Monday, November 12, 2018

Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy: A Review and Audio Book Giveaway

Congratulations to Connie Saunders who won Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop from last week's blog.

When I read the blurb about MOTHERS OF MASSIVE RESISTANCE: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy (Oxford University Press, 2018) in the Tantor Audio catalogue, I thought it might provide a different perspective on the Jim Crow era. It definitely did.  

Dr. Elizabeth Gillespie McRae's work is a comprehensive, well-researched treatise on the role white women played in the politics of Southern segregation from the 1920's-1970's. McRae focuses on four women who influenced multitudes of others through their writing and political activism:

Since I am unable to summarize twelve hours of listening, I will share some facts that resonated with me. 


  • In Bear Mountain, Virginia from the 40's - 90's light-skinned blacks (and possibly some native Americans) paid a lot of money to purchase "white" birth certificates. Changed birth certificates allowed children to attend the better, all-white schools. Monacan Native Americans were forced to identify as black. White bus drivers, teachers, and voter registrars were often the people who determined a person's race and generally upheld Jim Crow and the one-drop rule. See this article on Walter Plecker.
  • Mildred Lewis Rutherford (1851-1928) was a pro-confederate daughter of a Georgia plantation owner who paved the way for pro-segregationists white women. As the historian general of the Daughters of the American Confederacy, she believed that whites were superior, state governments should dominate schools and social welfare and textbooks should be censored. McRae said she "single-handedly reinvented the South."
  • Women's suffrage in the South gave a platform to support Jim Crow. McRae described Florence Ogden as a "subversive columnist." Besides being anti-integration she also supported anti-immigration legislation. 
  • Cornelia Tucker's efforts in Charleston, SC led to the rise of Republicans in South Carolina and Eisenhower winning the vote in 1954. She was against European refugees and wanted blacks purged from the Republican party.
  • Nell Lewis, the first female reporter for the Raleigh News and Observer, considered The Birth of a Nation the best film ever. At the same time that she wanted to end child labor, promote mental health reform, abolish capital punishment, she was also against labor unions since she believed they were pro-Communist. McRae writes that Lewis's stories upheld white supremacy as white women were the "guardians" of racial segregation. 
  • White women were angry with Eleanor Roosevelt for eating with blacks in North Carolina.
  • During WWII, segregationists feared white women working with black laborers. They wanted to protect workplaces for returning white soldiers.
  • Cornelia Tucker linked Communism with civil rights. Her battlefield was school textbooks. 
    Montgomery, Al anti-school integration protest. 1961

  • Many southern women defended segregation as what "God began and wanted." 
  • They appealed to women's maternal duty to protect their children from mongrelization; there was a pervasive fear of miscegenation.
    Baltimore, 1954
    Image via AP
  • Many white southern women feared progressive education that included curriculum which studied other nations.
  • Members of the DAR condemned the United Nations
  • After the Brown decision in 1954, black parents feared sending their children into white schools that were hostile to their children. They lived with fear, uncertainty, and hope. 
  • In 1956, following the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, North Carolina "patriots" wrote to black families asking them to reconsider going to white schools.
  • When Emmett Tillett was murdered, one of the women (I believe it was either Nelle Lewis or Florence Ogden) wrote, "There is no outcry. It must not have happened."
  •  Calling upon their duty as mothers, segregationist women thought white schools would prevent interracial marriage and maintain white supremacy. They feared federal court decisions which would challenge their private lives. They blamed the Jews, communists, socialists, and NAACP for integration attempts. 
  • In North Carolina alone, there were 28,000 people who signed petitions against the Brown vs. Board of Education decision.
    Little Rock, 1959
  • In Little Rock, AK closing Central High in 1958 was the white women's victory to mobilize their children and preserve white schools. 
  • In Virginia and North Carolina "school choice" was a way to avoid integration. 
    September 2, 1970, protest at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public School headquarters. White students adopted the 'freedom of choice' language that segregationists had invoked since the Brown decision. While black youth in the NAACP watched as white students pledged support for integration but not for the busing that would accomplish it. Courtesy of the Charlotte Observer and the Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.
  • In the mid-1970's Boston mothers who were opposed to busing, looked to southern women for direction. The bus, not the children became central. Complex class politics, working class concerns, and maintaining property rights were central in protecting white privilege for these "true American women."
Anti-busing rally in South Boston
Spencer Grant Collection
Boston Public Library

Here is an audio snippet narrated by Kristen Potter. Ms. Potter does an excellent job articulating the book and using a southern, genteel voice as appropriate.

Click below for an interview with the author.


