The Thinking Behind White Southern Racism during the Civil Rights Movement and Even Today

r/HistoryPorn - Mississippi sheriff Lawrence Rainey (right) and deputy Cecil Ray Price on trial in 1967 for the murder of three civil rights workers [1090x732]
Mississippi Deputy and Sheriff Being Indicted for Murdering Civil Rights Workers

During my Mississippi childhood and adolescence, the following justifications for segregation were expressed by teachers, preachers, at social gatherings, and in newspaper editorials. The state’s most influential newspaperman was Jimmy Ward, whose segregationist column “Covering the Crossroads with Jimmy Ward” appeared daily on the front page of Mississippi’s two largest newspapers—the Clarion Ledger and the Jackson Daily News. Although I mostly avoid use quotation marks in the following arguments, I reproduce them as I heard them, and I heard them a lot.

(1) If God had wanted the races to mix, He would not have separated them geographically. T
o support integration is to oppose God.

 (2) Race mixing leads to the sin of interracial marriage, and interracial marriage leads to mongrel children.

(3) Black people are the children of Ham, and Ham’s father, Noah, cursed Ham’s descendants with eternal servitude after Ham displayed Noah’s nakedness when Noah was passed-out drunk. (Genesis 9: 20-27).

(4) The inferiority of the colored race is beyond question.

(5) Black people are subhuman, and therefore lack the legal rights of white people. (I bought a deceased black preacher’s library, and found in it a racist work entitled The Negro: a Beast or in the Image of God?)

(6) Before outside agitators stirred them up, Southern Negroes were happy with their lives. 

(7) Those who support integration are knowingly or unknowingly acting at the behest of Soviet Communism, the goal of which is to destroy America.

(8) There are few black people in the North, and those few have been forced into ghettos. Northern whites are hypocrites who don’t understand black people or the necessity of Southern race relations.

(9) Negroes have the mentality of children, and must be kept under control for the good of themselves and others.

(10) America has fallen so deeply into sin that God would abandon our nation entirely if not for Southern piety and patriotism.

(11) To submit to integration would be to betray God, our ancestors, and the 258,000 Southerners who died in the Civil War.

 

Why did the South cling to such baseless arguments?


(a) They were all that most Southerners had ever known, and few people even thought to question them. Others were afraid to do so because it could be a life-wrecking experience
.

(b) Friends, family, neighbors, and authority figures were all adamantly opposed to integration.

(c)
Seemingly overnight, the white South went from being largely ignored in popular culture to being viciously criticized in political speeches, Northern newspapers, Northern news magazines, and the enormously popular Life Magazine. Its religion, values, and speech, were mocked, belittled, and condemned, by the rest of the nation and even the world. Incest jokes abounded. White Southerners were presented as ignorant buffoons, psychopathic rednecks, and toothless hillbillies. The white South felt besieged, and most people responded by clinging ever more tenaciously to traditional beliefs and values.

Northern companies canceled plans for Southern factories, and this caused the already impoverished region to sink even deeper. Thousands of Southerners canceled their subscriptions to Life. Klan membership increased, and there was talk of a second Civil War. Frequent church burnings, the assassination of Medgar Evers—the state’s NAACP director—and the brutal murders of Freedom Riders Micky Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman were looked upon by many with approval.

(d) White Southerners who supported integration were seen as traitors to God and to their own people, and were therefore hated above all other integrationists. Their children were harassed at school, and they themselves were subject to job loss, hate mail, vandalism, social ostracism, physical assault, loss of friendship, credit cancellation, having their pets poisoned, obscene and threatening phone calls, bullets through their windows, cross burnings in their yards (I personally witnessed this). The well-liked and influential couple in Hodding Carter’s So the Hefners Left McComb (McComb is twenty miles from where I lived) were parents to that year’s Miss Mississippi when their harassment started, but they still fled the South in fear for their lives.

