Title

Displacing race: white resistance and conservative politics in the civil rights era

Advisor

Lester, Connie

Committee Member

Phillips, Jason

Committee Member

Goodman, Mark

Committee Member

Messer, Peter

Committee Member

Damms, Richard

Date of Degree

5-1-2009

Original embargo terms

MSU Only Indefinitely

Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access

Abstract

This study examines the ideology of white southern opposition to the civil rights movement in order to recognize the transformation of white concepts of race in the midst of racial change and how those changes impacted the emergence of new conservative political principles in the post-civil rights era. The recognition of a new racial consciousness informs historical appraisals of the significance of white resistance and suggests that this opposition made a vital contribution to the political realignments of the 1960s and 1970s. The foundation of this study rests upon the Citizens’ Council Forum, a television and radio program that aired from 1957-1966. Forum’s sponsor, the Citizens’ Council of America, has been consistently recognized as the most highly-organized and active of white resistance organizations in the South. Forum was the Council’s effort to place its organizing principles of states’ rights and racial integrity among a myriad of other pressing political problems in order to sell its campaign to preserve segregation to an audience that extended beyond the borders of the South. This effort required guests of the show to subvert questions of racial equality to broader concerns of federal power, liberal politics and foreign policy. Attention to these topics in addition to Forum discussions of the civil rights movement reveals that in the process of opposing racial change, white resistance helped usher in a new era of racial consciousness that concealed race within conservative ideas. Race became a powerful insinuation within these issues. The “colorblind” tactics of Forum guests eschewed direct denunciations of the black race but ensured that race would remain a firm component of public political discussions. This study highlights the importance of reaction to historical change as a way to understand the evolution of ideas. As the civil rights movement instigated new, more equitable ideas about race, its opponents acted in parallel ways to repackage the principles of white supremacy. They did so by leveraging principles against the actual conditions that the system of racial discrimination wrought. Less visible forms of racialized rhetoric replaced the raw language of segregation and gave segregationists and their sympathizers a home in conservative politics.

URI

https://hdl.handle.net/11668/16256

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