Restructured Resistance: The Sibley Commission and the Politics of Desegregation in Georgia

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Restructured Resistance: The Sibley Commission and the Politics of Desegregation in Georgia. By Jeff Roche. (Athens, Ga., and London: University of Georgia Press, c. 1998. Pp. xviii, 253. $40.00, ISBN 0-8203-1979-1.)

Examining the ideological, political, and economic dimensions of Georgia's grudging acceptance of integrated public schools, this book is, in short, the story, of how Georgia's political leadership came to abandon massive resistance and convince the bulk of white Georgians to accept integration.

Roche meticulously lays out the complicated elements that contributed to a political impasse over desegregation in 1959 Georgia. State leaders had created a political climate where resistance to school integration and the ideological defense of segregation were inseparable positions, a logic that made any retreat from massive resistance tantamount to abandoning the long fight for segregation or, in other words, political suicide. But by 1959, when the much anticipated crisis arrived and federal courts ordered the desegregation of Atlanta schools, most state leaders could read the handwriting on the wall. Federal court decisions in intervening years had seriously undermined the viability of Georgia's original massive resistance plan. Thus by 1959 Georgia's white leaders contemplated not simply the closing of Atlanta's schools, as per the initial 1954 private school plan, but the distinct possibility that such action would compel the state to close the entire state's school system. Not only would school closures put public education at risk but also, as Atlanta boosters argued, it threatened to upset Georgia's stunning record of postwar economic growth. Atlanta business leaders began warming to the idea of peaceful token integration if only to sustain Atlanta's healthy business climate, but the rural masses of Georgia's white citizenry, primed by years of pro-segregation politics, remained convinced that massive resistance was not only desirable but also workable. Looking for a way out of this political and ideological bind, or indeed, any escape from becoming the governor who gave in to desegregation, Ernest Vandiver created the Sibley Commission. …