Reforming Jim Crow: Southern Politics and State in the Age before Brown

By Kimberley Johnson | Go to book overview

Race, Region, and American Political
Development: An Analytical Coda

I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disap-
pointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable
conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward
freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but
the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who
prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive
peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with
you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct
action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for
another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and
who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.”
Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating
than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm
acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

As quoted above, Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail captures the quickening pace of the civil rights movement and the inability of the few remaining self-proclaimed southern white moderates to understand what King would later call the “fierce urgency of now.”1 Nearly fifty years later, in a successful bid to become the first African American president, Barack Obama invoked some of those same words and some of King’s spirit. Yet the world in

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