prodigious research, he has provided the fullest account—by far—of the struggles of Southerners of both races and various ideological persuasions to reform the South from within between 1932 and 1954. His main subjects are Southern-born New Dealers and Christian socialists, such as Howard A. Kester, founder of the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen, Lucy Randolph Martin, an activist from an old Virginia family who became a CIO organizer, Myles Horton, director of the Highlander Folk School, Will Alexander, who evolved from moderate interracialist to New Deal champion of the rural poor, and Aubrey Williams, New Dealer and major figure in the Southern Conference on Human Welfare, the main organization expressing Southern liberal and radical dissent in the late Thirties and Forties.
Many of the people and organizations that Egerton finds admirable were attacked as reds, but he considers the charges that they were under Communist influence or sympathetic to the party to be unfounded. His own view of the Communist movement is unequivocal: “From top to bottom the Communist Party was a rigid hierarchy controlled by a dictator and his handpicked comrades, who (not unlike the feudal lords of the Old South) weren’t the least it interested in bringing more people into the political process.” Communist doctrine in his view was “the antithesis of representative government, just as was the dictatorial state socialism (fascism) that Benito Mussolini brought to Italy in the 1920s and Adolf Hitler subsequently imposed in Germany.” Egerton’s judgments on Party-inspired activism could not be more different from those of Honey and Kelley, who believe that the Communists served the cause of democracy and racial equality in the South despite the Party’s official Stalinism. Egerton is more sympathetic to democratic socialists like Howard Kester and H.L. Mitchell, organizer of the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union, but he is distressed by the militant anti-Communism that eventually led some of them to join in the red-baiting of Southern progressives who were suspected of cooperating with Communists. Since it was the popular association of liberalism with communism that led to the demise of internal Southern reform efforts in the later Fortis and early Fifties, these anti-communist socialists and liberals can be said to have damaged their own cause.
Egerton’s basic sympathies deserve respect, but they may make his historical account somewhat misleading. He is so concerned to exonerate progressive Southerners from the taint of Communist associations that he plays down the ties that actually existed. For example, Robin Kelley describes Joseph Gelders, one of the founders of the Southern Conference for Human Welfare, as a Communist and a leader of the Party’s efforts in Alabama. Egerton says he was “a young, middle class liberal from Birmingham’s small but solid Jewish community” and “a respectable member of the community, a man whose convictions were appreciated and even endorsed by a number of important people in the Birmingham power structure.” Whether Gelders was actually a Party member or not, it seems clear that he was willing to accept Party direction. While it is true that the Southern Conference for Human Welfare was never simply a Communist front, it was influenced at several points in its history by followers of the Party line who were among its leaders.
That many of the Southern progressives that Egerton admires were closer to the Party than he admits, and that socialists allied with Norman Thomas called attention to this fact, does not of course justify the repression of left-wing efforts to attack Southern injustice and inequality. As the other books demonstrate, Communists successfully put themselves for a time in the forefront of struggles for the rights of African Americans and workers in the face of a reactionary Southern power structure. Sometimes the logic of politics makes it seem justifiable to join with the enemies of one’s enemies to pursue immediate goals, even if there is no agreement on ultimate objectives. (The alliance between the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party might be a case in point.)
Egerton lacks the historical imagination to see how working with Communists might appear very different in the South of the 1930s and 40s than it would in the 1990s. While Kelley and Honey exaggerate the good intentions of Communists, Egerton demonizes them in ways that ignore their genuine contributions and the catalytic effect that they sometimes had on resistance to white supremacy and economic exploitation in the pre-civil rights South.
Egerton deals with black dissenters as well as white, and he describes the efforts of the NAACP and other African-American organizations and leaders to undermine the Jim Crow system. But much of the black opposition he describes came from outside the South, and he has relatively little to say about grass-roots black resistance to racial domination within the region. He takes account of the uneasy efforts of white Southern liberals trying to cooperate with moderate blacks such as Professor Gordon Hancock of Virginia Union University; but his emphasis on negotiations among elites makes it difficult for him to do justice to the stirrings of grass-roots opposition to racial oppression that historians are beginning to uncover.2
The Alabama Sharecroppers’ Union, to which Kelley devotes much of his book, is barely mentioned in Egerton’s account. To his credit, Egerton rescues from oblivion the South Carolina Progressive Democratic Party of 1944, an Africa-American alternative to the all-white regular Democrats that anticipated some of the methods used by the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party two decades later. But he could have paid more attention to the partially successful efforts of local NAACP chapters in the South to register more black voters during the 1940s.
Egerton’s most provocative argument is that between 1945 and 1950 “a combination of favorable circumstances had opened a narrow window of opportunity through which the South might have reached both internal social reform and external parity with the rest of the nation.” By 1950, however, a “cabal of Southern demagogues succeeded in linking racial equality to ‘the red menace’ in the eyes of their constituents.” The victory of “reactionary politicians” was signified by the defeat of liberal senators Frank Graham of North Carolina and Claude Pepper of Florida in that year, and the stage was set for the “massive resistance” of the white South to the desegregation of the public schools mandated by Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.
It can be useful for historians to write about what might have been, if only to challenge the impression of determinism and inexorability that their work might otherwise convey. But it seems to me that the Southern liberals of the 1940s were in an inherently weak position to challenge segregation head-on. They had never taken a firm stand for the abolition of Jim Crow and a guarantee of equal voting rights. As Egerton himself notes, the two Southern liberals on the committee appointed by Truman in 1947 to recommend civil rights legislation, one of whom was the same Senator Graham defeated in 1950, dissented from the committee’s proposals for federal action against segregation as too radical. So did the Southern Regional Council, the main exponent of respectable Southern liberalism.
One might be tempted to argue that the liberals of the late Forties were too timid and failed to do as much as they could have to prepare Southern public opinion for the coming federal efforts to abolish Jim Crow. But had they been more forthright and decisive, they would probably have suffered the fate of the Southerners on their left who supported the Southern Conference on Human Welfare. They would have been persecuted and hounded out of public life.
Those who advocated efforts in the Southern states to phase out segregation never had a realistic chance against the white South’s deep-seated and virtually monolithic commitment to white supremacy. Militant black protest and federal intervention to protect elementary civil rights were both therefore necessary, and represented the only imaginable ways that Jim Crow could be brought to an end. The red scare of the late Forties and early Fifties was probably not essential to mobilizing widespread resistance to desegregation. The South’s long history of racial domination and the advantages in status that segregation provided for all whites in the region were sufficient to make equal rights for African Americans a fiercely unpopular cause.
June 8, 1995
Two generations of “revisionists” have maintained that ideology—a commitment to democratic nationalism and an idealized conception of the free labor system of the North—along with the Republican partisanship that served as the political vehicle for this view of the world, were much more important sources for the motivation of Radical Reconstruction than the ambitions of Northern investors. But this perspective has made remarkably little impression on the popular historical consciousness, which remained enamored of the stereotype of the corrupt carpetbagger as the embodiment of Yankee intentions. ↩
See especially two studies of blacks in Mississippi, Neil R. McMillan, Dark Journey: Black Mississippians in the Age of Jim Crow (University of Illinois Press, 1989), and Charles M. Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle (University of California Press, 1995). ↩