(e) I will end this segment with some personal examples of Southern white anger. Klan literature was sometimes deposited in my family’s driveway. One night while driving home, I came upon a cross burning in a neighbor’s yard—no one was in sight.

School was in progress when John Kennedy was killed, and most students cheered. When one girl (whose parents favored integration) asked to be excused on the day of his funeral, her request was denied, and when she stayed home anyway, she was given failing grades in every class. I remained publicly silent about his death, although I wrote a note of sympathy to Jacqueline Kennedy.

Martin Luther King, Jr, and Robert Kennedy were assassinated after school hours, but I was attending play practice at a Methodist college when King died. As most of my fellow students cheered, I reflected upon how odd it was for those who were preparing for the ministry and the mission fields to celebrate a man’s murder.

My high school’s Spanish teacher took her class to Monterey, Mexico, each year. In 1966, an English class from Monterey visited my school. As they got off the bus, many students cursed them, flipped them the bird, called them niggers (because of their dark skin), and demanded that they get back on the bus and go home. The Mexicans clearly didn’t anticipate such behavior, and their ignorance of what some of the words meant surely left them even more confused
.

Also in ’66, four black students (three girls and a boy) integrated my high school. To my knowledge, none were assaulted, although they were treated with unremitting contempt. Again, I remained silent. I suspect that a great many white students were like I in that they either secretly favored integration or were secretly appalled by what they witnessed.
 

When a rumor circulated that black people might visit our church en masse, my father was asked to stand at the door with several other men to keep them out. He said to the men who asked him: “This is God’s house, and if God doesn’t want them here, then let God keep them out.” 

My father treated black people with respect, but my mother treated them coldly and with condescension. One day, she chastened me for addressing a black lady as “Ma’am, and she repeatedly warned me to avoid getting near black people lest their germs land on me. The commonly held belief that black people were “unclean” hearkened back the ancient Jews’ attitude toward gentiles

******

Thankfully, my father didn’t cancel his subscription to Life Magazine, and I well remember the 1967 issue that contained the photo at the top of this post. That photo did more than words to impress upon the rest of the nation the fact that, a hundred years after the Civil War, Southern whites still regarded the very lives of black people as disposable. Now, the white South is once again using racism as the basis for discriminatory laws.

Because moral advancement in the South is invariably contingent upon outside force, the advancement is lost when the force is withdrawn. So it is that when a conservative Supreme Court overturned the Voting Rights Act in 2013, white governors and legislators went back to denying the vote to black people. How can it do such a thing? In numerous ways. For example, Texas now requires that heavily populated black precincts have the same number of voting machines as sparsely populated white precincts. Meanwhile, over in Georgia, black voters aren’t only being made to stand in line for six hours (there being many more white precincts, white voters tend to be spared this indignity), anyone who offers them food or water is subject to a year in jail. 

So it is that Red State officials who are charge of insuring election fairness first determine when, where, and how, black peopleand other Democratsvote, and then they do their utmost to make voting so odious that voters stop trying. In rare cases where this tactic fails, they look for an excuse, however lame, to declare votes invalid. Now that Trump has packed the Supreme Court with minority-hating religious conservatives, appeals to that court for fairness are doomed (according to the conservative justices, the federal government simply has no business telling states how to run their elections).

In 1861, the South’s insistence that it be allowed to enslave black people resulted a war that cost 620,000 lives, a war from which the  South learned nothing except that it had to be sneaky in describing its abuse of black people (instead of calling them slaves, it referred to them as convict laborers or as people who were working off their just debts. Even today, the state of Mississippi (along with other Southern states) is such a moral and economic morass that many of its citizens would starve without federal assistance (Mississippi opposes federal aid simply because it can’t bear the thought of putting food on the tables of black people). By all measures of health, happiness, and prosperity, the states of the Deep South are in constant competition for last place in everything that is good and first place in everything that is bad. Despite this, Mississippi—the most religious state in the Union—regards itself as so beloved by God that the existence of the entire nation rests upon its singular status in divine eyes. As the Bible says, the ways of God are but foolishness in the eyes of men.

