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:
- North Carolina journalist, Nell Battle Lewis
- Mississippi newspaper editor Mary Dawson Caine
- South Carolina political activist Cornelia Dabney Tucker
- Mississippi columnist Florence Sillers Ogden.
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.
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.
- 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.