Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Senator James Eastland: Mississippi's Jim Crow Democrat

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Senator James Eastland: Mississippi's Jim Crow Democrat

Article excerpt

Senator James Eastland: Mississippi's Jim Crow Democrat. By Maarten Zwiers. Making the Modern South. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2015. Pp. [x], 293. $45.00, ISBN 978-0-8071-6001-5.)

Maarten Zwiers's book Senator James Eastland: Mississippi's Jim Crow Democrat joins a growing literature that reconsiders white southern politicians who held powerful sway over national politics from the New Deal to the Reagan Revolution. No longer mere segregationists in these retellings, Mississippi's James O. Eastland, South Carolina's J. Strom Thurmond, and others are cold warriors who stifled civil rights and labor unions in the name of states' rights and free enterprise. Such revisionism, coupled with recent explorations of Sun Belt politics, reveals the bipartisan, multiregional, and diverse ideological origins of the New Right and the decline of the Democratic South. To enter these debates, Zwiers uses a political biography of Eastland, one with a purposeful focus on the relationship between Mississippi Democrats and the national Democratic Party in the middle third of the twentieth century. Eastland becomes the great compromiser within this milieu, moving from staunch Dixiecrat to loyalist Democrat even as his party moved toward racial liberalism.

Yet the tension between the national and state Democratic parties is not exactly the full story of this book. The Democratic Party's retaliation after the Dixiecrat revolt, Zwiers suggests, kept Eastland in line. Zwiers continually asserts that Eastland's position as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee explains why the senator remained a Democrat even as Mississippi began to move toward the Republican Party by the mid-1950s. Though many of his constituents challenged his position, Eastland maintained that staying within the Democratic Party--and keeping his chairmanship--was the best way to keep the state's interests represented in Washington, D.C.

Zwiers succeeds remarkably well in documenting such internal tension among Mississippi Democrats. Within this story line, Eastland becomes a moderate segregationist in an era of massive resistance, a characterization that only makes sense against the backdrop of Governor Ross Barnett's hardline actions that incited a riot at the University of Mississippi over James Meredith's admission. …

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