Civil Rights Reform in the 1960s
T he story of civil rights reform in the 1960s should begin not with the reformers and their legislation but with their chief target, the Jim Crow system in the South. In their lifetimes they had watched segregation expand and harden its defenses against external attack. Foremost among their weapons was a liberal belief in equal individual rights and a vision of a color-blind Constitution. Since its founding in 1909 in an environment of national racial violence and southern apartheid, the NAACP had pressed relentlessly for a simple, radical remedy, lethal to Jim Crow, so that racial classifications would play no legitimate role in American public policy. Experience with segregation convinced liberals that racial designations by government, like the legal institution of slavery itself, were inherently pernicious and expansionist. 1
The story of segregation's origins and development has been told in scores of books, some of them widely read, especially historian C. Vann Woodward's The Strange Career of Jim Crow. 2 For purposes of this study, however, two aspects of the story of segregation, as prelude to and target for the reforms of the 1960s, have not been well told or widely understood. One is the story of intended consequences, the story of segregation not only as white racist oppression, as a brutal assertion of racial hegemony of southern whites over blacks, but also as a story of conservative reform turned sour. It is a story of a new wave of race-conscious government policies, adopted between 1895 and 1915, whose intentions included not only the subordination of blacks but also the benign reformist goals of ending mob lynching, purging southern political life of corruption and violence, and educating the children of the freed men.
The second story is one of unintended consequences. Its inadvertent victims are southern whites themselves, trapped ironically in a political sys