The White South and the Red Menace

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George Lewis. The White South And The Red Menace: Segregationists, Anticommunism, And Massive Resistance, 1945-1965. Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida. 2004. 228 p. $47.96 Hardcover: ISBN 0813027535.


George Lewis’s The White South And The Red Menace examines anticommunism as a form of massive resistance utilized by southern white supremacists and segregationists in response to federally mandated integration or desegregation during the 1950’s. “Proponents of resistance oriented anticommunism were natural heirs to Agrarian philosophy” and were opposed to centralized bureaucracy and to state or federal control as a violation of states’ rights. (173) They were united by foreign policy anticommunism. Segregationists ultimately desired preservation of racial segregation, white power and sough personal political advancement. (175)

The viewpoint of southern white supremacists had not changed in two hundred years. They continued to utilize the rhetoric of the Founding Fathers regarding states’ rights to defend their position. (32) White supremacists believed African American Civil Rights were forced upon the former Confederate States by the occupying forces of the Northern aggressors during the post Civil War period, going as far as insinuating that the Fourteenth Amendment passed “at the point of a bayonet” in the aftermath of the Civil War.(12 & 36) During the 1950’s Southerner’s considered themselves the “last bastion of an American-ness made up of that of white northern European stock” who were honor bound to defend and protect southern racial purity. (16)

Those in political power such as Joseph McCarthy played on the fears of the majority regarding communism which lived next door to Florida in Cuba, and racial intermarriage to gain public support in opposition to desegregation. Segregationists and white supremacists were concerned with the preservation of the entrenched power in the south while McCarthy sought personal political prosperity. The Southern Conference on Human Welfare (SCHW) was investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) following the HUAC’s investigation of key members of the SCHW. The HUAC concluded that FDR’s “New Deal had been ‘hand-in-glove’ with the Communist Party” and since “the SCHW had embraced much of Roosevelt’s New Deal program…it was a communist-backed organization.” (63) New Deal liberalism created a clear, concise understanding of foreign policy which carried over to the Cold War period in stark contrast to the isolationist view held by segregationists and southern white supremacists who utilized fear tactics in an attempt to resist social and political changes in the aftermath of Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka.


Bonnie Clark, Fall 2008

George Lewis presents a top-down view of anticommunism as a form of massive resistance to federally mandated desegregation in the wake of the May 17, 1954 Supreme Court decision in the case of Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka which overturned the historic 1896 “separate but equal policy” of Plessy v. Ferguson. (30) Segregationists believed desegregation would result in the collapse of the “historic separation of the races which has been in effect since the dawn of history” and put an end to racial purity. (39-40) I do not find this a plausible argument against desegregation since prior to the Civil War many bi-racial children were born on plantations to enslaved mothers and treated as property to be bought and sold by their biological fathers. However, since they were never acknowledge by the master as his children but only as his property, the south remained racially pure until the 1950’s when federally mandated and enforced desegregation became a very real threat to southerners.

In contrast, their argument against desegregation utilizing the rhetoric of the Founding Fathers as a violation of states’ rights is more historically accurate and plausible. They considered themselves heirs to the Agrarian philosophy of Thomas Jefferson and his contemporaries. Federally mandated and militarily enforced desegregation was a reminder to southern white supremacists of an earlier time during Reconstruction when African American Civil Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment were forced upon southerners by the occupying forces of the northern aggressors “at the point of a bayonet”. (12 & 36) The historic Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka, civil rights activism and southern resistance to these events and ideas “did not occur in isolation from the broader themes of the Cold War”. (43) The historic events and ideologies which existed in the southern states, especially in the Deep South, since the seventeenth century ultimately led to the continued argument in favor of states’ rights which began at the Continental Congress in 1775, contributed to the Civil War and continued during the 1950’s and 60’s as an oppositional argument against desegregation. According to Lewis, “The Cold War may have infused much of the rhetoric surrounding the South’s fight to maintain segregation, but, for a majority of segregationists at least, the focus was always first and foremost on attempts to resist desegregation.” (165)

Lewis’ goal is to determine if anticommunism was successful as a widespread, top-down form of mass resistance utilized by Southern white supremacists and segregationists in response to federally mandated and enforced desegregation. He provides the reader with sufficient information to discern the answer. Anticommunism was many things and in some ways it was widespread – but only among segregationists and white supremacists at the upper levels of political power, with a trickle-down effect reaching to their constituents who believed what their politicians told them specifically in regard to the perceived threat of communists in our backyard (Cuba). Did they succeed? For a short time they may have won a few battles, but in the long run the Southern white supremacists and segregationists lost the war again since desegregation remains the law of the land. --Blclark 04:18, 22 September 2008 (UTC)

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