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

By Kimberley Johnson | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
Democratization for the White South

If you were going to make real basic changes, you had to do something about the electorate.

Robert Weaver, quoted in Patricia Sullivan,
Days of Hope

The political, economic, and social changes stimulated by the New Deal and World War II posed new challenges and threats to the dominance of southern elites, and to the Jim Crow order at large. The existence of these potential threats offered southern reformers a two-pronged opportunity to develop new strategies for advancing Jim Crow reform. First, they would make the argument that southern leadership had to expand the southern (white) electorate in order for southern Democrats to continue to have an important influence on the national Democratic Party. Second, by expanding the electorate to the south’s (white) have-nots, southern reformers hoped to create an important new source of support for southern politicians loyal to the New Deal. Protecting the New Deal meant the protection of the economic liberalism that would modernize the South. In the late 1930s southern reformers realized that a small dose of democratization was needed now, rather than later, to achieve this goal. To advance these arguments an older cadre of southern reformers would develop alliances with the new southern New Deal reformers. Together these groups would develop a network of statebased and national organizations that would push for poll tax reform at the

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