15 comments:

Elephant's Child said...

Some of this I knew. Some I didn't.
I recoil in horror. Mixed with fear.
Off topic, but no less important. How are you and Peggy coping with the current heatwave?

Sue said...

DearSnowbrush, white racists say the darnedest things - without hardly a glance at their own ancestory. Wanna talk about spear-chucking, head-hunting savages, who lived in huts...the ancient Britons and Germans.

Tom said...

Not being from the south, I learned a few things here, so thanks for the history lesson. Nobody should have to wait in line more than ten or fifteen minutes to vote. But won't more absentee voting take care of at least some of that? Then, if we can bank by computer, buy stuff on the computer, renew our driver's license on the computer, why can't we vote on the computer?

rhymeswithplague said...

A lot of what you say is absolutely right and a lot of what you say is absolutely wrong. One thing I do know: the photo at the top of the post is downright scary.

Emma Springfield said...

You offered a thought-provoking and realistic examination of racism not only in the South but all over our nation. I thank you.

Sue in Italia/In the Land Of Cancer said...

Yikes! Makes me want to never visit the south. I didn't realize they cheered the Kennedys' assassinations in schools, in a religious college no less though cheering King's death is no surprise. Talk about fake Christians.

I have a black grandchild. I realize there are many places that she would be hated for her color. Saddens me.

angela said...

It sounds horrendous to not only the blacks, but to those, like you, that wanted integration.
I’m glad your writing this down. One day all those that lived through this time will be lost and your memories will be lost
With you
Thank you for sharing your memories

kj said...

snow, this is a brilliantly terrifying essay that leaves me informed, dismayed and disgusted. What is wrong with human beings that any group has to be 'less than'? What's happening in our government and states is another step in a long stream of hatred and discrimination. This time I hope the black community is prepared; prepared, along with many of the rest of us, to push back, to outsmart, and to VOTE.

Thank you for writing this. I think you should publish it far and wide.
love
kj

kylie said...

We are the very worst of the animals

Fred said...

I remember a friend's story that grew up in Arkansas. He went to the theater to see a new movie, Easy Rider. At the conclusion of the movie when Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda are blown off their bikes by southern rednecks the audience stood and cheered. He knew it was time to leave Arkansas.

Snowbrush said...

"...when Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda are blown off their bikes by southern rednecks the audience stood and cheered. He knew it was time to leave Arkansas."

I'll answer other comments too, but for now, I'll just offer some insight into the audience reaction to Easy Rider. The frightening restaurant scene (that happened on the day that Jack Nicholson's character was later murdered) was filmed with real locals in southern Louisiana (60 miles from where I'm from). The movie crew said that the hatred of the locals was palpable, and I believed them. I very much recognized in those extras the kind of thinking, and even the physical appearance, of my neighbors, and somehow seeing it in a movie made me, too, conclude that I needed to get the hell out of the South.

To see the face of the white South today one only has to look at Donald Trump. When I was a boy, Yankees were regarded as stupid, naive, easily suckered, clownish, and often evil. Now that a New Yorker is the hero of the white South, Yankees get a pass as long as they love Trump first and Jesus second. Race relations have improved in the South, but fascistic politics and religious oppression have increased dramatically. I was last there for a funeral in 2008, and I have no plans to go back, yet I think that  people should tour the South because as long as you don't criticize Trump or Jesus, people will treat you well, and you'll at least get some feel for what it's like down there. The heat, humidity, and nighttime odors alone are worth experiencing, but there is also the rich history (that I miss so terribly), and the South's natural aspects are so very beautiful in places.

