Managing White Supremacy: Race, Politics, and Citizenship in Jim Crow Virginia

Managing White Supremacy: Race, Politics, and Citizenship in Jim Crow Virginia

Managing White Supremacy: Race, Politics, and Citizenship in Jim Crow Virginia

Managing White Supremacy: Race, Politics, and Citizenship in Jim Crow Virginia


Tracing the erosion of white elite paternalism in Jim Crow Virginia, Douglas Smith reveals a surprising fluidity in southern racial politics in the decades between World War I and the Supreme Court's 1954 "Brown v. Board of Education decision.

Smith draws on official records, private correspondence, and letters to newspapers from otherwise anonymous Virginians to capture a wide and varied range of black and white voices. African Americans emerge as central characters in the narrative, as Smith chronicles their efforts to obtain access to public schools and libraries, protection under the law, and the equitable distribution of municipal resources.

This acceleration of black resistance to white supremacy in the years before World War II precipitated a crisis of confidence among white Virginians, who, despite their overwhelming electoral dominance, felt increasingly insecure about their ability to manage the color line on their own terms. Exploring the everyday power struggles that accompanied the erosion of white authority in the political, economic, and educational arenas, Smith uncovers the seeds of white Virginians' resistance to civil rights activism in the second half of the twentieth century.


In Virginia, the powers that be were a little more sophisticated than they were in the deeper South, and they'd always apparently been. And as a consequence, you didn't have as much physical violence in Virginia as you had in the deeper South…. [But] Virginia and the whole South were police states. There isn't a question about that. Negroes didn't serve on juries, they didn't serve on grand juries or petit juries. You saw no blacks in places like city hall, or public buildings, unless, except, maybe an elevator operator or janitor. And that's the way it was.—OLIVER HILL, 1985

In March 1929 Douglas Southall Freeman, the editor of the Richmond News Leader, worried that he and other white elites were losing their ability to manage the city's race relations. His concern prompted him to ask William Reed, a Richmond tobacco magnate and the most important and trusted advisor to then-governor Harry F. Byrd, to quietly contribute to a legal defense fund that would help black citizens of Richmond fight a residential segregation ordinance recently passed by the city council. Freeman mentioned that increased antagonism had resulted from the ordinance's passage and added that “anything that disturbs good racerelationships is inimical to Richmond.” A firm opponent of the measure from the beginning, Freeman preferred to have the matter “worked out by friendly conference, rather than by law.” But given the council's contrary view, Freeman suggested that “we may be able to allay bad feelings if a few of us quietly contribute to the fund the Negroes are raising for a . . .

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