Rabble Rousers: The American Far Right in the Civil Rights Era

Rabble Rousers: The American Far Right in the Civil Rights Era

Rabble Rousers: The American Far Right in the Civil Rights Era

Rabble Rousers: The American Far Right in the Civil Rights Era

Synopsis

The decade following the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision saw white southerners mobilize in massive resistance to racial integration. Most segregationists conceded that ultimately they could only postpone the demise of Jim Crow. Some militant whites, however, believed it possible to win the civil rights struggle. Histories of the black freedom struggle, when they mention these racist zealots at all, confine them to the margin of the story.

These extremist whites are caricatured as ineffectual members of the lunatic fringe. Civil rights activists, however, saw them for what they really were: calculating, dangerous opponents prepared to use terrorism in their stand against reform. To dismiss white militants is to underestimate the challenge they posed to the movement and, in turn, the magnitude of civil rights activists' accomplishments. The extremists helped turn massive resistance into a powerful political phenomenon. While white southern elites struggled to mobilize mass opposition to racial reform, the militants led entire communities in revolt.

Rabble Rousers turns traditional top-down models of massive resistance on their head by telling the story of five far-right activists--Bryant Bowles, John Kasper, Rear Admiral John Crommelin, Major General Edwin Walker, and J. B. Stoner--who led grassroots rebellions. It casts new light on such contentious issues as the role of white churches in defending segregation, the influence of anti-Semitism in southern racial politics, and the divisive impact of class on white unity. The flame of the far right burned brilliantly but briefly. In the final analysis, violent extremism weakened the cause of white southerners. Tactical and ideological tensions among massive resisters, as well as the strength and unity of civil rights activists, accelerated the destruction of Jim Crow.

Excerpt

In 1936, the United States became a fascist dictatorship. Popular discontent with the failure of the New Deal to alleviate the impact of the Great Depression led the Democrats to dump Franklin D. Roosevelt and to nominate as their presidential candidate midwestern Senator Berzelius Windrip. the November election saw Windrip comfortably defeat his Republican opponent Walt Trowbridge. Once installed in the White House, President Windrip proclaimed that it was “Zero Hour,” the time to launch a new direction in the history of the nation. Windrip used the pretext of the economic crisis to impose martial law on the country. He suspended Congress, stripped the Supreme Court of its power to overrule federal legislation, and deployed his private militia to arrest, incarcerate, and execute political dissidents. the new regime also restricted the rights of minorities, curtailing the autonomy of women, African Americans, and Jews.

This is not, of course, a factual account of American history. the rise to power of a totalitarian regime forms the opening narrative of Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here. Although a work of fiction, the book’s dystopian setting articulated a deep-rooted concern at the upsurge of political extremism occasioned by the unprecedented economic emergency that beset the nation. Historians estimate that there were as many as 120 fascist organizations in the United States during the 1930s. Among the many political demagogues who rose to political prominence were Fritz Kuhn of the German-American Bund . . .

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