I am giving away my copy of this audio book. Please leave me a comment by November 15. Share it on social media or become a new follower of my blog and tell me what you have done, and I'll enter your name twice. 

Monday, November 5, 2018

Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: A Review and Giveaway

Congratulations to Linda Phillips who won a copy of Back On Earth from last week's blog.

Alice Faye Duncan reached out to me through Twitter and asked if I was willing to review her two new picture books. Since I'm always interested in highlighting new books for you, of course I said yes! Here's the first one, MEMPHIS, MARTIN, AND THE MOUNTAINTOP: The Sanitation Strike of 1968, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. (Boyds Mills Press, 2018)

This historical fiction picture book aimed at upper elementary or middle school readers, is based on the life of Memphis teacher, Dr. Almella Starks Umola. Her father was a pastor, community organizer, and strategist for the sanitation strike. Dr. Umola walked with her parents during the protests and heard Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. deliver his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech. 

Here's a great interview with Ms. Duncan that includes the many revisions that went into this story told from the fictional character, nine-year-old, Lorraine Jackson's POV. 


I remember Memphis. 
I remember the stinking sanitation strike. 
Alley cats, rats, and dogs rummaged through the trash.  
Black men marched through Memphis with protest signs raised high.  
I also marched in '68 with red ribbons in my hair.
That is the stark opening to Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop. Lorraine relates that the garbage trucks were old, rusty, and not well maintained. On a rainy, bleak day in Memphis, two black sanitation workers--working for $1.70 an hour--were crushed when a packer blade malfunctioned. 

"Slop dripped down their clothes."

Sanitation workers formed a labor union asking for better pay and safety on the job. Mayor Loeb refused their requests and one month later, the sanitation workers struck. 
In the morning and afternoon for sixty-five days, sanitation workers marched fourteen blocks through the streets of downtown Memphis...My daddy marched in that number. He marched for better pay. He marched for decent treatment. My daddy marched for me.
It was a difficult winter for young Lorraine, her parents, and the other strikers' families. But everyone was encouraged when they heard Martin Luther King, Jr. was coming to Memphis. 

"Dr. King said, 'All labor has dignity,'
Dr. King's voice was loud and stirring."
Dr. King organized a protest march and Lorraine, her mother, and other mothers and children went to the back of the line, while the sanitation workers marched in the front. Unfortunately, fifteen minutes into the march it was interrupted by rioters. The police responded quickly with tear gas and by beating innocent people. Her mother said, "Sometimes bad people mess things up for good people doing good."

That night, Mayor Loeb declared a state of emergency. "From my bedroom window, I saw soldiers in big green tanks creep slowly up the street. I waved to my friend Jan who sat in her window too."

"Nobody played outside that day. Fear locked us in our houses."

In April, Dr. King returned to Memphis but became sick and was unable to speak in person. His speech was broadcast to those who had gathered together at Mason Temple Church. "In the face of death threats, Dr. King spoke boldly. He encouraged Memphis strikers and strike supporters to march, boycott, and raise their voices for workers rights until victory was won."

That night, he was gunned down when a "bullet pierced the dreamer's neck." Afterwards, Lorraine Jackson wrote this poem and her mother hung it up on the crumbling walls of their rental home:

The King Is Dead

Not long ago,  
There lived a King. 
He did not live in a castle. 
He did not wear a crown. 
He did not rule a royal court 
Or ride in chariots.

The King marched in the streets. 
He lived to help the poor. 
He lived for peace and love. 
Hate killed the King.
The King is dead. 
What will the people do? 

The sanitation strike ended eight days later when President Lyndon B. Johnson sent in a labor official to negotiate a settlement. In the deal, the city recognized the labor union, the sanitation workers received 15 cents an hour more, and they were promised job promotions based on merit--not race.

"So much was won.
So much was lost.
Freedom is never free."
That hopeful yet sobering thought helps conclude this informative picture book. Ms. Duncan, as a librarian for the last 25 years in the Memphis public schools, included a timeline and annotated source list at the back of the book. I recommend this book as a curriculum resource for grades 4-7. There is a lot to learn within these pages and R. Gregory Christie's illustrations amplify the text.

Having recently listened to Eyes on the Prize, Memphis, Martin and the Mountaintop helped me visualize this particular event on the civil rights timeline.


Ms. Duncan is giving away a personally autographed copy of this book to one fortunate winner. As she said in an email to me, "Readers deserve kindness and an extra 'oopmh'." Please leave me a comment by November 8 and your email address if you are new to my blog. If you share this post on social media and let me know what you did, I'll enter your name twice. 

Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy: A Review and Audio Book Giveaway

Congratulations to Connie Saunders who won Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop from last week's blog. When I read the blurb a...