Academic journal article Southern Quarterly

Good Cop, Bad Cop: Segregationist Strategies and Democratic Party Politics in Mississippi, 1948-1960

Academic journal article Southern Quarterly

Good Cop, Bad Cop: Segregationist Strategies and Democratic Party Politics in Mississippi, 1948-1960

Article excerpt

From the heyday of massive resistance until his 1967 gubernatorial campaign, William Winter called himself a "Jim Eastland-John Stennis Democrat" (Bolton 111-12, 137). Eastland and Stennis had served almost twenty years together in the US Senate when Winter made his first bid for the governorship. Both senators championed the interests of white Mississippi, including segregation, while they also successfully managed to keep the state in the Democratic ranks during the 1950s. Yet despite these common goals, their defense of Jim Crow rested on different styles and strategies. While Eastland did not shy away from making extremely racist claims and was an outspoken advocate of massive resistance against racial integration, Stennis based his opposition to black civil rights more on constitutional arguments and followed a practical segregationist course. At the state level, they headed political machines that competed for control of Mississippi (Wilkie 253-54).

Because of their contrasting styles, the two senators are also remembered differently these days. An obituary described Stennis as a "courtly Mississippi Democrat" who was "the conscience of the entire institution" ("John C. Stennis"). Eastland, on the other hand, "was best known as a symbol of Southern resistance to racial desegregation in most of his years in the Senate" ("James O. Eastland"). In public memory too, Stennis fared much better than his longtime Senate colleague. A federal courthouse in the state capital of Jackson was initially named after Eastland, but his name disappeared from the building when real estate investors bought the property. The Law Library at the University of Mississippi also bore Eastland's name. The law school moved into an impressive new building a few years ago however, and its library now honors Mississippi writer John Grisham. In contrast, the sites commemorating John Stennis had a much higher survival rate. They include a political research institute at Mississippi State University and a NASA space center in Hancock County, Mississippi. The USS John C. Stennis, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, currently still sails around the globe protecting America's interests.

Although James Eastland and John Stennis (Figure 1) thus represented distinctive schools of segregationist thought and action, William Winter united the two senators in his political persona, the Eastland-Stennis Democrat. How can this paradox be explained? The following text formulates an answer to this question by analyzing segregationist strategies and Democratic Party politics in Mississippi during the 1950s. After World War II, the Magnolia State continued to live up to its reputation as a hotbed of Jim Crow radicalism. Its white leadership occupied the frontlines of the 1948 Dixiecrat crusade and Mississippi was the cradle of the Citizens' Council, a white supremacist organization that emerged after the Supreme Court ordered the desegregation of public schools in 1954. Yet between 1950 and 1960, the state returned to the Democratic fold and its voters elected two moderate segregationists for their governor: Hugh White (1952-1956) and James Coleman (1956-1960). Radicalism and moderation appeared to go hand in hand as the struggle for civil rights intensified.

Scholars and journalists have described practical segregationists and massive resisters as two rival factions in the Jim Crow South. In his seminal work on organized Southern resistance to racial integration after the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education, historian Neil McMillen explained how Mississippi governor and practical segregationist James Coleman was "at perpetual loggerheads" with the massive resisters of the Citizens' Council (McMillen 323). Hodding Carter III, a reporter for the Delta Democrat-Times and an opponent of massive resistance, wrote in 1959 how Coleman's "statements designed to soft-pedal the race issue and to calm people's fears about immediate integration" constituted "a policy at direct variance with that of the Citizens' Councils" (Carter 67). …

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