It's also true that there is dissent in the white South, and to find it is to witness nobility. I'm 72 now, and I only left the South when I was 38, so the thought is ever with me that what I am, the South made me. I also live with the knowledge that, by escaping, I ran out on people who needed my support. Finally, in defense of the South, I'll point out that three of the most racially and socially progressive presidents of our lifetimes were Southerners. I refer to Johnson, Carter, and Clinton. Imperfect though they were, they were world's away from the stereotypical image that many hold of white Southern males.

Snowbrush said...

"How are you and Peggy coping with the current heatwave?"

As of yesterday, 107 Oregonians have died from the heat. Peggy was away for a week, and since we only have a small ductless unit, I shut-off every room I could. The hottest in Eugene so far has been 113F (45C). Thankfully, today's predicted high is 30-degrees cooler than that.

"white racists say the darnedest things - without hardly a glance at their own ancestory. Wanna talk about spear-chucking, head-hunting savages, who lived in huts...the ancient Britons and Germans."

Please pardon my denseness, but I don't know what you're trying to tell me. After all EVERYONE lived in huts and threw spears back then, and aren't such things measures of technology rather than measures of intelligence, justice, compassion, and morality? As for head-hunting, I'm unaware that Brits and Germans ever did that, although they arguably did things that were a great deal worse.

"Nobody should have to wait in line more than ten or fifteen minutes to vote. But won't more absentee voting take care of at least some of that?"

Republicans are making a concerted effort to identify where Democrats live and how Democrats vote and to do everything in their power to stop them from voting. This includes trying to discourage mail-in voting since it is favored far more by Democrats than by Republicans. By the way, Oregon has had 100% mail-in voting for years now, and I'm unaware than anyone dislikes it.

"Makes me want to never visit the south."

I would guess that race relations are better in the South than in most parts of the US (including the liberal Willamette Valley) because when black Southerners discovered how much political power they had--and found the courage to exercise that power--the white South HAD to change, whereas Oregon has so few black people that it's easy for white Oregonians to imagine themselves free of prejudice when the truth is that they've never been tested. There's still a lot of bigotry here, though. For example, I've been treated badly simply because I have a Southern accent. People are even treated badly here, not because they're conservative, but because they don't qualify as extreme liberals.

Snowbrush said...

"I didn't realize they cheered the Kennedys' assassinations in schools, in a religious college no less though cheering King's death is no surprise. Talk about fake Christians."

Our views appear to differ somewhat. Although the God of the Bible claims to love us all to such an extent that he sent his "only begotten to die for us" (the announcement of his plan must have made for an dinner conversation that night), he is so disappointed in us for being what he made us to be that he plans to subject all but a handful to an eternity of endless agony. In my view, this makes him the world's foremost hypocrite. As to the Bible as a whole, I can scarcely imagine a more bigoted book. Although it certainly contains the occasional praiseworthy passage, its primary message is of anger, hatred, terror, oppression, tribalism, brutality, and murder, all in the name of, and with the approval of, God.

Those who cheered the deaths of King and the Kennedys saw them as enemies of God and of the South, so I can but assume that their deaths were interpreted as the triumph of good over evil. It would have been a brainless interpretation, of course, but, like I, these were young, small town, and largely ignorant Southerners who were either being true to their beliefs by cheering or were keeping a low profile in order to avoid trouble. The teacher who led the play practice the night that King died was an Ohio woman who didn't cheer but also didn't criticize those who did. It seemed to me at the time that almost everyone cheered, but I don't know to what extent I can trust my memory.

"You offered a thought-provoking and realistic examination of racism not only in the South but all over our nation. I thank you."

Thank you, Emma.

"A lot of what you say is absolutely right and a lot of what you say is absolutely wrong."

Were you not in the South at the time, and did you not witness the hatred for yourself?

"the photo at the top of the post is downright scary."

You remember it, surely. It struck me then, as it does now, that these were exceedingly ignorant men who relished the attention they were getting, and were supremely confident that they would walk free and be forevermore hailed as heroes for murdering people, one of whom had never set foot in Mississippi until the day he died.

"It sounds horrendous to not only the blacks, but to those, like you, that wanted integration."

I was scarcely capable of rational thought back then, but was greatly captivated by the romantic images of different groups: the Freedom Riders, the Black Panthers, SNCC, CORE, and, yes, the Ku Klux Klan. Of course, now I realize that the face of the morons in the photo WAS the face of the Klan, but, at the time, I envisioned the Klan as idealistic masked men who rode masked horses while holding aloft Confederate Battle Flags, burning crosses at midnight, and fighting to preserve what was commonly and glowingly referred to as "The Southern Way of Life."

"What is wrong with human beings that any group has to be 'less than'?"

How do you define the word "group"? I--and I think you--most certainly regard many identifiable groups as "less than." For example, anarchists, Trumpians, neo-Nazis, Muslim terrorists, supporters of dictators, the invaders of the US capitol (and the capitols in Oregon and Wisconsin), Christians who use the Bible to justify oppression, and so on.

"Thank you for writing this. I think you should publish it far and wide."

Thank you, KJ, for reminding me that I wouldn't minimize the value of my experiences simply because they are my experiences. To have known this history for nearly my entire life seems to have blinded me to the strength of their impact on others.

Marion said...

I grew up in the deep South in the early 60’s raised by my former sharecropper uncle from Mississippi. We were never allowed to say the “n” word or we got our mouths washed out with soap. Our Uncle had to explain to us why not to say it. We’d heard our Black friends say it, so we figured it was okay. We had Black friends on the farm whose homes we visited. I was deemed “N-lover” throughout integration because I befriended the Black students, beginning in jr. high. I’ve known only ONE truly racist person in my entire life.

So, in spite of the democ🐀’s fake narrative, not all Southerners were/are racists. In fact, VERY FEW are.

I’m proud to say my grandson is an employed environmentalist in Mississippi and his beautiful fiancé is Black.

God bless America. 🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸

Snowbrush said...

"I grew up in the deep South in the early 60’s...I’ve known only ONE truly racist person in my entire life. So, in spite of the democ🐀’s fake narrative, not all Southerners were/are racists. In fact, VERY FEW are."

Give 'em hell, Marion! Like Jimmy Ward said in his editorials, and preachers said from their pulpits, and teachers said from their podiums, and neighbors said over backyard fences; all that talk about racism was nothing more than a Yankee conspiracy to make the South look bad because, by god, the South's black people were a happy people. So what if they lived in unpainted shacks; attended dilapidated schools; were put on chain gangs; were limited to manual labor; only had access to discarded textbooks from the white schools; and had to live in a part of town that lacked sidewalks, curbs and paved streets; none of that kind of thing proves racism anymore than did the fact that black people were denied access to taxpayer funded parks, beaches, swimming pools, libraries, universities, and pretty much every other place that white people went to.

The segregationist South racist? God forbid. That's a big a DemocRAT lie as are those lies about Trump losing the election; the voting system not being "rigged"; the capitol being invaded by angry Trump supporters; global warming being real; abortion not being murder; guns killing people; Covid being an actual disease; black people being unfairly treated by the police and judiciary; Christians doing their damnedest to make America into a theocracy; DemocRATS being patriotic; and on, and on, and on. Will these DemocRATS NEVER stop trying to make white God-fearing Christian Republicans look bad? Tell them that I'm full of shit, Marion, that I know full well that the black people of the South were well treated, and that I just made up all that stuff about racism in the same way that people make up stuff about the Holocaust. While you're at it, write to that museum of black history in D.C., to that Alabama lynching museum, and to the residents of Tulsa, Charleston, Memphis, Charlottesville, and scores of other places where black people were supposed to have been murdered en masse and tell them to stop their lying.

"I was deemed “N-lover” throughout integration because I befriended the Black students...I’ve known only ONE truly racist person in my entire life."

Then the people who "deemed" you a nigger-lover weren't racist? If racism is such an extreme rarity in the South, I guess they couldn't have been.